Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

FOREWORD
John M. Wiemann
University of California, Santa Barbara

Readers of this book almost certainly agree that many of the most important activities in which we engage are communicative. Our ability to create and sustain our social world depends in large measure on how well we communicate. People's social skills are crucial to their well-being—individually and collectively. The importance of understanding skillful behavior in all its complexities cannot be overstated.

This Handbook is a milestone in the study of communication skills. In its depth and breadth, it is a remarkable work that both chronicles the field and provides a framework for the next generation of theory and research. When such an important milestone has been reached, it is useful to reflect on the journey thus far.

The history of the discipline of communication (broadly conceived) is the story of identifying, investigating, and teaching social skills. There is also an ethical aspect to communication skills in that they can be used for good or ill; the playground bully and the political demagogue may use certain communication skills that accomplish their goals and motivate others to act on their behalf, but bring evil results. The roots of understanding and teaching social skills were decidedly in the service of the public welfare, however. The earliest teaching of oratory was motivated by the need for citizens to be competent to participate in democratic governance (and even today, local, national, and international participation requires that citizens learn to speak effectively to others).

Over time, of course, our understanding of what it means to be a socially skilled citizen has broadened. Not only do people need to deliver public speeches effectively, they also need to manage social and intimate discourse, as well as to use and respond to various technologies. Moreover, we have realized that adults are not the only ones needing social skills; children also need a repertoire of sophisticated social skills to interact effectively in their families, peer groups, and schools. Recognizing this, the National Communication Association has devoted resources to the assessment and development of communication skills in children from kindergarten through high school. In fact, pedagogical concerns and the expansion of communication curricula into the interpersonal domain were among the factors that sparked interest in communication competence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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