Strategic Interpersonal Communication

By John A. Daly; John M. Wiemann | Go to book overview

The relationship between comforting skill and peer acceptance in adult populations was examined by Samter and Burleson ( 1990). These researchers had college students living in fraternities and sororities complete a battery of communication skill assessments and provide both positive and negative sociometric nominations for all members of their houses. There were significant negative correlations between comforting skill and the number of negative nominations received by an individual. That is, persons with poor comforting skills had more house members nominate them as someone they disliked. Although these correlational findings are open to several interpretations, they replicate Burleson et al.'s ( 1986) results with children, and are consistent with the hypothesis that poor comforting skills contribute to peer rejection.

In summary, limited evidence suggests that the ability to produce sophisticated comforting strategies may have long-term effects on the quality of people's interpersonal relationships. However, the potential long-term relational effects of comforting styles need much more extensive investigation.


CONCLUSION

Comforting strategies designated sophisticated by constructivist theory are perceived as more effective than unsophisticated strategies, and some evidence suggests that these strategies do a better job of relieving the emotional hurts of others. Moreover, regular exposure to sophisticated comforting messages may help recipients develop skills for the self-management of potentially distressful situations. Compared to persons using less-sophisticated comforting strategies, users of sophisticated strategies are better liked and more positively evaluated by both message recipients and observers. Further, users of sophisticated comforting strategies report feeling better both about themselves and those they try to help. Finally, there is some evidence suggesting that persons able to produce sophisticated comforting strategies have better relationships with peers than those less able to produce such strategies. In summary, the use of sophisticated comforting messages appears associated with several desirable outcomes.

Studies of message outcomes take on added significance in light of evidence suggesting that comforting is a highly consequential activity in the world of everyday life. Research indicates that the events prompting comforting efforts, though less intense than life crises, have serious implications for psychological and physical well-being (see DeLongis et al., 1982; Eckenrode, 1984; Kanner et al., 1981). Fortunately, sophisticated comforting strategies aid recipients in coping with stressful events, and thus improve the quality of people's lives. Consistent with these findings, people view comforting as a significant activity and place high value on the comforting skills of their friends (for a detailed discussion of the social significance of comforting activity, see Burleson, 1990).

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