John A. Daly, Carol A. Diesel, and David Weber University of Texas at Austin
This chapter is about difficult communication encounters -- encounters in which people feel that no matter what they say, they are almost always bound to lose. These encounters create, for lack of another term, conversational dilemmas; they create difficult challenges for communicators. Although conversational dilemmas are not necessarily everyday occurrences, almost everyone has been caught in them. The notion that people face conversational dilemmas was brought to the fore by an excerpt in Beck ( 1988, p. 215):
Tom: Why are you moping around? Sally: You told me I was stupid. Tom: I really didn't mean it. I was angry at the time. Sally: I know you really do think I am stupid. Tom: That just isn't true. I was angry. Sally: You always say that when people are angry they express their true thoughts.
At this point, Tom is in a difficult bind. No matter what he says, he has a problem. Denying he was angry contradicts what he just said. Suggesting that he was wrong about what he said before again contradicts what he has previously argued. Saying that Sally misunderstood what he meant can easily be construed by Sally as an attack. In short, Tom is trapped in a conversational dilemma.