The decision of the jury hearing People versus Phillips was that the chiropractor was guilty of murder. It seems that sticks and stones may break your bones, and words can kill you. The competence with which we communicate and interact with one another potentially carries such dark consequences.
Yet, competence is an elusive phenomenon. Everyday behavior often makes it seem ephemeral, and its mercurial character has frustrated most scholarly investigation. The centrality of competence to relationship development has not been commonly recognized. Communicative competence is integral to relational functioning, in at least three fundamental ways ( Spitzberg, 1993). First, competent communication facilitates the satisfactory development and management of relationships. Second, competence impressions moderate the influence of behavior in relationships. For example, research has shown that the role that conflict behavior plays in relational outcomes depends on how it influences the coactor's view of the actor's competence ( Canary & Cupach, 1988; Canary & Spitzberg, 1987, 1989, 1990). Third, the self-inference of competence has significant impacts on confidence, motivation, efficacy, and the behavioral course of relational interaction ( Bandura, 1990; Kolligian, 1990). Given the importance of competence to the functioning of relationships, it is essential that inquiry comes to grips with its nature. Traditionally, scholarship has oversimplified the construct of competence and fallen prey to ideologies that have steered theory away from potentially fertile fields of investigation. This book is an attempt to redress these deficits by focusing on the many ways in which the dark side is both normative and often quite competent.
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