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Lyndsey Burns

Chapter 1 Discussion Prompt


Summary
Communication scholars view communication different than those in everyday life and in other
disciplines. It is more than the exchange of information, and has a wide variety of definitions.
According to Dance, these definitions vary in three ways: level of observation, intentionality, and
normative judgement. Level of observation refers to what counts as communication, and can be
defined narrowly or broadly. Intentionality refers to whether or not the message was exchanged
on purpose; the source orientation of intentionality says that a message must be sent
intentionally, while the receiver orientation of intentionality says that communication can occur
whether the message was sent intentionally or not. Lastly, normative judgment refers to whether
or not the definition of communication requires success or accuracy between the involved
parties. Nonevaluative definitions argue that accuracy and understanding is not required for
communication to have occurred, while evaluative definitions require shared meaning among
parties to be considered communication.
There are nine contexts of communication considered in this chapter. The cognitive context
refers to how our thoughts influence our communication. The individual differences context
focuses on how these differences, as well as social roles, impact communication. The
interpersonal context refers to the interactions between two people, while the intercultural
context focuses specifically on interpersonal communication between two people from different
cultures. The next context focuses on the entire subfield of persuasive communication. The
group context and the organizational context are commonly used in work settings. The influence
of technology is explored through the mediated context. Lastly, the mass communication context
examines mass-mediated messages and how the influence communication. There are a variety of
theories associated with each of these contexts.
Communication competence refers to achieving a successful balance between effectiveness and
appropriateness. Effectiveness refers to whether or not you achieved your goal in the
interaction, and to what extent, while appropriateness refers to the means taken to achieve a goal
and whether these means were socially acceptable. Competent communication requires both of
these skills.
Communication theories provide a general understanding of the communication process and give
a way to understand all events in a specific setting. Theories are a way to view the world, and
may either enhance ones understanding or diminish and distort ones understanding of a piece of
the communication process. Our book defines a communication theory to be any systematic
summary about the nature of the communication process, and helps to focus our attention on
specific concepts, clarify observations, make predictions, and lead to change on a personal and
societal level.
Theories are distinct from concepts and models. A concept aims to define something, but does
not provide explanation. On the other hand, theories aim to help us understand the concepts.
While the term model may be used synonymously with theory, its unclear, varying definition
differentiates it from a theory.
There are three types of theory: commonsense theory, working theory, and scholarly theory.
Commonsense theory is not supported by research and is based on one experiences or
upbringing. Working theories are sometimes supported by research, but are typically generalized,
agreed-upon ways of doing things in the workplace. These types of theories are context specific,
and depend on the profession or course. A scholarly theory is one that is supported by systematic
research and provides the most thorough and accurate explanation of the three types of theory.
For this reason, they are the hardest to understand and the most complex.
There are five main criteria for evaluating the relative usefulness of communication theories with
regards to working professionals: accuracy, practicality, succinctness, consistency, and acuity.
When considering accuracy, the theory should use systematic research to correctly explain the
way communication works. Practicality refers to how useful the theory is in addressing real-
world communication problems of everyday life. Practical theories can be applied to our
everyday communication. Succinctness refers to the theory being composed of as few steps or
concepts as possible; theories should not include too much or too little information, but rather
include just the right amount needed to grasp what is being proposed. A theory is considered
succinct when the situation at hand is large, but the number of necessary steps and concepts is
relatively smaller. A theory must also have internal and external consistency. Internal
consistency means that the ideas of the theory build upon one another in a logical way; external
consistency means that the theory logically follows other widely held theories. In other words, a
theory is not externally consistent if it disagrees with already established and widely believed
theories. Lastly, acuity refers to the theorys ability to explain a complex issue and provide
insight into a problem that has not already been thought about. A theory with acuity does not
focus on an obvious problem.
Application
This chapter identified the three types of theories. Scholarly theories refers to theories that have
undergone systematic research, and provided agenda-setting theory as an example. This theory
has been studied and tested in many research projects, which have shown that there is a strong
correlation between what the media portrays as an important issue and what individuals view as
an important issue. Agenda-setting theory states that the media do not tell us what to think, but
rather what to think about. An example of this scholarly theory can be seen in the world right
now with regards to what news outlets are choosing to focus on when discussing the severe
weather hitting the world. Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have been the main focus of
almost every nightly newscast for the past couple of weeks, leading viewers to be preoccupied
with the devastation of these storms. However, what news stations are failing to tell us is that
South Asia is currently experiencing deadly flooding that is comparable, if not worse, than the
damage suffered by these hurricanes. Because of this, everybody is talking about or posting on
social media about these hurricanes and offering their help to those involved; however, nobody is
talking about the current conditions of South Asia or offering to send their help that way.
Consistent with the research backing this theory, we are talking only about the natural disasters
that the media is portraying as important because, consequently, they are the ones that are
important to us.
Discussion Questions
1. Some definitions of communication require intentionality to count as communication. Do
you think that the exchange of messages has to be intentional, or can we communicate
with each other without meaning to? Can you think of any examples?
2. After reading about working theory, how have you seen these types of theories apply in
your workplace?
3. How would you describe somebody who has good communication skills? Poor
communication skills?