Philosophy of Interpersonal Relationships and Small Group Communication

My motivation for this project is because I want to be a better communicator; and in order to redefine my self, in private and public dimensions, I think it’s important to establish my foundation in ethics, for human and communication development.

This research is important because it will give me the power to ground my skills as a Communication and Media Specialist, with a newly chosen specialty: law, ethics, & acts. Ma’at is universal law in my culture, and I want to help create theories that deal with unethical behavior in personal relationships.  It also helps me develop my group communication skills. As a Scholar, I want to be active by developing training programs for organizations and institutions; maybe even helping private-personal relationships with interpersonal skills.

Rollo May 

Foundation of Ethics Theory

Interpersonal communication is the process of message transaction between two people to create and sustain shared meaning; sharing a meaning is a means to creating together through the use of verbal and non-verbal messages.

Duck,S., & McMahan, D. T. (2018). Communicationin everyday life: a survey of communication(3rd ed.).Thousand Oaks, California., California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Condon’s Interpersonal Ethic Potential Guidelines

Be candid and frank in sharing personal beliefs and feelings. Ideally, we would like no to mean no; a person who does not understand to say so; a person who disagrees to express that disagreement directly.

  1. In groups or cultures where interdependence is valued over individualism, keeping social relationships harmonious may be more ethical than speaking our minds.
  2. Information should be communicated accurately, with minimal loss or distortion of intended meaning.
  3. Intentional deception is generally unethical
  4.  verbal and nonverbal cues, words, and actions, should be consistent in the meanings they communicate.
  5. Usually it is unethical to block intentionally the communication process, such as cutting off persons before they have made their point, changing the subject when the other person obviously has more to say, or nonverbally distracting others from the intended subject.

John Condon explores a wide array of ethical issues that typically emerge in interpersonal communication settings: candor, social harmony, accuracy, deception, consistency of word and act, keeping confidences, and blocking communication. ( pg. 137, para. 2)

Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in human communication(6th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Contextual Interpersonal Ethic

Concrete guidelines are necessary to make ethical decisions but it’s OK for us to remain flexible in simultaneous contextual demands of the moment.

Proposition One: 

we must be open to information reflecting changing conceptions of self and others, but such openness does not imply agreement with those changes, only an attempt to understand the other’s perceptual world.  We should also be sensitive to our own and others’ role responsibilities in concrete situations.

Proposition Two:

the self actualization or self fulfillment of participants should be fostered if at all possible; but the “good” decisions may require sacrifice of something important to one or more participants.

Proposition Three:

we should take into account our own emotions and feelings, but emotions can’t be a sole guide for behavior. At times the “good” response or action requires doing what does not feel good.

An Ethic for Interpersonal Trust

Trust is central to both public and interpersonal communication. A minimal level of trust is required among the participants. Humans are essentially good by nature, there are realistic limits and constricting circumstances that most of the time limit achievement of ideal human potential.

An ethic that increases our trust in each other is desirable because our own trust of others tends to stimulate their trust of us, because our own self image can be improved, and because our psychological  health is nurtured.

Three Ethical Guidelines

Actively attempt to extend our trust of those around us as widely as possible.

  1. “Our trust should be tentative”, offered a little at a time, and we should clarify to to others “what we are risking, what we are counting on them to do or be, and what we expect to achieve”
  2. Trust should not only be given but it should also be earned. “An act of trust is unethical unless the trusted person is trustworthy; it takes two to trust one.”

An Ethic for Everyday Communication

Whether to exchange information or to attempt influence , communication is to be adequate (pg. 139, para. 1). Participants contributions should be appropriate for the purpose and frame of conversation (pg. 139, para. 1).

Quantity: contributions should present as much information advice, or argument as is required by current purpose of the conversation but should not present more than usual.

  • Quality: try to make your contributions true; do not say what you believe is false and do not say anything lacking an adequate basis of evidence
  • Relation: be relevant, taking account of the facts that participants may have different standards of relevance and that topics often shift during a conversation
  • Manner: Be clear, brief and orderly; avoid intentional ambiguity and obscurity of expression.

Unfair Tactics in Verbal Conflict

Disagreements and conflicts are a normal part of everyday life, in interpersonal and intimate settings. In situations where at least one party may be emotionally vulnerable, individuals often affect each other in direct and powerful ways.  When you are a receiver, in such a situation, decide to respond by expressing strong disagreement, there are some “unfair” tactics of verbal conflict you may want to avoid because they ethically responsible. (pg. 139)

Avoid monopolizing the talk with the intent of preventing others from expressing their own opinion.

  • avoid entrapment in which you lure someone into saying something that you intend to use later to embarrass or hurt him or her.
  • avoid verbally “hitting below the belt” by taking unfair advantage of what you know to be the other person’s special psychological vulnerability.
  • avoid stockpiling or accumulating numerous grievances so that you can overwhelm the other person by dumping complaints on him or her all at once.
  • avoid dragging  in numerous irrelevant or trivial issues and arguments in order to pile up an advantage.  (pg. 140)

Individual Responsibility in Relational Communication

“For there to be freedom to converse intimately with another person, each party must take responsibility for communicative behavior.” “Disclosing personal thoughts, feelings, and speaking freely in a relationship are rights, not obligations.” “To allow viable associations to develop, intimates should acknowledge limits in their communication and respect each other’s separateness.”

Openness should have limits. There should be a “freedom to be open without the compulsion to be ‘transparent’ ……Truth-dumping and burdening another with personal affairs” may be harmful. Self disclosure may restrict the others choice by creating an expectation or duty to reciprocate. Unrestrained blanket honesty “evades personal responsibility for the effects of one’s statements”

  • Privacy is essential in interpersonal relations and includes both the right to exclude other persons and a recognition of the other’s right to privacy. The distinction between privacy and secrecy is important. Privacy usually protects behavior that is morally neutral or positively valued. In contrast, secrecy usually hides something viewed negatively by self and others.” Misevaluation could occur if a legitimate right of privacy is asserted by a person but others perceive it as devious or deceptive secrecy.
  • Protection is essential for individuals to tolerate the vulnerability accompanying intimacy.  The extremes of excessive protectiveness and total expressiveness of feelings both may be harmful to the relationship. Intimates become aware of each other’s most private thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, so they usually gain knowledge of sensitive, hurtful issues.
  • Deception whether white or black sham, has consequences that require individual responsibility. Duplicity is a necessary element in social life and “deceit that is unethical or bad.” “With the “intentions motivating the behavior” as the crucial determinant, to determine if what sham is at times necessary to protect others and allow us to get along with them.” “Whereas black sham is exploitative and destructive fakery used to take advantage of others, undermining the relationship. (Pg. 141)

Keeping the Conversation Going

This view is applicable to interpersonal communications, public discourse, organizational communication, and mass communication. Genuine conversation aims at “creating mutual understanding through open formation of experience”; genuine conversation should be “responsive to the subject matter of the conversation and at the same time help establish conditions for future unrestrained formation of experience”—future minimally constrained communication (pg. 141, para. 2); it can also be blocked or distorted, either occasionally or systematically, through a variety of unethical communication practices, practices often reinforced by unquestioned institutional and societal assumptions.

Freezing Participants involves using stereotypes, hardened categories, or frozen labels that shut down or constrict conversation by ignoring individual differences and potential for personal change. Viewing a person as an It or an object strips the person of humanity and lessens the obligation to respect that person’s rights and character. Or dismissing someone’s  view with examination simply by labeling the person as racist, sexist, homosexual, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice constricts the possibility of genuine conversations.

  • Disqualification centers on rules or norms that determine who has a right to speak on a subject. Societally formed ideas of “expertise, professional qualification, and specialization” often are used to dismiss a person’s views or disqualify the person from speaking. To dismiss a person’s idea automatically without examination simply by asserting that “you’re no expert”, or “you’re merely an amateur”, or asking ” what right do you have……?” may block genuine conversation.
  • Naturalization, “one particular view of the subject matter”, from multiple plausible ones, is “frozen as the way the thing is.” Multiple viewpoints or potential for alternatives can be narrowed to one assertion or assumption about the way things or persons “naturally” are fixed or unquestioned. Unchallenged statements such as “that’s just the way” that women, or blacks, or Jews “are,”  function to undermine genuine conversation.
  • Neutralization “refers to the process by which value positions become hidden and value-laden activities are treated as if they were value free.” Dismissal of a position as a “threat to progress” may be taken as a factual description without thought concerning the often competing values embedded in differing notions of “progress”
  • Topical avoidance centers on norms in the relationship or group that prohibit ” the discussion of some events or feelings.” Conversation is forced to “go around and leave out” taboo topics and thus valuable discussion of conflicts, emotions, priorities, and perceptions often are denied to participants.
  • Subjectification of experience involves the dismissal or trivialization of another’s person view as merely “a matter of opinion” and thus so subjective and individualized as not to be appropriate for discussion on an allegedly more factual or reasonable level.
  • Meaning Denial “happens when one possible interpretation of a statement is both present in the interaction and denied as meant.” When you shout at another person during an interaction and yet proclaim that you aren’t angry, a “message is present and disclaimed; said and not said.” The burden of creation of meaning unfairly us shifted entirely to the listener, and you retain “control without responsibility.”  You might assert irresponsibility that the person should have known you were angry despite what you said to contrary.
  • Pacification occurs when messages function to avoid valuable discussion of conflict, problems, and solutions by downplaying their seriousness or discounting the capabilities of individuals to grapple with them. Issues are avoided by describing them as too trivial to warrant discussion or too monumental for us about them.

Ethical Responsibility and Interpersonal Influence

When we try to change our parents, friends, or significant other’s behaviors or attitudes, we are engaging in interpersonal influence.

Ethical responsibility

  • Unshared responsibility
  • abdicated responsibility
  • irresponsibility

Ross’s Prima Facie Duties

  • fidelity
  • reparation
  • gratitude
  • justice
  • beneficence
  • self-improvement
  • nonmaleficence

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