THE DARK SIDE OF (IN)COMPETENCE
Brian H. Spitzberg San Diego State University
In the ever-shifting eddies and currents, depths and shallows, tributaries and arroyos of relational waters, we discover the challenge of navigating to safe harbor and desired destinations. Relationships are often our greatest source of satisfaction, and just as often it seems, the source of our darkest tragedies, deepest regrets, and almost Sisyphean struggles. Given the potential importance of relationships to our well-being, we have long sought the best designs and the most accurate maps with which we might competently navigate the course of human relations. This chapter examines the history, importance, reigning ideologies, and paradoxical aspects of competence in human encounters and relationships. The objectives are to overview the centrality of competence in relationships and everyday communication, and to identify the extent to which that which we normatively take to be competent often is not, and vice versa.
Humans have probably been concerned with interpersonal competence ever since the evolution of self-reflective capacities and symbol systems complex enough to permit shades of subtlety (and therefore error) in meaning and interpretation. Nevertheless, scrutiny of the intellectual history of the concept reveals few clues of its more feral forms. Written histories say relatively little about interpersonal competence, or any of its cognate concepts, until