Engaging in Verbal Communication I. Language consists of symbols that are used to represent people, events, and all that goes on around and in us. A. Verbal communication refers to the spoken or written word. B. Nonverbal communication includes symbols other words. II. There are three critical features of language. A. It is arbitrary. 1. The symbols employed are not intrinsically connected to the phenomena they represent. 2. New words are coined to represent new phenomena or revised perspectives on familiar phenomena. 3. Meanings are fluid; they change over time as the people who use it change. B. It is ambiguous. 1. Meanings are not always precise nor are they fixed for all time. 2. Within a culture most words have an agreed upon range of meaning. 3. Meaning is more variable across cultures. 4. Ambiguity leads to misunderstanding. C. It is abstract. 1. It is not concrete, nor tangible. 2. Words vary in their degree of abstractness. 3. The potential for confusion swells with increased abstractness. 4. Use specific language rather than general language for more concise communication. III. There are three key principles of communication that help us understand how meaning is created. A. Interpretation creates meaning. 1. Interpretation is an active, creative process used to make sense of experiences. 2. Brute facts are objective, concrete phenomena and activities. 3. Institutional facts are the meanings of brute facts based on human communication. 4. How one interprets the symbols communicated has as much to do with you as the interpreter as with what others have communicated. B. Communication is guided by rules. 1. Rules guide when and what to communicate and how to interpret another’s communication. 2. For the most part we are not conscious of the rules that guide us. 3. Communication rules are shared understandings among members of a particular culture or social group about what communication means and what behaviors are appropriate in various situations. 4. Regulative rules regulate interaction by specifying where, when, how, and with whom to talk about various topics. 5. Constitutive rules define what a particular type of communication means or stands for. 6. Communication rules are subject to change. C. How we punctuate communication affects the meanings we attribute to communication. 1. Punctuation marks a flow of activity into meaningful units. 2. Punctuation defines where communication episodes start and stop. 3. Punctuation is subjective, so there is no absolutely correct way to punctuate any interaction. IV. Six symbolic abilities affect our lives profoundly. A. Language defines phenomena. 1. The symbols we use affect how we think and feel. 2. The way we name, or label, define phenomena and shape what they mean to us. 3. A label directs our attention to certain aspects and away from others. 4. Totalizing occurs when we respond to a person as if one label totally represents what she or he is. B. Language evaluates phenomena. 1. Language is not neutral; it is laden with values. 2. Loaded language consists of words that strongly slant perceptions. 3. The reappropriation of language attempts to remove the stigma from terms typically used to degrade a group. C. Language organizes experiences. 1. The meanings of words vary depending upon the category into which we place the person speaking them. 2. Stereotypes involve thinking in broad generalizations about a whole class of people or phenomena. 3. While we need to generalize to function effectively, stereotyping can blind us to the important and unique differences between phenomena we lump together in generalizations. D. Language allows us to think hypothetically about experiences and ideas that are not part of our concrete reality. 1. Hypothetical thought is possible because we can symbolically represent past, present and future even though we exist in the present. 2. We can think of alternatives to what exists and places we’ve never been. 3. Thinking hypothetically helps us improve who we are. E. Language allows us to reflect on ourselves. 1. We are able to think about ourselves. 2. We are able to monitor our behavior and the images we present to others. 3. The ME aspect of self is the socially aware self that reflects on the I, which is the creative, impulsive aspect of self. 4. Self-reflection allows us to monitor ourselves and modify our impulses. 5. Self-reflection allows us to manage the image we convey to others. F. Language defines relationships and interaction. 1. Language is used to convey messages about how we perceive ourselves and others. 2. We use language to regulate interactions. 3. We use language to convey three dimensions of relationships-level meanings: responsiveness, liking, and power. V. Four guidelines help us use verbal communication effectively, with clarity and accuracy. A. The most important is being person-centered. B. Use a level of abstraction that suits the particular communication objective and situation. C. Use qualifying language. 1. Qualify generalizations so as to avoid making general statements absolute ones. 2. Eschew static evaluations, which are assessments that suggest something is unchangeable. 3. Adopt indexing, which suggests that our evaluations apply only to specific time and circumstances. D. Own your own feelings and thoughts. 1. Use I -language so that you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings whereas You -language projects your feelings onto another person. 2. I -language provides concrete descriptions of behaviors without holding the other person responsible for how we feel.