Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

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

CHAPTER 7
MESSAGE PRODUCTION SKILL IN SOCIAL
INTERACTION
Charles R. Berger
Department of Communication, University of California, Davis

MESSAGE PRODUCTION SKILL IN SOCIAL INTERACTION

The staggering variety of social contexts within which individuals produce verbal and nonverbal messages makes the task of identifying and elaborating message production skills a daunting one. Not only do social interactions unfold in situations that range from the highly routine to those that are unique, the variety of instrumental and communication goals pursued in these interactions is equally large or larger. As these social encounters play out, participants may experience them as positive or negative, or as some admixture of these affects. In addition to these possibilities, studies of social situation perception have revealed several other dimensions such as formal–informal, cooperative–competitive, and superior–subordinate that social perceivers use to characterize social interaction contexts (see Forgas, 1979; Miller, Cody, & McLaughlin, 1994; Wish, Deutsch, & Kaplan, 1976).

To reduce this conceptual complexity, a framework for viewing social interaction is advanced here. This perspective features the role that goals and plans play in organizing the messages exchanged within social interactions. There are alternative conceptual lenses through which message production skills could be viewed (e.g., social learning theories). However, because the notion of skill necessarily implies the ability to reach goals, conceiving of social interaction as a goal-directed and plan-guided activity is a particularly fruitful vantage point from which view message production skills. Social actors who reach their goals are more likely to be viewed as “skilled performers, ” although goal attainment is but one factor that fuels such evaluations.

Once this goal–plan-based scaffolding is erected and the criteria for skilled message production adumbrated, the remainder of the chapter deals with skills particular to message production in social interaction contexts. After examining speech production as a general skill that enables complex social interaction, the message production skill rubrics of goal–plan detection, establishing common ground, the production of audience-adapted messages, and the generation of effective message plans are

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