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Text 1. Communication contexts

Unit 4. Contexts

Communication contexts consist of a blend of the audience being addressed and the social settings in which communication occurs. While audiences and settings may be discussed separately, they may also be discussed together. Intrapersonal Communication Intrapersonal communication involves communication with oneself. People normally communicate with themselves when they are alone in private or semiprivate places. When people talk to themselves aloud in crowded, public places, others find such behavior strange. People communicate with themselves for a variety of purposes. They inform themselves by making grocery lists and by jotting notes of upcoming events on calendars. Before writing essays, they may inform themselves about how to proceed by making outlines. People also express feelings to themselves. Diary writing, for example, grows out of the human need to express feelings to oneself. People also address imaginative messages to themselves. They daydream and fantasize for pleasure. Students doodle creatively as they sit in class. Some people write poetry or prose that they never intend to share. Finally, people engage in ritualistic communication with themselves. Silent prayers and devotions often involve memorized rituals. Many athletes go through a ritual as they prepare for a game or contest. Baseball pitchers and batters, for example, often go through a routine as they prepare to pitch or bat.

Part 1. Interpersonal Communication Interpersonal communication involves one-to-one exchanges between people. It is the most important and frequent context for communication. It is important because it is essential to forming and maintaining significant relationships between individuals. Two types of interpersonal contexts exist. The first is impersonal in nature. When people react to each other according to the role they are playing, the context is impersonal. For example, in the relationship between a customer and a clerk, the customer may say “I'd like this item,” and the clerk may say “That will be 79 cents.” The most important type of interpersonal context, however, is personal in nature. When people react to one another as unique human beings with special needs and interests, a personal context exists and close relationships may develop. Such things as attraction, self-disclosure, and trust seem to play important roles in establishing and maintaining long-term social relationships. While most interpersonal communication involves face-to-face exchanges, telephone calls and letters are also forms of interpersonal communication. When friends and loved ones are separated by space, they still feel the need to communicate with each other. To compensate for the lack of physical presence, people use personal language and paralinguistic cues to reveal their feelings of love and friendship when writing letters or talking on the telephone.

Part 2. Small Group Communication Small group communication involves give-and-take exchanges between a relatively small number of people. A small group involves at least three but has no precise upper limit. The important thing is not how many people are involved but whether the people are aware of each other as individuals and feel that they can participate in the discussion. The first small group in which most people communicate is the family. Family communication often occurs around the dinner table, in the living room, and in the car. As children mature they become members of other small groups: peer play groups, church or synagogue classes, and day-care center or preschool groups. When children enter school they become members of classes. As they progress through school they communicate in an ever-increasing number of groups: scouting, dance classes, musical groups, athletic teams, and school clubs. As adults people begin families of their own, become members of groups of people who work together, form friendship groups, join recreational and athletic teams, and become active in community groups. Throughout life people continue to participate in small-group contexts. Scholars often classify groups by function. Among the functional groups that have been identified are learning, social, therapy, problem-solving, political action, and worship groups. Given the variety of functions, effective participation in groups requires a variety of skills. In family and therapy groups, for example, people must be effective in empathizing with others. In learning groups, however, people must have the wide array of skills needed for sending and receiving informative messages. As members, people must learn to help the group to accomplish its purpose or function. Their behaviors toward this end are called task roles. But people must also help each other to feel good about group membership and participation. Their behaviors toward these ends are called group maintenance or social roles. In addition, group members must become aware of individual actions that interfere with effective group functioning. Good group members are team players—they sacrifice self-interests for the welfare of the group

Part 3. Organizational Communication. Many small groups are also part of a larger group called an organization. An organization is, simply, a body of people organized for some specific purpose. Among the major organizations in society are churches, schools, colleges and universities, businesses, corporations, libraries, military services, and city, county, state, and national governments. Because organizations are complex, it is important that communication networks be established. The communication network in a business or public agency is often drawn up in an organization chart that identifies the titles of people who hold positions in the organization and indicates who is responsible to whom. Communication networks provide for both formal and informal exchanges of ideas. It is important in organizations that communication networks provide for a two-way flow of information. It must flow from a company president's office to all of the individuals and groups who need that information. But it should also flow in the other direction. Workers are more satisfied when they feel that their ideas are flowing to persons higher on the organization chart. Organizational communication is also important because conflicts arise between individuals and groups. Engineers in a company, for example, may produce product designs that shop foremen consider too difficult to make. When such differences arise, the communication network must provide for conflict resolution—a system through which workers can settle their differences. Public Communication Public communication involves face-to-face exchanges between people in situations where speaker and listener roles are relatively fixed. A lecture, a theatrical production, a concert, a religious service, a court trial, and a legislative hearing are all instances of public communication. Since public communication is essentially a one-way process, those who play speaker roles have a special responsibility. Speakers need to prepare carefully for such occasions. The message must be clearly organized. Audiences in public communication contexts have a right to expect speaker competence.

Part 4. Mass Communication Mass communication may be defined simply as messages directed at masses, or great numbers, of people. There are features of mass communication, however, that help to set it apart from other communication. Mass communication messages are prepared by institutions or other groups of people. A local television evening news program, for example, involves the three or four people who are seen at the news desk, but it also involves many people who are never seen on camera—camera operators, engineers, business managers, and many others. Mass communication is also directed to a relatively large and anonymous audience—“to whom it may concern.” The message must appeal to a large number of people, or those producing it will not remain in business. Finally, the source of the message is remote—separated from the audience by time or space. As a consequence, those being addressed do not feel the same need to pay careful attention as do those in the company of the message source. For example, television viewers generally feel free to talk to each other, leave the room to get a snack, change channels, or fall asleep. The fact that mass communication is a business in America has important implications. The mass media are in competition with each other for sales dollars, advertising revenue, or both. With advances in technology the number of alternatives is increasing. People have a greater variety of communication products from which to choose. Cable television, videotapes, and pay television systems, for instance, offer an increasing number of options to television viewers. As some people turn away from regular network and local-station programming, advertisers may be unwilling to pay the prices asked for advertising time. In the past, magazine publishers, film producers, and radio stations found it necessary to reach out for specific audiences. It has been suggested that the general mass audience is disappearing in favor of a number of smaller, more limited mass audiences.



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