Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

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

CHAPTER 2
MODELS OF ADULT COMMUNICATION SKILL
ACQUISITION: PRACTICE AND THE COURSE
OF PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT
John O. Greene
Purdue University

There may be no observation about communication skills that is more fundamental, and more far-reaching in its implications, than that they are developed and refined over time through implementation. Communication skills do not appear instantaneously, fully developed, and ready to be applied in persuading, comforting, or understanding others. The novice public speaker, interviewer, therapist, or negotiator is unlikely to be as polished or as successful as one who has a wealth of experience in such activities.

The general idea that communication skills develop gradually through use is widely recognized and accepted, so much so that it can be seen to constitute the basic warrant for much of what transpires in college courses on communication skills, professional training seminars, and relationship counseling sessions. Doubtless, most communication teachers and trainers would conclude with Michael Argyle and his associates (Trower, Bryant, & Argyle, 1978, p. 71), that “practice is essential” in the acquisition of social skills.

Although the practice–skill acquisition relationship is readily seen to be embedded in the very fabric of what, and how, we teach, our understanding of the nature of this relationship remains somewhat vague. As teachers, trainers, and practitioners, we acknowledge—even if only implicitly—that practice leads to improved performance, but behind this general principle lurks a number of essential questions: What is the nature of the cognitive mechanisms that give rise to changes in performance quality as a result of practice (i.e., why does practice cause improvement)? If performance improves as a function of practice, then what is the nature of the function relating changes in performance quality to amount of practice? What individual-difference variables or person factors impact the course of skill acquisition and in what ways? What types of practice are more or less effective in bringing about performance improvements?

Despite the significance of these and related issues for the design of instruction and training programs, these sorts of questions have not typically been a point of

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