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chapter 4 outline - DeVito

CHAPTER 4
VERBAL MESSAGES
Concepts of this chapter
principles of verbal messages
disconfirmation and confirmation
using verbal messages effectively
Knowledge Objectives
After completing this chapter, students should be able to
understand the nature of verbal messages
identify and explain the principles governing verbal messages
Skills Objectives
After completing this chapter, students should
use verbal messages more effectively in all their communication experiences
avoid language that might be considered sexist, heterosexist, or ageist, any of which would
likely have negative consequences
avoid common pitfalls of language usage that can also distort thinking
Instructional Outline
I. Principles of Verbal Messages
Being an effective communicator requires more than knowing the rules of grammar; it requires
understanding the principles of verbal messages.
Messages Are Denotative and Connotative
- denotative meaning: word's objective definition, the dictionary meaning
- connotative meaning: a word's subjective or emotional meaning
- snarl words and purr words: words, used to describe people, that are highly negative (e.g.,
“idiot,” “loser”) or highly positive (e.g., “dream,” “sweetheart”)
Messages Vary in Abstraction
- general terms, such as “human being,” are high in abstraction
- specific terms, such as “Aunt Mary” are low in abstraction and are usually more
effective in guiding the images that come to your listeners’ minds
Messages Vary in Directness
- indirect statements are attempts to get a listener to say or do something without
committing the speaker to any responsibility while direct speech states clearly the
speaker’s preferences
- while direct messages are generally regarded as more honest, indirect messages allow
people to express a desire without insulting or offending anyone or to ask for
compliments in a socially acceptable manner; however, indirect messages can be overly
ambiguous and easily misunderstood as well as seen as manipulative
• Message Meanings Are in People
- When trying to discover meaning in language, one must consider the people using the
language as well as the words. For example, one person may experience “retirement” as
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a forced layoff, while another may experience the word as a welcome rest.
- Meanings also change as people change. We cannot assume the meanings of words
remain constant as our experiences and others’ experiences with those words change.
• Messages Are Influenced by Culture and Gender
- Cultural Influences – culture teaches us “acceptable” and “appropriate” ways to use
language. Some common contradictory cultural rules or principles include:
o The principle of cooperation: an assumption that in communicating, people are
engaged in a cooperative effort to help each other understand each other. the
Principle of cooperation includes four maxims:
-- the maxim of quality: be truthful, do not lie
-- the maxim of relation: talk about what is relevant to the conversation
-- the maxim of manner: be clear, brief, and organized
-- the maxim of quantity: provide enough information to be understood;
however, say only what needs to be said
o The principle of peaceful relations: an assumption that keeping peace in a relationship
takes precedence over expressing disagreement
o The principle of face-saving: an assumption that one should never embarrass anyone,
especially in public
o The principle of self-denigration: an assumption that one should avoid taking credit
for accomplishments
o The principle of directness: levels of directness vary from culture to culture.
Generally, high levels of directness are valued and expected with US culture.
Contrast this assumption with the following two principles related to Japanese
language:
- [O]moiyari: similar to empathy; an assumption that a listener has the
responsibility to understand a speaker without the speaker’s being
direct or specific
- [S]assuru: an assumption that a listener should anticipate a speaker’s
meaning by paying attention to subtle cues
o The principle of politeness: an assumption of politeness is generally universal across
cultures; however, differences exist concerning how politeness is defined,
expressed, and honored
- Gender Influences – although studies on gender differences in regard to language use
tend to be contradictory, generally women use more polite language than men; however,
recent studies suggest women are not necessarily more indirect speakers than men and
that politeness and indirectness in speech may be more a function of one’s perceived
power or powerlessness than one’s gender
II. Disconfirmation and Confirmation
Confirmation and disconfirmation refer to the extent to which you acknowledge another person.
Disconfirmation is a communication pattern in which you ignore someone’s presence as well
as that person’s communication – you deny a person’s significance; disconfirmation is not the
same as rejection, which entails acknowledgement of the other but an unwillingness to accept
what he or she says or does. Confirmation is the opposite communication pattern – you
acknowledge the presence of another and indicate your acceptance of this person, this person’s
definition of self, and your relationship as defined (or viewed) by this other person.
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You can gain insight into offensive language practices by viewing them as types of
disconfirmation – as language that alienates and separates:
• Ableism – discrimination against people with disabilities and the assumption that people
with different abilities need to be talked down to or not included in certain conversations
• Racism – language and actions used to disparage members of other cultures, their customs,
or their accomplishments and to establish and maintain power over other groups.
- racist language can often be subtle and imply racial factors are important to a context
when they, in fact, are not, such as using racial markers (“the African-American judge”)
that emphasize that the combination of race and occupation is rare and unexpected that
this member of the race is an exception
- individual racism takes the form of negative attitudes and beliefs that people hold about
specific races
- institutional racism includes de facto school segregation and discriminatory practices in
lending, hiring, and promotion
- to examine your own language racism consider whether you do the following:
o avoid using derogatory terms for members of a particular race
o avoid basing your interactions with members of other races on stereotypes
perpetuated by media representations
o avoid mentioning race when it is irrelevant
o avoid attributing individuals’ economic or social problems to race


Heterosexism – language and actions used to disparage gays and lesbians; language and
actions that presume all people are heterosexual. Heterosexism exists on both individual
and institutional levels.
- Individual heterosexism refers to attitudes, behaviors, and language that disparages lesbians
and gay men and is grounded in the belief that not being heterosexual is unnatural and
deserving of criticism and condemnation. Such beliefs and attitudes can lead to gay
bashing and violence against those perceived to be other than strictly heterosexual.
- Institutional heterosexism is evidenced in laws that discriminate against gay marriage and gay
adoption and company policies that exclude partner benefits to non-heterosexuals
- Heterosexist language includes derogatory terms used for lesbians and gays, the use
of identity markers such as “lesbian doctor” or “gay athlete,” and using language that
assumes everyone is heterosexual. Suggestions for avoiding heterosexist language
include:
o avoid offensive nonverbal mannerisms that parody stereotypes
o avoid “complimenting” gay men and lesbians on their heterosexual appearance
o avoid assuming an individual gay person can speak for all gay people
o avoid denying individual differences; not all gays act or think the same
o avoid attributing a person’s actions, words, attitudes solely to his or her sexual
orientation
o remember relationship milestones and include relational partners at social
functions
Ageism – discrimination based on age; usually signifies discrimination against the old and
against aging, but can refer to any age group. Ageism exists on both individual and
institutional levels.
- individual ageism refers to attitudes, behaviors, and language that shows disrespect for a
certain age groups (generally older people)
- institutional ageism is evidenced in mandatory retirement laws, discriminatory practices in
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hiring and promotion, and negative portrayals of older people in media
- Popular language is replete with examples of linguistic ageism (e.g., ”You can’t teach an
old dog new tricks”
- Ageism is also exemplified by talking down to older people, avoiding touching older
people, and avoiding eye contact with older people, and assuming one has to speak
louder and slower for older people to understand
- Suggestions for avoiding ageism and ageist language include:
o avoid talking down to someone because she or he is older
o don’t assume you have to refresh older people’s memory each time you see
them
o don’t assume older people are not interested in relationships
o don’t assume all older people are hard or hearing or unable to see
o don’t assume older people are not interested in the world around them
- Suggestions for adjusting your communication with older people include:
o reduce as much background noise as you can
o ease into the conversation and avoid changing topics too quickly
o speak in relatively short sentences and questions
o given the person added time to respond
o listen actively
 Sexism – discrimination based on gender exists at the individual and institutional level
- individual sexism involves prejudicial attitudes and beliefs about men or women based on
rigid beliefs concerning gender roles (e.g., women should be caregivers, men should be
breadwinners)
- institutional sexism is evidenced in customs and practices that lead to discrimination
between the sexes (e.g., paying women less for the same work as a man, excluding
women from advancing to top management positions, and child custody laws that favor
mothers or fathers)
- sexist language put down people because of their gender. Examples include:
o using the word “man” generically to denote all of humankind; emphasizes
“maleness” at the expense of “femaleness”
o using of the masculine pronoun (he and his) to refer to any individual
regardless of sex
o using sex-role stereotyping, that is assuming that certain roles or professions
belong to men and others belong to women
• Sexual Harassment – behavior that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Two general
categories of sexual harassment have been identified:
- quid pro quo harassment involves offering “something for something” usually the
offer of advancement for sexual favors or the threat of dismissal if sexual favors are not
granted
- hostile environment harassment includes all sexual behaviors (verbal and nonverbal)
that make a worker uncomfortable. Hostile work environments are created through the
telling of explicit sexual jokes, the posting of explicitly sexual material in common work
areas, and the use of derogatory or demeaning language with sexual overtones.
- Ways of determining whether someone’s behavior constitutes sexual harassment include
considering these questions:
o Is this behavior real?
o Is this behavior job related?
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o Have you clearly rejected the behavior?
o Have the unwanted messages persisted?
- If you have been exposed to sexual harassment, consider these suggestions:
o Talk to the harasser. Explicitly and assertively state that the behavior is
unwelcome and offensive
o Collect evidence (save emails, write down when offenses occur) and seek
corroboration from others
o Use appropriate channels within the organization to file a grievance or make
a formal complaint
o If necessary, file a complaint with an governmental agency (e.g., EEOC) or
seek legal counsel




Cultural Identifiers – preferred terms used in talking to and about members of different
cultures; language that is free of sexism, heterosexism, racism, or ageism. Preferred cultural
identifiers are not constant and to ensure language is neutral and not offensive one should
use cultural identifiers currently used by members of different groups
III. Using Verbal Messages Effectively – understanding these general principles of verbal
messages is crucial to being an effective communicator:
Messages Symbolize Reality (Partially) – while verbal messages may describe objects,
people and events, they do so with varying degrees of accuracy. Verbal messages are maps
of reality; they are not the territory, the reality itself. Two ways people often confuse verbal
messages with the things they represent include:
- Intensional Orientation: (the “s” is intentional) the tendency to view people, objects,
and events in the way they are talked about or labeled. Similar to creating a self-fulfilling
prophecy, such as labeling someone as “boring” and then discovering indeed he or she
is boring. Intensional orientation can be avoided by using extensional orientation
(looking at the actual people, objects, and events first before applying labels)
- Allness: the tendency to decide we know everything about something or someone based
on limited interactions or perceptions. Allness can be avoided by mindfully considering
that to any statement an et cetera can be added – these is more to know, more to learn,
more to say
Messages Express Both Facts and Inferences – effective communicators work to
distinguish between facts (descriptions of observable phenomenon) and inferences
(conclusions drawn from observations)
Messages Can Obscure Distinctions – three ways messages can blur distinctions between
people, objects, and events include:
- Indiscrimination: the failure to distinguish between similar but different people,
objects, or events; similar to stereotyping
- Polarization: the tendency to look at the world in terms of opposites and describe it in
extremes; not allowing the possibility of a middle ground
- Static Evaluation: the tendency to retain an evaluation despite changes in a person or
thing; failing to recognize the past does not necessarily dictate the present or the future
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