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About this book

This new edition of an essential text offers a clear and informative introduction to the subtleties and practical complexities of communication. Drawing on a wide-ranging theory base from across the social sciences, it demonstrates how key ideas from a number of disciplines provide a sound foundation for informed and sensitive practice. This edition includes:

A consistent focus on the importance of communication within inter-professional and multidisciplinary contexts;

New chapters on communication within specific settings, such as working with children and with groups;

New discussion of potential difficulties in communication – for example, as a result of disability issues or the challenges of intercultural communication;

A broad range of learning resources, such as activities, 'points to ponder' and 'voice of experience' comments, reflecting practitioners' real-world experience.

With its clear practice focus and emphasis on reflection throughout, this is a key text for both students and practitioners across the people professions.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
How far would we be able to get in going about our day-to-day business if we were not able to rely on communication? Clearly, not very far at all is the simple answer. Communication is a basic feature of social life. Good (2001) emphasizes this important point by beginning his discussion of communication and language with the following argument:
Human language and the ways in which we use it lie at the very heart of our social lives. It is through communication with one another that personal relationships, communities and societies are made and maintained, and it is through these social networks and relationships that we become who we are. (p. 76)
Neil Thompson

Theory

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Understanding communication

Abstract
In this first chapter my aim is to explore and explain some of the complexities of communication. I begin by examining what is meant by the term ‘communication’ and look at how it operates at a variety of levels. I then move on to look at different models of communication, different ways in which a range of theorists have tried to explain the complexities of communicative patterns, processes and interactions. Following on from this, the role of culture is our topic of analysis. This leads into a discussion of the significance of identity and its role in shaping the way communication takes place. Before ending the chapter, I also concentrate on some of the subtleties that occur as a result of intercultural communication — that is, the various dynamics that can occur as a result of communication taking place between people who have different cultural backgrounds, and therefore make different assumptions about the content of communication, the nature of that communication and, in some cases, its purpose.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 2. Understanding language

Abstract
Montgomery (1995) is not the only author to emphasize the importance of language when he comments that:
Language informs the way we think, the way we experience, and the way we interact with each other. Language provides the basis of community, but also the grounds for division. Systematic knowledge about language and practical awareness of how it works is fundamental to the process of building mature communities. (p. 251)
Indeed, language can be seen as the basis of interpersonal and social interaction at a variety of levels. Its importance in understanding people and their problems therefore cannot be overemphasized. It is no exaggeration to say that language is in many ways the basis of thought, feeling, action and interaction. It is also a primary factor in terms of the make-up of society in relation to both cultural and structural factors.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 3. The written word

Abstract
In a book on communication, writing is clearly an important topic to examine. While we can draw a distinction between verbal and written uses of language and, indeed, between written communication and other forms of communication more broadly, it remains the case that the written word is a very common and widely established form of communication. We can see writing as the basis of learning and, indeed, even of civilization itself. This is because, for the most part, so much of our learning depends on the use of the written word. Even in the technologically advanced twenty-first century, so much of our learning depends on writing, even if this writing is in the form of words on a computer screen rather than on paper. While it would certainly not be true to argue that learning is dependent upon writing, it is clear that someone who does not have the benefit of being able to read and write is at a serious disadvantage when it comes to education and learning.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 4. Speech and conversation

Abstract
Just as the previous chapter showed that writing is an important form of communication, this chapter explores the various ways in which the spoken word can also be seen as a vitally important aspect of communication. In order to develop our understanding of the use of the spoken word, I shall examine three sets of issues. First, I shall look at speech, the actual use of the spoken word in communicating. I shall examine a range of important issues which will help us to develop an understanding of both the complexity and the importance of the spoken word. Next, I shall present a brief overview of what is known as ‘paralanguage’, the various factors (tone of voice, for example) which have a bearing on how spoken language is used. Finally, I shall explore the important topic of body language or nonverbal communication.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 5. Context and meaning

Abstract
One of the recurring themes in what has been covered so far in this book has been the importance of meaning, what Fiske (1990) refers to as the ‘dynamic interaction between reader and message’ (p. 145). The theme of meaning continues to be an important one in this chapter also. This is because a major focus of the chapter is that of the context of communication and, of course, meaning owes much to the context. As Fiske (1990) comments:
Reading is not akin to using a can opener to reveal the meaning in the message. Meanings are produced in the interactions between text and audience. Meaning production is a dynamic act in which both elements contribute equally. (p. 164)
Neil Thompson

Practice

Frontmatter

Chapter 6. Interpersonal encounters

Abstract
This chapter is not simply a set of prescriptions about how people should behave in interpersonal interactions, what language they should use or avoid, or what style of communication they should adopt. For one thing, the subject matter is far too complex for me to offer simple prescriptions for practice that would be of any real benefit and, for another, I feel it is far more beneficial for people to develop a raised level of awareness of the issues involved in interpersonal encounters. This raised level of awareness can then act as the basis of continuous learning in this area, rather than simply be a short sharp lesson in what to do and what not to do. My aim, then, is to facilitate learning at a much deeper level rather than simply issue a list of dos and don’ts. This is consistent with the concept of reflective practice (Thompson, 2000a) which is based on the notion that we do not become competent practitioners simply by ‘applying theory to practice’ but, rather, through a more complex and subtle process of integrating theory and practice or of theorizing practice — that is, drawing on a professional knowledge base to make sense of the practice situations we find ourselves immersed in (Thompson, 2010). It is not a case of learning either from experience or from formal theory and research, but rather learning from the integration of the two — what does my experience tell me? What does the professional knowledge base tell me? What can I learn by combining the two?
Neil Thompson

Chapter 7. Communicating with children and young people

Abstract
The knowledge base outlined in the previous chapters can be seen to apply to communication across the board, but what we shall note in this chapter is that there are additional factors that need to be taken into account when communicating with children and young people. This is the first of three chapters that explore such additional factors that need to be taken into consideration (Chapter 8 focuses on communicating with groups while Chapter 9 relates to communicating in situations where there are communication difficulties).
Neil Thompson

Chapter 8. Working with groups

Abstract
Modern western societies tend to be based on a strong sense of individualism (Bauman, 2001). However, this focus on the individual can be misleading, as it can distract attention from the fact that so much of our lives takes place in groups. As we shall see, groups are not just the sum total of the individuals concerned. Groups take on a life of their own to a certain extent (see the discussion of ‘group dynamics’ below), and also complicate matters by interacting with other groups, sometimes in positive, helpful ways, and sometimes in negative, destructive ways. These are important issues for professional practice (including the practice of managers) in general, as groups influence various aspects of the situations we encounter, but they are particularly relevant when we focus on communication. Our focus in this chapter is therefore on the factors we need to consider when communicating in and with groups.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 9. Communication difficulties

Abstract
Much of what I have written about in earlier chapters in relation to effective communication can be applied to a wide variety of situations if not across the board completely. In this chapter the focus changes to become a much narrower one, with an emphasis on those situations where there can be communication difficulties for various reasons. Such difficulties are not necessarily anybody’s fault, but a degree of awareness about them can help us to be better placed to keep any problems to a minimum and thereby make a positive contribution to effective communication.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 10. Putting it in writing

Abstract
While Chapter 3 explored some of the theoretical issues relating to the use of the written word, my aim in this chapter is to draw out some of the practice implications, based on both that theory base and my own experience in this area. This chapter will not make you into a highly skilled writer, but it should help you to improve your writing skills by helping to develop your understanding of what is involved in effective written communication.
Neil Thompson

Chapter 11. Managing communication

Abstract
Our starting point for this chapter is the fact that effective communication is not simply a matter of personal skills and individual efforts. Rather, it also depends on such important matters as organizational systems, cultures and structures. It was noted in Chapter 5 that the context of communication is a significant factor in shaping its outcomes. The organizational context is no exception to this. A major implication of this is that, for communication to be used to best effect, it needs to be actively managed and not just left to chance. The focus of this final chapter can therefore be summed up in one question: How do we manage communication?
Neil Thompson

Conclusion

Abstract
In the space available I cannot possibly draw out all the implications of the 11 chapters that make up the book or explicitly identify all the conclusions that could be drawn from the points I have made, the arguments I have presented and the views that I have represented (my own and those of the authors from whose work I have drawn). What I shall present here, then, by way of conclusion, is a summary of some of the key points and ‘messages’ I have tried to convey, together with some thoughts about future directions of study and learning in tackling this enormous (and enormously important) field of study and practice. I shall divide my comments into five sections, namely: the importance of communication; communication and the individual; communication and society; communication and equality; and integrating theory and practice.
Neil Thompson
Additional information