The Art of Positive Communication

Theory and Practice

by Julien C. Mirivel (Author)
©2014 Textbook X, 190 Pages


How we communicate with each other matters greatly. Our identity, our friendships and marriages, our families, and our culture are the product of how we speak to one another. Our words affect our hopes and dreams, as well as those of our children. We insult, complain, or criticize. We compliment, offer support, and inspire. These are choices that take place in the crevices of our most private and public conversations with others.
This book bridges communication theory and practice to foreground an important message: positive communication matters. By examining closely how people talk to each other at home or at work, this book enables undergraduate and graduate students to communicate more positively. The Art of Positive Communication is an ideal text for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in interpersonal communication courses and as a supplemental text to inspire all students to communicate better.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise of the Author
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • The Context
  • The Purpose
  • The Model of Positive Communication
  • Overview
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 2: Positive Communication Creates Contact
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • The Constitutive View of Communication
  • Speech Act Theory
  • Conversation Analysis
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Greeting as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 3: Positive Communication Discovers the Unknown
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory
  • Forms of Questioning
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Asking as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 4: Positive Communication Affects the Self
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Altercasting
  • Ossification
  • Intertextuality and Authoring
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Complimenting as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 5: Positive Communication Deepens Relationship
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Three Theories of Disclosure
  • Forms of Disclosure
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Disclosing as Positive Communication
  • Directions for Turning Point Graph
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 6: Positive Communication Gives Support
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Instrumental Support
  • Emotional Support
  • Esteem Support
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Encouraging as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 7: Positive Communication Transcends Separateness
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Dialogue and Dialogic Communication
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Listening as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 8: Positive Communication Influences Others
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Knowledge
  • Communication Accommodation Theory
  • Positive Deviance Approach
  • Virtue Ethics and Communication Excellence
  • Practical Knowledge
  • Inspiring as Positive Communication
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • Chapter 9: Conclusion
  • Prelude
  • Introduction
  • The Model of Positive Communication
  • Greet and Create
  • Ask and Discover
  • Compliment and Affect
  • Disclose and Deepen
  • Encourage and Give
  • Listen and Transcend
  • Inspire and Influence
  • Communication Is a Creative Art
  • Summary
  • Further Reading
  • Key Conceptual and Theoretical Terms
  • References
  • Index

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This book was made possible by the support of many individuals. First, I am grateful for Mary Savigar at Peter Lang who saw potential in the proposal and enabled this book to come to life. Second, I am indebted to the anonymous reviewer whose comments elevated the manuscript and my thinking to a new level; I am truly grateful. Thanks also to the production team at Peter Lang for their outstanding work on the final details. Finally, many family members, mentors, colleagues, and friends made a special difference. For this project, I want to especially thank Karen Tracy for her feedback on the original draft, Rob Ulmer for his advice throughout the process, and Alexander Lyon for believing in the project and encouraging me along the way. Thanks also to Joe Williams for being a constant source of friendship on and off the tennis court. Finally, my deepest gratitude is to Meg and my son Hugo. Thank you, Meg, for editing this work and for listening, and for your love and support. And, of course, to Hugo who inspires me to practice what I teach.

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“The spoken word, spoken honorably and well, can make a difference that no other form of communication can equal.”


George Vaillant has been directing the Harvard Grant Study for more than 40 years. The project is one of the most significant longitudinal studies of adult development ever conducted. Since 1938, scholars and scientists have interviewed, surveyed, and collected data on 268 individuals starting when they were 19 years old. The study has followed these persons for 75 years, many of whom are now well into their 90s. In one interview, Vaillant was asked what the most significant finding from the 75-year study was. His response was immediate: “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people” (Vaillant, 2012, p. 27). “Happiness is love. Full stop” (p. 52).

There is no doubt that the relationships we have with people around us matter. As Vaillant (2012) wrote, “Throughout our lives we are shaped and enriched by the sustaining surround of our relationships” (p. 52). Warm relationships between parent and child have long-lasting consequences; so do each person’s ability to sustain meaningful friendships or a healthy marriage. The ability to create warm connections is simply critical to leading a happy ← 1 | 2 → and fulfilling life. This point is well-echoed in the words of the thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti (1992), who said, “Life is relationship; to be is to be related.”

Even with the understanding that relationships matter, important questions remain: How can people create warm relationships? What defining behaviors lead to the development of healthy marriages? Of lifelong friendships? Or of meaningful sibling relationships? Relationships do not simply exist on their own. They are not “warm,” “cold,” “close,” or “distant” on the basis of conditions beyond human control. Instead, as I will show throughout this book, all relationships are created by communication. It is the way people communicate that cultivates the nature of their relationship. Healthy, productive, and meaningful communication can lead to healthy, productive, and meaningful relationships. This book provides a road map for how you can communicate better to create enhanced relationships with others.

This book is a practical guide for communication students who want to communicate more positively. Its major purpose is to strengthen your ability to communicate with others. In this book, I propose that practicing positive communication will help you grow as a person, improve the quality of the relationships in your life, and cultivate communication as a social practice. To do so, this book introduces a model of positive communication to guide communicative conduct. The model is informed by theory and research in the field of interpersonal communication and language and social interaction. In this chapter, I first contextualize the book in light of the recent positive movement in the field of interpersonal communication. Then, I explain the main purpose of the book and what it seeks to accomplish. The third major section defines positive communication and introduces a model of positive communication that provides the major framework for this text. In the conclusion, I overview the main chapters and invite you to reflect about the importance of communicating positively.

The Context

This book is written within the larger frame of two areas of study in the field of communication: Interpersonal Communication and Language and Social Interaction. Interpersonal Communication (capitalized) simply refers to a body of scholarship that examines personal and social relationships and the important role that communication plays in those relationships (see Knapp & Daly, 2011). Researchers who study interpersonal communication explore a wide variety of topics such as the way personality affects communication between people (see Daly, 2011), the way supportive communication takes ← 2 | 3 → place in family relationships (e.g., see MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011), or the strategies couples use during conflict (see Roloff & Chiles, 2011). This book especially draws on important research on interpersonal skills, or the behaviors that constitute competency in everyday interaction (see, e.g., Spitzberg & Cupach, 2011).

This book also is informed by scholarship in Language and Social Interaction (see Fitch & Sanders, 2005). Language and Social Interaction is the name used to describe a body of research that explores the way people use verbal or nonverbal behaviors in naturally occurring interaction. Traditionally, researchers in Language and Social Interaction audio- or video-record human interaction in a real context at home or at work, transcribe what people said and/or did during the conversation, and anlyze the communication to reveal something interesting about what is taking place. Research in this area has analyzed the way people use compliments in everyday talk (see Pomerantz, 1978), how socialization takes place during family dinners (see Blum-Kulka, 1997), how communication problems emerge during 911 phone calls (Tracy & Tracy, 1998), how FBI negotiations unfold (Agne & Tracy, 2001), or even how cosmetic surgeons sell surgery to new clients (Mirivel, 2008). Typically, researchers in Language and Social Interaction reveal the mechanisms that operate in conversations (e.g., Conversation Analysis), the important functions that certain forms of talk or visible actions serve (see Streeck, Goodwin, & LeBaron, 2011), or how racism is perpetuated in everyday talk (van Dijk, 1997). Together, these two areas of study offer a wealth of information about how, what, and why people communicate as they do in romantic relationships, in friendships, in families, or in professional environments.

This book especially focuses on the positive side of interpersonal communication. Historically, the fields of Interpersonal Communication and Language and Social Interaction have both focused on the dark side of communication, its problematic or dilemmatic nature, or the communication challenges that people face in relationships. In Interpersonal Communication, this is well-displayed in an iconic volume by Cupach and Spitzberg (2007) titled The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication. Researchers have sought to understand the nature of hurtful messages (Vangelisti, 2007), the nature of revenge (Yoshimura, 2007), aggression (Dailey, Lee, & Spitzberg, 2007), or abuse (Morgan & Wilson, 2007). Even in Language and Social Interaction, there is a tendency for scholars to focus on the problematic nature of human interaction. Researchers, for example, have analyzed how a conflict emerged between George W. Bush and the journalist Dan Rather during a ← 3 | 4 → CBS interview (e.g., Pomerantz, 1988; Schegloff, 1988), how hostility is used during public meetings (Tracy, 2008), or how patients pressure physicians for medications (Gill, 2005).

In spite of these tendencies, there is a burgeoning focus on the positive side of interpersonal communication. This movement first emerged in psychology with Seligman’s (2002) work on the nature of personal happiness, Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) scientific work on virtues such as courage or compassion, and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) study of optimal experience and flow. In communication, the positive focus is pioneered by Socha and Pitts (2012a, 2012b). In The Positive Side of Interpersonal Communication, for example, the authors brought together communication researchers to provide a conceptual foundation of the positive side of interpersonal communication. In the volume, various authors discuss the nature of excellence (Mirivel, 2012), the importance of intimacy (Nussbaum, Miller-Day, & Fisher, 2012), how friends play (Aune & Wong, 2012), as well as review the research on forgiveness (Kelley, 2012) and supportive communication (MacGeorge, Feng, Wilkum, & Doherty, 2012). Socha and Pitts’s volume thus provides a foundation for understanding what people do well when they communicate, how positive communication can be enacted, and how positive communication behaviors can help create healthy relationships. However, there is no text in the field that introduces positive communication to students.

This book is informed by research in Interpersonal Communication and Language and Social Interaction. It also joins a disciplinary focus on the positive side of communication. The objective of this book, however, is not to simply share what researchers know about positive communication. This book was written to enable you to practice communication more positively. In the next section, I describe this purpose more carefully and explain how the book will accomplish it.

The Purpose

The focus of the book is on the practice of interpersonal communication. Defined simply, interpersonal communication refers to the process of engaging in communication with another person. As Baxter and Braithwaite (2008) explained, “Most scholars agree that interpersonal communication ‘is a process; involves a dyad or normally a small number of people; it involves creating meanings; and it is enacted through verbal and nonverbal message behaviors’” (p. 6). In sum, then, interpersonal communication ← 4 | 5 → (not capitalized) is the process through which two or more people create meaning through verbal and nonverbal communication.

Everyone engages in interpersonal communication. We talk with our family members, catch up with our friends, or laugh with our colleagues. We each spend a significant amount of time interacting with others, learning with or through them, and managing our relationships with others. With time, then, every adult builds a tremendous amount of experience in the practice of interpersonal communication. Through the process of interpersonal communication, we develop our personal communication style; we learn to manage conflict in a particular way, and we develop specific habits. Every event that you have experienced, every conversation that you have been a part of, and every encounter with others that you have had form your personal field of experience. Your field of experience also includes moments of communication that you have witnessed, heard about, or read about. It includes all of the information that you have gathered throughout your life to make sense of, and practice, communication. In sum, when you communicate, you draw on and build your own field of experience. This field of experience, however, may not reflect the latest research available in communication, an understanding of key concepts or theories, or even the scientific methods for analyzing a conversation. By providing new information about communication, this book will thus deepen your field of experience.

The major purpose of this book is to strengthen the way you communicate. Improving one’s communication is not easy. Some scholars even argue that a person’s communication style seldom fluctuates (see Cegala, 1981; McCroskey, 1984). Researchers have explained that communicating well requires motivation, knowledge, and skills (Spitzberg, 1983). For this book, I assume that you are motivated to communicate better, that you want to learn more about the topic and improve the way you engage in the practice of communication. I also assume that you join the reading of this text with already existing communication skills; that is, you have the ability to perform “situationally appropriate behavior” (Spitzberg, 1983, p. 323) in many contexts and situations. Finally, I assume that you already have much knowledge about how to enact communication in a variety of contexts.

However, there is still much to be learned: positive communication is an art for a lifetime. Communication scholars and students, in fact, can “benefit from understanding communication as a verbal (and nonverbal) art” (Baxter, Norwood, & Nebel, 2012, p. 19). And like any other art, such as painting, sculpting, or writing, positive communication is an art that requires mastering ← 5 | 6 → theory and practice. As Fromm (1956) explained, “the process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the master of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice” (p. 5). This book is designed with this point in mind. First, this book will expand your theoretical knowledge of communication by introducing core concepts and major communication theories to enable you to make sense of everyday human interaction in more sophisticated ways. Second, the book will expand your practical knowledge of positive communication. Every chapter, in fact, is built around this core structure. The first part of each chapter will focus on theoretical knowledge and the second part will focus on practical knowledge. By attending to both theory and practice, you will thus strengthen your ability to practice positive communication and develop mastery of communication as an art.


X, 190
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (August)
identity culture hopes
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 190 pp., num. fig.

Biographical notes

Julien C. Mirivel (Author)

Julien C. Mirivel (PhD, University of Colorado at Boulder) is Associate Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and Co-Director of the Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence. His teaching and research focuses on how to improve communication practices in everyday and professional life.


Title: The Art of Positive Communication
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