William R. Cupach Illinois State University
This chapter examines a pervasive dark side of everyday social interaction -- predicaments. Most individuals are capable of performing adequately in routine social interactions. Inevitably, however, we are faced with more challenging situations in which social performances are botched, expectations are disconfirmed, identities are threatened, interactions are disrupted, and persons are held accountable. Communication competence entails the ability of a social actor to avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls of social encounters to the extent possible and to gracefully repair problematic situations when they occur. The purpose of this chapter is to explicate the nature of social predicaments and the means by which communicators effectively manage such encounters.
Predicaments are problematic situations characterized by awkwardness or difficulty. They occur when individuals are perceived to have acted incompetently, such as when behavior is judged to be inappropriate, ineffective, or foolish. Social predicaments engender "undesirable implications for the identity-relevant images actors have claimed or desire to claim in front of real or imagined audiences" ( Schlenker, 1980, p. 125). Thus, in Goffman's ( 1967) terminology, predicaments produce symbolic implications that are face threatening. They are face threatening for the individual caught in the pre-