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TOGETHER: COMMUNICATING INTERPERSONALLY

A SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION APPROACH 6th edition


By
John Stewart, Karen E. Zediker, & Saskia Witteborn
New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

Overview

Together is written primarily for students in basic undergraduate interpersonal communication classes. It is one of over a hundred texts that serve this market. All of the successful ones include information on definitions of communication and interpersonal communication, verbal and nonverbal codes, perception, listening, disclosure, communicating with friends and families, identity management, conflict, and relating in cyberspace. In order to appeal to the professor who selects the text, they all cite relevant research about all these topics and include learning outcomes, previews and summaries, review questions, and application exercises.

Together is distinct in a couple of ways. First, unlike most other interpersonal texts, it approaches communication as something people do together, rather than as an action one person does to someone else. This is part of what it means to take “a social construction approach.” Communication is defined as the complex, continuous, collaborative process of verbal and nonverbal meaning-making. Six implications are derived from this definition, and each affects how you understand and “do” communication.

Second, Together defines interpersonal communication as what happens between people when they are willing and able to maximize the presence of the personal. This basically means
that people bring into their listening and speaking aspects of what makes human being persons: their uniqueness, unmeasurability, reflectiveness, responsiveness, and addressability. When people give out and take in elements of their own and the other person’s personness, then the communication between them is interpersonal.

A third feature of Together is that it foregrounds the identity-negotiation process. Whenever people communicate, we’re always offering definitions of ourselves and responding to the self-definitions offered by others. A parent yells “You’ll do it because I said so!” which says she’s defining herself as the person in control, and the teenager responds, “You don’t control my life!” which says that she rejects the parent’s definition and is trying to re-define the relationship. Identity-negotiation is a centrally important part of almost every conflict, and it’s going on whenever people communicate.

Unfortunately, the chapter called Relating Interpersonally in Cyberspace is very out of date. It was reasonably current when we wrote it in 2003-2004, but it’s seriously obsolete now.

You’ll also find “But. . .A student responds” sections and “In other words” readings. The former repeat questions that students have raised in class about ideas in the text, along with our responses. The latter are brief stories or essays that restate important points in another voice.

Content and Topics

Here are some important ideas that are made in the book:

• No one person can completely control a communication event, and no single person or action causes—or can be blamed for—a communication outcome. This is what it means to say that communication happens between people.
• Ethical choices and culture are present in all communication.
• The most ordinary communication events—everyday conversations—are almost always the most important.
• The most important single communication skill is nexting, the ability to keep a conversation going.
• There’s a direct relationship between quality of communication and quality of life.
• You can manage your identity-negotiating better when you learn the five general options you have: closed stereotyping, disconfirmation, closed sensitivity, open stereotyping, and open sensitivity.
• Perception processes are affected by the ways people select, organize, and draw inferences from verbal and nonverbal cues.
• Listening is crucially important, and it helps to distinguish among analytic, empathic, and dialogic listening.
• Language is the way humans be who we are.
• The six main nonverbal codes function in 3 main ways: to express emotions, clarify cultural identity, and define relationships.
• Deception, betrayal, and hurtful messages all emerge when power is mis-used.
• It helps to discover your favorite or typical conflict styles and to know how to use various conflict management tactics.

Background

Bridges Not Walls, Together, and Moments of Meeting all develop a similar approach to communication and interpersonal communication. After collecting other people’s writings into the first edition of Bridges, I decided that I wanted to collaborate with another teacher to write a book in our own voices, based on our ideas and experiences. Over the years, I’ve done this in three teams: Gary D’Angelo and I wrote the first 3 editions, Carole Logan and I wrote the next 2, and Karen, Saskia, and I wrote the 6th edition. Karen and Saskia were graduate students in the department where I taught, and are both gifted teachers. They are now both professors, Karen in Tacoma, Washington, and Saskia in Hong Kong. Karen specializes in ethics and Saskia in intercultural communication. Each brings a great deal to the 6th edition.

As the Preface says, my main goal is to have Together help people connect with others. Although our bodies and our experiences make us individuals, we become who we are as we experience contacts with others—first with parents, then other family members, and then in ever-broadening circles of relationships. The quality of these relationships determines the quality of our lives, and our communication is central to this process.

Preview the Table of Contents

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