Language is the source of many problems in interpersonal communications. Since every language is made up simply by a collection of symbols that follow varied rules, it is not a precise means for communication. As you have seen in earlier chapters, language reflects and shapes the perceptions of the user while trying to give specific meaning to the content of a message. What and how we call people influences in what degree of regard we hold them. The way we speak also influences and shows our perceived power.

In your profession you are already aware that language has to be used very carefully. The level of precision or vagueness of a message can influence your understanding about the situation. In personal relationships, away from the job, both precise and evasive messages can have a place; however, on the job you are expected to choose the highest level of precision of the job at hand. While you are actively listening, you are expected to respond as clearly as possible, while evaluating the message and getting the information that you need in order to respond effectively,

You do all of the above by following semantic rules. These rules reflect the ways in which users of a language assign meaning to a particular linguistic symbol, usually a word. Misunderstandings arise when people assign different meanings to the same words. The most common misunderstandings are the use of equivocation, relative language, static evaluation, and abstraction.

Pragmatic rules govern the way speech operates in everyday interaction, i.e. the rules that are shared by most people in a culture to give meaning to certain messages.

When using the “I” rather than the “you” format in speech, you are assuming responsibility in order to clarify statements or achieve your instrumental goal. In communications, it is also important to guard against language habits like confusing facts with opinions or inferences or by using emotive terms. All of us have had experiences where these habits have caused trouble and misunderstandings in our interpersonal relationships.

Other problems that can occur have to do with the fact that there is a link between language and gender. That means that women and men show differences in the way they speak: the content varies, as do the reasons for the communication. There is also a difference in the conversational style between men and women. And, as if this is not confusing enough, a person’s occupation, the way he/she looks at society, and how he/she solves problems also influence language.

Language is used differently in other cultures. Low-context cultures (like the United States) use language mostly to express feelings and ideas as clearly as possible. We like it when everybody comes straight to the point. We don’t like to make inferences (context) from what is being said. High-context cultures (like Asian or Middle-Eastern countries) consider it rude to be clear and direct to the point. They expect to have to make inferences (context) of what is NOT being said. Even low-context cultures in Western Europe consider the American informality (e.g. calling someone immediately by his/her first name) rude, whereas nobody would be offended here. When communicating with persons from other cultures, it is, therefore, important to keep these differences in mind in order to effectively and precisely understand the message that is being conveyed.

Please know the key terms in the chapter and read the text thoroughly. I have listed a number of web links for further study and your enjoyment.

Web Links

Basic Differences Between Men and Women

Gender Differences in Communication


Styles of Communication: Direct and Indirect

“I” Messages