The hidden structure
From Communication to
not to say
New Perspectives on miscommunication
Istituto Auxologico Italiano
We live today in the Age of Information and of Communication because electric media instantly and constantly create a total field of interacting events in which all men participate.
Communication has come to be regarded as a symbol of the age in which we live. Talk is frequently of "communication explosion", of "communication technology" revolution, even of "communication society". But what is communication and how can we make sense of it?
Many of us, when asked about communication, usually think of it as a mere information transmission from a source to a receiver by means of coding-encoding processes. However, different studies during the last fifty years clearly underlined that one thing is what is said, another is what is meant. In fact, many meanings are characterized by fuzzy boundaries that are defined by the context in which they are expressed. Within this perspective, meaning is not a fixed system of univocal correspondences between expression and content, but a set of possible inferences that have different probability degrees of realization.
This vision has a simple consequence: it is possible to communicate only to the extent that speakers share beliefs, recognize reciprocal expectations, and accept rules for interaction which serve as necessary anchors in the development and understanding of utterances. To make this process even more complex is the observation that communicators have at their disposal a plurality of signaling systems, verbal and non-verbal.
The acknowledgment of a plurality of communicative systems involves the necessity of examining how they may be related to each other and how they can make up a unitary totality. This is one of the main goals of Say not to Say: New perspectives on miscommunication.
By defining a new research area - the miscommunication psychology - the Editors try to provide some guidelines to understand the processes by which we manage our experience - make meanings, construct identities and search for friends and partners - through the analysis of miscommunication processes. According to the approach proposed by the Editors, miscommunication is considered not only as a defect or a mismatch, but also as a plus and as a powerful device in the hands of the communicators. In this sense, miscommunication can be considered as a chance, because it enhances the degrees of freedom available to communicators in their interaction.
This vision has a strong effect on the possibility of improving the communication process: communicators have the opportunity to manage their communicative strategy in the best possible way, given the contextual constraints and their respective encyclopaedia of knowledge. Through the choice of specific linguistic and extra-linguistic hints and clues - intonation, the word order in an utterance, an extra stress and so on - the speaker can convey different meanings and adapt them to a specific context.
Starting from these premises, the topics discussed directly involve critical issues for many application areas such as marketing, advertising, group management, media and new media development, and are presented with scientific competence and suggestions for actual use. In fact the Editors included throughout the book a wide variety of chapters, that discussed topics as seduction, irony or deception with a careful attention to the links between the cognitive and social aspects of communication. Real-world examples offer clear, relevant, and accessible demonstrations of the points discussed.
Appropriate for psychologists, communication and media researchers, students and even the casual reader, this book provides a unique perspective on communication in today's society and enables us to see more clearly how analyzing miscommunication can help us in better understanding the different facets of the communication experience.
Fondazione "Piera, Pietro e Giovanni Ferrero"
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Since teachers have the most direct, sustained contact with students and considerable control over what is taught and the climate for learning, improving teachers knowledge, skill and disposition through professional development is a critical step in improving student achievement.
King and Newman, 2000
Teaching is a very difficult and demanding profession. Good professors must have a deep knowledge of their subject areas, but this is not enough: they must be skilled, too, in the difficult process of communicating their knowledge and interacting with the students.
However, a good researcher or a good professional is not always also an effective communicator. This is why, everyone who is concerned about the quality of education should consider carefully the adoption of policies and practices that support teachers in the acquisition of communicative skills.
In particular, in everyday communication teachers face the challenge of effectively communicating and sharing their knowledge with students, in order to engage them actively in the process of making sense out of their educational experience. This activity can be thought of as a contingent and dynamic activity strictly related to the situation in which it happens. It is a situation where the meanings are by definition an instable entity: it is not taken and given in a fixed and automatic way once and for all, but is built and shared though social interaction.
In this context a significant role is played by communication: understanding how to improve the communication skills is a significant step in enhancing the efficacy of the educational experience.
This book is a first step toward this goal. By discussing the different aspects of communication, the Editors underline the complexity of this process. In order to be effective, the teacher and the students should be able to share the same core beliefs, recognize reciprocal expectations, and define common rules for interaction. Many different components are involved in this process - semiotic choices, discourse genre and conventions, the aims of the interlocutors and the like - and all of them mutually affect each other during all the teaching/learning processes.
Within this framework, the novelty of Say not to Say: New perspectives on miscommunication is the different focus given to miscommunication: it is not only a possible problem but also an enhancement of the communicative possibilities available to the teachers.
According to the Miscommunication as a CHance Theory - MaCHT - presented in this volume, a strategic use of miscommunication may enhance the degrees of freedom available to the teachers during their lessons. In fact, it includes a set of communicative acts like exaggerating, flattering, joking, kidding, speaking sarcastically, euphemistically or metaphorically, that when correctly used can improve the communicative efficacy.
However, Say not to Say: New perspectives on miscommunication does more than present and review current communication theories. It is also important to realize that it offers a series of recommendations, based on extensive evidence from research, about how communicators can improve the efficacy of their presentations. Following thse, the teacher may target his/her communicative strategy by using simple linguistic and extra-linguistic tools such as intonation or an extra stress.
In conclusion, both the educators who want to improve their communication skills and the readers who are interested in exploring the miscommunication area, should consider this volume as an interesting starting point.
Rector Magnificus, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
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Communication theorists generally focus more on the study of message-making as a process, whereas semioticians center their attention more on what a message means and on how it creates meaning
What is communication? If we check Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, we can find the following definitions: n. 1. the act of transmitting 2. a) a giving or exchanging of information, signals or messages by talk, gestures, writing, etc. b) information, message, etc. 3. close, sympathetic relationship. 4. a means of communicating; specif., a) [pl.] a system for sending and receiving messages, as by telephone, telegraph, radio, etc. b) [pl.] a system as of routes for moving troops and materiel c) a passage or way of getting from one place to another 5. [often pl. with sing. v.] a) the art of expressing ideas, esp. in speech and writing b) the science of transmitting information, esp. in symbols.
The number of definitions and the differences between them show clearly the difficulty of describing the communication structure. In fact, even after many attempts, a communication theory able to address all the features of this process is still lacking. The earliest communication frameworks were based on the process of signal transmission in telecommunication systems. Shannon and Weaver's model is still the best known and most widely used. According to authors, communication is defined as the transfer of information - message - from a transmitter - source - to a receiver in the form of a signal, which is sometimes modified by disturbance - noise - in the transmission system itself. One undeniable advantage of technical communication models is that they provide a general description of communication. On the other hand, however, these models cannot take account either of the specifically linguistic features of verbal language, or of the process of sense-making typical of the communicative processes.
One of the clearest theoretical rejections of the analogy between verbal communication and physical data transmission has come from Roman Jakobson, who links these six physical components of communication - sender, message, receiver, context, code, contact - to six linguistic functions - expressive, connotative, phatic, metalinguistic, denotative-referential, poetic - which establish the intentionality of the communicative act. However, the linguistic models of communication also proved unsatisfactory. In fact communication, though basically a linguistic phenomenon, is also affected by the psychosocial relationships between the subjects involved in it.
Given these difficulties, some theorists used a different approach: they differentiated between standard communication and miscommunication. According to this vision, subjects are characterized by a natural stance towards language, as if communicating were a natural gift. However, this approach too has a strong limitation: the idea of a natural attitude towards language ends up by not recognizing the personal responsibility of the communicator, given that the message would be automatically guaranteed by objective conditions.
This book is intended to be a first attempt to overcome these frameworks. In particular, the book, accepting a difficult challenge, tries to define the background of a unitary theory of communication where communication and miscommunication are simply the two faces of the same coin. In particular, the main message of the book is the following: the borderline between what is communicated and what is miscommunicated cannot be split up and partitioned in two separate and discrete fields. In fact, miscommunication is everywhere, because it belongs to the communicative exchanges of everyday life.
Miscommunication is central to interpersonal communication. Every day we are constantly confronted with the handling of miscommunication at every stage of the communication process, handling that will influence the effectiveness of the message and the relationships on which those messages impact. This is why this book tries to provide the reader with worthwhile options for a vast array of interpersonal situations - deception,irony, humor, seduction, computer mediated communication - and discusses the theory, research, and evidence bearing on the miscommunication process. After completing this text, the reader should thus be better equipped to make more reasoned, more reasonable and more effective communication decisions.
We have put a great deal of thought and effort into the definition of the structure of the book and the sequence of the contributions, so that those in search of a specific reading path will be rewarded. To this end we have divided the book into four main Sections comprising 11 chapters overall:
1 Towards a definition of miscommunication: A theoretical approach
2 Pretending to communicate: Deception, seduction and equivocation
3 Communicate to pretend: Irony and humor
4 Communicate in pretending: Computer mediated communication
Each chapter begins with a brief abstract and a table of contents that help the reader to identify the relationships between the sections chapters.
The starting point of the book is the assumption that a viable theory of communication has also to explain miscommunication in its different forms. Following this perspective, in Section 1 - Towards a definition of miscommunication: A theoretical approach - Anolli and Reboul try to outline some general principles that can connect communication and miscommunication processes in a coherent theoretical perspective.
In particular Anolli, in the Chapter 1 , sketches out the Miscommunication as a CHance Theory (MaCHT). His purpose is to suggest a new unitary model of communication that embraces both communicative and miscommunicative phenomena. Within this perspective, he proposes a definition of miscommunication as "say not to say": the chapter tries to overcome the standard concept of miscommunication as a lack, fault and violation of rules, considering not only its negative aspects, but also the positive ones in the interaction.
Reboul, expanding this view in Chapter 2, analyzes two well-known views of linguistic communication: the code model and the hypothesis of semantic transparency. After a quick analysis of their contents, the author describes how the most recent pragmatic theories have discarded them. This enables them to account for the whole range of communication mishaps, from mere misunderstandings to sophisticated deception strategies.
In Section 2 - Pretending to communicate: Deception, seduction and equivocation - the attention of the authors moves to the analysis of deception, seduction and equivocation. In Chapter 3 , Anolli, Balconi and Ciceri discuss a general model of deception - the Deceptive Miscommunication Theory (DeMiT) - that can explicate both the main characteristics of deceptive communication and the local management of the deceptive message in its different expressions.
Seductive interaction is the focus of Chapter 4 , proposed by Ciceri. This process is here analyzed as a flexible plurality of behavioral patterns, corresponding to the variety of communicative intentions: exhibition, approaching the partner, deepening reciprocal knowledge, and reaching a level of intimacy. Particularly, this approach makes it possible to analyze the connections between different systems of expression (verbal and nonverbal) and to describe several seductive strategies of obliquity and to disguise tactical communication, which are defined as miscommunication forms.
In the final chapter of this Section, Chapter 5 , Fernández-Dols, Carrera and Casado try to give an explanation of a relevant inconsistency: the difference between the patterns of representation of emotional facial expression in most of the available art, and the patterns of emotional facial expression outlined by contemporary studies on recognition of emotions.
Starting from the theoretical background presented in the first Section, Section 3 - Communicate to pretend: Irony and humor - presents a framework for the analysis of Irony and Humor. Anolli, Infantino and Ciceri open this Section with a new theoretical perspective by proposing the fencing game (or irony situation) model. In Chapter 6 irony is not considered only as a comment or remark at a linguistic level but also as a complex communicative interaction between interlocutors, depending on contextual constraints and opportunities.
Humor and Irony are the focus of Chapter 7 . Attardo investigates the performance of humor by examining the motivations for a subject to use irony, and the responses that the interactant produces to it, which range from mode adoption to ignoring it.
The last chapter of Section 3, Chapter 8 , deals with the risks and rewards of ironic communication. In this chapter, Gibbs and Colston argue that irony cannot be characterized simply as having positive or negative social impact, but can serve multiple communicative purposes, depending on the social context and aims of the conversational participants.
The final Section - Communicate in pretending: Computer mediated communication - is devoted to the analysis of Computer Mediated Communication, CMC. In fact, this emerging form of communication may be described as a particular form of miscommunication: a necessarily pared-down form of conversation, which lacks the many features and some rules on which traditional forms of interaction depend.
What are its characteristics? In Chapter 9, Riva outlines how CMC users are able to make order and create relationships out of the miscommunication processes typical of this medium. Moreover, it presented the emerging forms of CMC - instant messaging, shared hypermedia, weblogs and graphical chats - and their possible social and communicative effects.
In Chapter 10 , Mantovani addresses the effects of CMC on the development of interpersonal attraction, aiming at identifying the specific features that this process has in cyberspace. In fact, as clearly underlined by the author, CMC does not only support emotional and intensely involving communication between people, but it is also characterized by a specific allure, which makes it intriguing for many users.
The last chapter, Chapter 11 , focuses on the concealment in self-presentation, typical of CMC. To understand the characteristics of this process, Mabry analyzed the message contents of men and women participating in asynchronous online discussion. Research findings indicated that gender identity and communicator status were strongly related to message openness.
The eleven contributions selected are among the first scientific attempts to take a serious look at the different aspects of miscommunication. However, the authors did not start from scratch. Social sciences have a broad knowledge of the different factors that characterize communication processes. So, the chapters proposed for this book are descriptive and theoretical-oriented in nature. The wide array of research areas represented here strengthens the idea of miscommunication as a research field strictly integrated with the main flow of communication research.
The Editors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of a number of people and institutions without whose help this project could not have been carried out. We have benefited from the friendship with Paul Ekman, Magnus Magnusson and Klaus Scherer and from their long research in this field. We also acknowledge the Fondazione Piera, Pietro e Giovanni Ferrero, Alba, Italy, for the continuous support given to the Centre for Studies and Research in Communication Psychology research
We are grateful to Valentino Zurloni, too, who helped the Editors in the difficult editorial process required in the preparation of this book. A final thank you goes to Prof. Eugenia Scabini, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy, and to Prof. Fernando Dogana, Head of the Department of Psychology at the same university, who supported the Editors in their research work.
We want to thank the colleagues of the Centre for Studies and Research in Communication Psychology for their help in carrying out the research lines discussed in this book. In particular, we are grateful to Alessia Agliati, Paola Colombo, Claudio Lucchiari, and Olivia Realdon for their support.
Moreover, Riva wants to thank his directors and colleagues at the Istituto Auxologico Italiano, one of the leading research and health care center in Italy. In particular, his thanks go to the President of the Institute, Prof. Giovanni Ancarani, to the General Manager, Dr. Mario Colombo, and to the Scientific Director, Prof. Alberto Zanchetti.
Some of the chapters included in this book are the results of the following Italian Ministry of University and Research grants: Processi comunicativi in ambienti ad alta virtualità (D1 2000: Communicative processes in high virtuality environments), and Comunicazione linguistica ed extra-linguistica (D1 2001: Linguistic and extra-linguistic communication).
In the end, we hope that the contents of this book will stimulate further integrated research in the communication area. In particular, we hope that in the near future miscommunication will be considered not only as a defect or a mismatch, but also as a plus and as a powerful device in the hands of communicators.
Luigi Anolli, Ph.D.
Rita Ciceri, Ph.D.
Giuseppe Riva, Ph.D.
Istituto Auxologico Italiano
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Semantic Transparency, Semantic Opacity, States of Affairs, Mental States
and Speech Acts (325 Kb)
The Meaning of Expression: Views from Art and Other Sources (342 Kb)
Humor and Irony in Interaction: From Mode Adoption to Failure of Detection
The Risks and Rewards of Ironic Communication (257 Kb)
Ambiguous Self-Identification and Sincere Communication in CMC (299 Kb)