In his book, Understanding Interpersonal Communication, Dr. Richard West and his colleague, Dr. Lynn Turner, discuss a common myth that communication is always good. In reality, there is a dark side to interpersonal communication, too.
“The dark side of interpersonal communication generally refers to negative communication exchanges between people. People can communicate in ways that are manipulative, deceitful, exploitive, homophobic, racist, and emotionally abusive (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1994)” (Turner & West 31).
In my own life, I usually find that the people closest to me are the ones who can manipulate me most easily. One of the most common examples I can think of probably happens to everybody. Sometimes I have days, or even weekends, where I just want to stay home and do nothing. Just relax. But my friends always have plans for me, and if I tell them I don’t want to go, the guilt trips start. “But if you don’t go, I can’t go either” or “I’m going to be all alone if you don’t come with me.” Even though it is perfectly legitimate for me to want to stay home sometimes, my friends are able to manipulate me by using guilt, and so I usually end up going along with whatever plans they made for me. Not exactly the healthiest behavior to engage in in a friendship. Its important to recognize this type of communication and hold the person accountable for it.
The dark side of interpersonal communication runs on a continuum, from disagreements with friends to the more extreme, manipulating people to violence. In one episode of the tv show, Gossip Girl, one of the characters, Juliet, uses her cell phone to air what she thinks is a real fight to exploit two other women as crazy and uncontrollable and embarrass them in front of an influential crowd. “This dark side of interpersonal communication has always existed, but technology is expanding its unpleasant potential to mob violence and social unrest” (Travis & Young). While trying to harm someone’s reputation sits on the more moderate end of the spectrum, mob violence doesn’t.
This past year, we saw this type of extreme social unrest increasing. Groups of people can use social media to persuade and organize large groups of people for flash mobs within a matter of minutes. Truly, technology and social media such as Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever before for violent flash mobs to strike before anybody realizes what just happened.
The dark side of communication will always exist. So the question now, is how are we going to tame it?
[Lilly is a Communications major and a contributing writer to our Department blog. --Sandy]