The simple fact is you cannot not communicate. Our words covey meaning and even our silences tell tales. Our body language may shout louder than words. Even when we are alone, we communicate within ourselves, mumbling out loud or murmuring in our minds. We cannot not communicate. So it just plain makes sense to learn how to do it better. In these pages you will find my take on both communication theory and real world applications that we can use to communicate more authentically. Even little changes can pay off big dividends in our personal and professional lives. Let’s explore and reflect on how communication touches every aspect of our lives.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Communication is Fundamental, It Matters! Let's Learn to do it Better.

If we are going to talk about communication, I guess we'd better begin at the

Okay, maybe not quite that far back. But almost.

The Constitutive Theory of Communication

The Constitutive Model of Communication is the idea that communication “constitutes” or creates our perception or experience of the reality we inhabit.
You are Powerful

I am reminded of some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I went through the CAPSA advocate training program. CAPSA is a local shelter and advocate group for survivors of domestic abuse and rape. I have long agreed with the sentiment that words matter, and in conversations on the difficult topic of abuse and rape, or during my CAPSA training sessions, every time I heard a certain word, I cringed. Literally, I felt myself contracting, becoming smaller. The word is victim.  As a word it conjures up a sense of helplessness, tragedy, loss and suffering; as a level of self-identification it creates a sense of helplessness, tragedy, loss, and suffering. My reaction to the “word-that-shall-not-be-spoken” became clearer to me when I learned about the Constitutive Theory of Communication.

  Mentioned almost in passing during one of Professor Matt Saunders’ lectures at Utah State University, it still managed to evoke that familiar thrill that occurs when divergent mental pathways converge and understanding gels and brightens. In my example, referring to people as “victims,” can unconsciously bias our perception and interaction with that person, as well as negatively reinforce their sense of self. This is just one example among many of why and how much the words we choose to use matter.

                Constitutive Communication is a “metamodel that opens up a conceptual space in which many different theoretical models of communication can interact.”1 Like the relationship between a river and a canyon, communication is both the process and the building blocks that create our experience of life. “Basically, communication is the root of other social processes rather than the result.” 2 In other words, our experiences are both described by, and simultaneously created from language and communication.

                Think of filters on a camera. A filter distorts the image that the camera is receiving through its lens. A second filter is a distortion of an already distorted image. Every successive layer adds further distortion. People have filters up the wazoo. Layer after layer of notions and ideas each shifts the way we interpret our perception of everything flowing into our brains from our senses. The Constitutive model explains how communication, in all its forms, (language, body language, self-talk, speech patterns, tone of voice, etc.) is the building blocks from which we create our filters. Communication forms, as well as describes, the rules that we apply when we sort, select, and interpret the endless stream of information flooding every second into our brains.

Words are powerful. Communication researcher Donna Vocate proposed that it was the brain’s process of differentiating between inner talk and outer talk that creates self-awareness in human beings.3 She was expanding on the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky who said “Inner speech is the process of a thought being realized into words.” 4 Language arises from the need to communicate in social interactions. Later language gives form to thought and gives rise to inner speech. Therefore “thought is the result of language.” 5 This is one way that our experience of the world both creates and is created by communication. This is why words matter.

I am Powerful
Words are powerful. Paying attention to how we casually bandy them about, for good or for ill, represents a fundamental paradigm shift in how we view the world and interact with the people in it. As symbols, words provide shortcuts, allowing us to create relationship with the world around us without the necessity of direct, immediate contact and then words allow us to share our experiences with others. The danger comes when the symbol becomes mistaken for the object. If a person in crisis hears herself described as a victim often enough, she runs the risk of beginning to self-identify herself as a victim and then, as the constitutive theory suggests, she might begin to both create and relate to her experience as a victim, with all that word’s entailments of helplessness.

I’ve seen this happen; it’s happened to me. Without going into detail, I’ll simply say that as a child, a certain authority figure struggled with anger issues and projected his troubles on those around him. When angry, he would lash out with the most horrible and demeaning labels you can imagine. Small children have no defense against that kind of labeling and teens can act defiant, or stone-faced, on the outside while still internalizing every negative message hurtled at them. It becomes part of their rhetoric of self-talk. It became part of my rhetoric of self-talk. I’ve spent most of my life working to redefine the deformed shadows of my self-identity.

So, since negative talk created the cancer in my esteem, deformed my potential public face, denatured my personality, and privileged self-protective traits – it is the Constitutive Theory of Communication that offers the cure. This comes in the form of reprogramming my inner filter to focus on the positives messages which abound, to believe them, and let them overwrite the negative messages of the past.

My mother tells the story of a time when I was about four years old and we were in the process of moving into a new house in a new neighborhood. She turned around and found that I’d vanished. Frightened, she went hunting for me. Apparently, I’d been going door to door, up one side of the street and then down the other, stopping at each house and ringing the bell and telling whoever answered the door my name. Imagine your doorbell ringing and finding a four year old child looking up at you with his innocent blue eyes and asking if you wanted to be his friend. As a result of that adventure, I invited Mr. Jones, a 70-something gentleman to attend my birthday party. He accepted. He survived the experience.
That’s the child I started out life as. That’s the man I can reclaim; powerfully positive communication is the key. What we say creates our world. It's not for nothing that the Christian Bible equates creation with the act of communication. 
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (see Genesis 1:1-5)
         It goes on like that, recounting what God said and how what was said was what was created. It is no different now. What we say is what we create. This includes all of our communication, including self-talk and all the content of our minds. It all communicates. This squarely puts the responsibility for how we perceive the world on how we think about the world, and how those thoughts become words in our minds, and then words in the world, or become thoughts manifesting as behavior. It is all communication.

We are Powerful
          Let's not be too overly simplistic. There is more to it. We can't ignore cause and effect, or the simple fact that the entire human family is casting their own perception upon reality. Everyone is making their ripples on the pond of life. All we have control over is our personal pebble. All we can control is the pebble we drop into the water. That is why communication matters. Communication is the pebble we cast upon the deep; it is the wave we send rippling out into the world. 

         Therefore, if we care about the quality of our own lives, or if we deeply desire a better world, or if we just don't want to harm ourselves or others, the first thing to do, the most important thing we can do, is to learn to communicate differently and better. Communication matters. I matter, you matter. Life matters. So, I implore you to join me as I explore some of the outstanding theories of better communication. We can do this. We can learn to live lives that shine like stars. When we cast our personal pebble into life's pond, the wave that results can and will ripple out across the eternities. Let's make it a great pebble and a greater wave.

Am I the only one that suddenly feels like going surfing?

Love and Aloha,


1.       Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9(2), 119-161.
2.       Nicotera, A. (2009). Constitutive view of communication. In Littlejohn, S. & Foss, K. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of communication theory. pp. 176-180. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:
3.       Vocate, D.R. (1994). Self-talk and inner speech: Understanding the uniquely human aspects of intrapersonal communication. In Vocate, D.R. (Ed.), Intrapersonal communication: different voices, different minds, p.5, Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
4.       Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. Kozulin, (Ed. & Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published 1934) 
5.       McLeod, S.A. (2013).  Lev Vygotsky- SimplyPsychology.    Retrieved from:

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