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About this book

Communication is the basis of so much of what happens in the workplace and indeed in our private lives. Without effective communication our lives are so much the poorer and with so many more problems. This book, now in an updated third edition, is therefore an important and valuable resource for anyone where success in their work depends on the quality of their interactions, whether face to face, in writing or electronically.

Divided into two parts, the book focuses first on theoretical insights to provide a firm basis of understanding and then on practice issues. Written in Neil Thompson’s characteristically clear and accessible style, this important book provides an essential foundation for making sure that we are communicating with one another as effectively as possible.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
My interest in language and languages began at an early age. Being brought up in Wales and having Welsh lessons as a compulsory part of the school curriculum gave me an excellent start in developing an appreciation for the subtleties of language differences and the rich lessons of language and culture to be learned. It also gave me an understanding of differences in status ascribed to languages; of the importance of language in shaping identity; and the prevalence of prejudices and stereotypes around language use and language users. This early experience led to a later concentration on languages as a major feature of my secondary education and a place on a degree programme in French and linguistics.
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

Theory

Frontmatter

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

2. Understanding Language

Abstract
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 through language that we form relationships, experience family life, bring up our children, do our work, enjoy our leisure, make war, make peace, and do various other aspects of our lives. It is also a primary factor in terms of the make-up of society in relation to both cultural and structural factors.
Neil Thompson

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

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 that 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) that have a bearing on how spoken language is used. Finally, I shall explore the important topic of body language or nonverbal communication.
Neil Thompson

5. Context and Meaning

Abstract
Even a whole book would fail to cover adequately the range and depth of this vast topic. I shall therefore be restricting myself to a number of what I see as key aspects. Building on my earlier work (Thompson, 2016b; 2017b; 2018) I shall concentrate on three separate but interrelated levels: personal, cultural and structural. This threefold approach is similar to that taken by Rubinstein (2001) in which he divides social life into three main dimensions: agency, culture and structure. Rubinstein argues that many attempts to develop sociological understanding have been flawed because they have adopted what he describes as an additive approach to culture and structure. That is, they have presented these two domains (the cultural domain of shared meanings and the structural domain of power relations and life chances) as two separate areas without taking account of their interpenetration - the dialectical relationship through which they influence and shape one another.
Neil Thompson

Practice

Frontmatter

6. Interpersonal Encounters

Abstract
Many people will be familiar with neurolinguistic programming (or NLP for short) as an approach to understanding communication and interpersonal interactions. However, I shall not be drawing explicitly from that knowledge base in this chapter. This is because, as Knight (1995) indicates, much of what is involved in NLP is not new. In my view, the strength of NLP is that it brings together a number of elements into a relatively coherent whole. However, its weakness is that it overestimates a biological element within the multidisciplinary nature of communication and interaction. This is something I find quite problematic as a theoretical underpinning to practice. It is for this reason that I shall not be paying major attention to NLP as an explicit theory base, although some of the ideas presented within an NLP framework will feature in this chapter.
Neil Thompson

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

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

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. Once again it needs to be acknowledged that we are dealing with complex issues, and so there can be no simple formulaic ways of dealing with them. What is needed is an approach rooted in critically reflective practice - that is, one that is based on a critical engagement with the situation and informed by a professional knowledge base, professional skills and, of course, professional values.
Neil Thompson

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. The phrase putting it in writing is one that immediately demonstrates the power of language, particularly in its written forms. Comments that are put in writing tend to acquire a formality and a power that can go far beyond the spoken word. I learned at a very early stage in my career that putting things in writing had a very pronounced tendency to give them an extra strength. For example, I realized that putting a request to a manager verbally had a certain amount of influence on the situation, but I found that committing such a request to writing gave it much greater voice. To a large extent, this power comes from our cultural expectations - that is, western cultures in particular ascribe considerable significance to the written word. We are therefore brought up to assume that something that is in written form has an extra degree of importance or weight. Indeed, this is a very strong cultural feature.
Neil Thompson

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? It is important to be clear at the beginning that, by management, I do not simply mean administration. In my view, an important element of management is leadership. Administration is concerned purely with dayto day operational matters, but the leadership dimension of management brings in a strategic focus. In terms of communication, what this means is that we need to go beyond simply using skills to avoid or circumnavigate barriers to communication and develop a more holistic approach. Being strategic involves adopting a more holistic approach, looking at the overall picture, including barriers to communication, and seeing what can be done to remove them.
Neil Thompson
Additional information