Ponder This: Contexts for communication

by Madison Garner 

The Bible tells us to kill babies against rocks to be happy (Psalm 137:9), a man is clean when he becomes bald (Leviticus 13:40), and to drink up when we are in pain (Proverbs 31:6). Most people agree meaning of Bible verses go beyond select words alone, including context of the passage, culture, historical significance, etc.

Understanding communication also requires more than words alone. The Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory states there are six contexts involved in making meaning when communicating. The theory shows it is important to understand the context of a comment before judging the meaning of a statement.

The first context is the content, or what is said. Take the statement “you’re such a dork.”

The second is the action performed by speaking. The statement could be joking, insulting, complimenting, etc.

The third is a set interaction guided by rules. The statement could be said during a date, in which it is a playful flirtation. The statement could be said during an argument, meant to hurt.

The fourth is the relationship between the people communicating. A professor calling someone a dork results in a different response than a close friend.

The fifth is the view of self of the person receiving the statement. Someone with low self-esteem is more likely to be offended at the comment than someone with confidence.

The sixth is culture and sub-culture. Older generations probably would view this comment negatively, while younger generations likely view it as a joking comment.

The simple statement “you’re such a dork” can have drastically different meanings depending on the six contexts.

In communication situations, such as teasing and swearing, people often make judgements of a comment based upon the words alone. With teasing, the content is an insult. Similar to the “you’re such a dork” statement, the message could be intended as a positive interaction displaying closeness and fun. Instead of becoming offended at someone teasing, think about all the areas of context to get a holistic picture of their intent.

Another situation is swearing. The content is a harsh word. Using the rest of the areas of context, the message may not be out to offend. The message could be providing emphasis, expressing negative emotions, joking through exaggeration, etc. Instead of taking offense at a swear word, take the other factors of the message into account.

Most people wouldn’t read the Bible by taking one verse out of context and ignoring other important factors that help give a full picture of its meaning. People shouldn’t communicate with that method either. Coming to conclusions based upon words alone is ineffective and can create conflict. Communication is more than the words said, and the meaning behind a message is more than the words in it. Avoid hasty conclusions based upon words alone by keeping the six contexts for meaning in mind.

Contact Madison Garner at mgarner16@my.whitworth.edu

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