The Different Speech Contexts

A speech context refers to the environment in which communication occurs. While the focus of studies in the field of communication remained largely on public communication in the past, the discipline has developed interest in studying the various types of communication or speech contexts. Each of the following communication contexts has its own unique characteristics, purposes, goals, processes, and surrounding circumstances that govern how communicators are supposed to behave to ensure the effectiveness of the communication.

Intrapersonal Communication

This refers to communication within the self. This involves reflective thinking and monitoring one’s own feelings. One can develop and maintain one’s self-concept, by identifying one’s weaknesses, reflecting on one’s mistakes in the past, thinking about one’s interactions with other people and making plans to improve oneself. By engaging in intrapersonal communication, we attempt to make sense of ourselves, our experiences, and the way we view the world. Self-communication thus promotes the organization of thoughts and the continuous process of meaning construction. Our vocal internalizations determine our future actions and behavior.

Interpersonal Communication

This is communication between two people (dyadic communication) or among a small group of people (small-group communication). Dyadic communication involves impersonal (e.g., giving directions to a lost stranger or negotiating prices with vendors) and personal interactions (e.g., sharing experiences to a close friend or talking to a loved one). Personal relationship is an important element of dyadic communication. Small-group communication focuses on the common objective or goal of the group or organization, the roles of the leader and his or her members, and conflict resolution. Compared to dyadic communication, small-group communication is more intentional or goal-oriented. Interpersonal communication also occurs in other speech contexts, such as organizational communication and intercultural communication.

Public Communication

Also known as public speaking, this refers to communication in which an individual communicates a message to a large audience, usually to inform or persuade. Because public communication is goal-oriented, the speaker is responsible in analyzing his audience and the context as these two elements will determine how he or she is going to write the speech. Public communication, being a face-to-face interaction, is also transactional, such that the speaker does not merely send information to a passive audience but involves an exchange of information through verbal or nonverbal means.

Mass Communication

This refers to communication that makes use of broadcast or print media such as the television, radio, newspapers, books, and the Internet, to reach a larger audience. Compared to public communication, mass communication is generally linear instead of transactional. News broadcasts for instance transmit information to a large audience and though viewers may later formulate opinions about the way the news was handled, there is rarely an exchange of information. Unlike face-to-face interactions, mass communication generally lacks immediate feedback; however, with the advent of social media, communication may be more interactive. Mediated representations of experience influence people’s beliefs, tastes, attitudes, and values. However, sometimes this form of communication is also used as a tool to misrepresent reality or promulgate and maintain dominant ideologies.

Organizational Communication

This refers to communication within organizations. This deals with interactions and personal relationships between superiors and subordinates and among employees in the professional setting. An organization has a distinct culture or identity which is shared, defined, modified, or maintained by its members. Members of different backgrounds, cultures, and needs are brought together by a shared meaning, which may be a common cause promoted by the organization and supported by its members. Organizational communication is governed by rules, policies, and procedures to ensure the productivity of its members. Members must learn to adapt to various situations and beliefs, understand and perform specific roles in the workplace, manage relationships, and resolve conflicts.

Intercultural Communication

This occurs in interactions among people of different cultures. Cultural values are not only reflected in a particular group’s customs, traditions, and rituals, but also in its language and communication styles. Cultural differences are also present among people who live in the same community and speak the same language. These are influenced by identities constructed depending on one’s race, gender, religion, organization, ethnicity, and others. To be able to function effectively in a multicultural society, one must have awareness of his or her own cultural identity, respect cultural differences, and develop sensitivity and flexibility in adjusting to various cultures.