Contextual Differences Assigned To A Message

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One of the ways people assign meaning to a message is according to cultural context, the pattern of physical cues, environmental stimuli, and implicit understanding that convey meaning between two members of the same culture.

However from culture to culture people convey contextual meaning differently. Infact, correct social behavior and effective communication can be defined by how much a culture depends on contextual cues.

In high-context culture such as South Korea or Taiwan, people rely less on verbal communication and more on the context of nonverbal actions and environmental setting to convey meaning. A Chinese speaker expects the receiver to discover the essence of a message and uses indirectness and metaphor to provide a web of meaning. In high-context cultures, the rules of everyday life are rarely explicit; instead as individuals grow up, they learn how to recognize situational cues (such as gestures and tone of voice) and how to respond as expected.

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In a low-context culture such as the Untied States or Germany, people rely more on verbal communication and less o circumstances and cues to convey meaning. An English speaker feels responsible for transmitting the meaning of the message and often places sentences in chronological sequence to establish a cause-and-effect pattern. In a low context culture, rules and expectations are usually spelled out through explicit statements such as "Please wait until I'm finished" or "You're welcome to browse". Contextual differences are apparent in the way cultures approach situations such as decision making, problem solving and negotiating.

Decision-Making Practices

In lower-context cultures; business people try to reach decisions as quickly and effectively as possible. They are concerned with reaching an agreement on the main points, leaving the details to be worked out later by others. However this approach would not work in higher-context cultures such as Greece because their executives assume that anyone who ignores details is being evasive and untrustworthy.

Problem-solving techniques

Cultures differ in their tolerance for open disagreements. Low-context US business people typically enjoy confrontation and debate, but high context Japanese executives shun such tactics. To avoid the unpleasant feelings that might result from open conflict, Japanese companies may use a go-between or third party.

Negotiating styles

Canadian, German and U.S. negotiators tend to take a relatively impersonal view of negotiations. Members of these low-context cultures see their goals in economic terms and usually presume the other party is trustworthy at least at the outset. In contrast high-context Japanese negotiators prefer a more sociable negotiating atmosphere that is conducive to gorging persona ties as the basis for trust. To high-context negotiators, achieving immediate economic gains is secondary to establishing and maintaining a long-term relationship.

Various kinds of differences:

Legal & Ethical differences

Cultural context also influences legal and ethical behavior. For example, because low-context cultures value the written word, they consider written agreements binding. But high-context cultures put less emphasis on the written word and consider personal pledges more important than contracts. They also have a tendency to view law with flexibility, whereas low-context cultures would adhere to the law strictly.

As you conduct business around the world, you will find that legal systems differ from culture to culture. Making ethical choices can be difficult too, even within your own culture. When communicating across cultures, ethics can be even more complicated. For example, in the Unites States, bribing officials is illegal, but Kenyans consider paying such bribes a part of life. To get something done, they pay kitu kidogo (ör something small"). In China businesses pay huilu, in Russia they pay vzyatka, in the Middle East it's baksheesh, and in Mexico it's una mordida ("a small bite")

Social differences

Social behavior is another distinguishing factor among cultures. In any culture, rules of social etiquette may be formal or informal. Formal rules are the specifically taught dos and don'ts of how to behave in common social situations, such as table manners at meals. When formal rules are violated, members of a culture can explain why they feel upset. In contrast, informal social rules are more difficult to identify and are usually learned by watching how people behave and then initiating that behavior. Informal rules govern how males and females are supposed to behave, when it is appropriate to use a person's first name and so on. When informal rules are violated, members of a culture are likely to feel uncomfortable, although they may or may not be able to say exactly why.

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Such informal rules are apparent in the way members value wealth, recognize status, define manners and think about time.

Attitudes towards Materialism

Roles and Status

Use of Manners

Concepts of Time

Nonverbal Differences

Nonverbal communication is extremely reliable when determining meaning, but that reliability is valid only when the communicators belong to the same culture. The simplest hand gestures change meaning from culture to culture, so interpreting nonverbal elements according to your own culture can dangerous. Nonverbal elements are apparent in attitudes toward personal space and body language.

Concepts of personal space

Use of Body Language

Overcoming Ethnocentrism

When communicating across cultures, your effectiveness depends on maintaining an open mind. Unfortunately many people lapse into ethnocentrism. They lose sight of possibility that their words and actions can be misunderstood, and they forget that they are likely to misinterpret the actions of others.

When you first begin to investigate the culture of another group, you may attempt to understand the common tendencies of that group's members by stereotyping - that is predicting individuals' behaviors or character on the basis of their membership in particular class or group. For example, Japanese visitors often stereotype Americans as people who walk fast, are wasteful in utilizing space, speak directly, as too many questions in the classroom and don't respect professors, are disrespectful of age and status, lack discipline, and are extravagant.

Although stereotyping may be useful in the beginning, your next step is to move beyond the stereotypes to relationships with real people. Unfortunately, when ethnocentric people stereotype, they tend to do so on the basis of limited, general, or inaccurate evidence. They frequently develop biased attitudes toward the group and fail to move beyond that initial step.

To overcome ethnocentrism, follow the a few simple suggestions:

Acknowledge distinctions

Don't ignore the differences between another person's culture and your own.

Avoid assumptions

Don't assume that others will act the same way you do, that they will operate from the same assumptions, or that they will se language and symbols the same way you do.

Avoid judgments

When people act differently, don't conclude that they are in error, that their way is invalid, or that their customs are inferior to your own.

Breaking through ESL (English as Second Language) Barriers

As the U.S. workforce becomes more culturally diverse, the number of people who speak English as a second language grows proportionately. Of the many millions of people using the English language, some are extremely fluent, and others have an elementary command. When dealing with those less fluent in your won language, you can expect your audience to miss a few subtleties, but you are still able to communicate. Even so don't assume that the other person understands everything you say. Your message can be mangled with slang and idioms, by local accents, and by local variations.

Avoid using slang and idioms

Languages never translate word for word. They are idiomatic -- constructed with phrases that mean more than the sum of their literal parts. When speaking to people less fluent in your language, try to choose words carefully to convey only their most specific denotative meaning. Use words that have singular rather than multiple meanings. The word has high has 20 meanings but the word expensive has only one.

Pay attention to Local Accents and Pronunciation

Even when people speak your language, you may have a hard time understanding their pronunciation. Some non native speakers cannot distinguish between v and w, so they say "wery" for "very". At the same time, many people from the United States are unable to pronounce the French r or the German ch.

Be aware of Vocal Variations

Some people use their voices differently from culture to culture. Russian speakers tend to use flat, level tone, so to some U.S. listeners they sound bored or rude. Middle Easterners tend to speak more loudly than the Westerners and may therefore mistakenly be considered more emotional. On the other hand, people from Japan are soft spoken, a characteristic that implies politeness or humility to Western listeners.

Respect Preferences for Communication Styles

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US workers prefer an open and direct communication style and consider anything else to be dishonest or sincere. In Sweden, a direct approach is also valued as a sign of efficiency, but unlike discussions in the Untied States, heated debates and confrontations are unusual.

Questions

Q.1 Discuss two trends that have made intercultural business so important

Q.2 Define culture and subculture and explain how culture is learned

Q.3 Explain the importance of recognizing cultural differences and list four categories of cultural differences.

Q.4 Define ethnocentrism and stereotyping; then give three suggestions for overcoming these limiting mind-sets.

Q.5 Discuss four ways to improve communication with people who speak English as a second language; then discuss 3 ways to communicate with people who don't speak your language at all

Q.6 Why is it a good idea to avoid slang and idioms when addressing a multicultural audience?

Q.7 Your boss wants to send a brief email message welcoming employees recently transferred to your department from your Hong Kong branch. They all speak English, but your boss asks you to review his message for clarity. What would you suggest your boss change in the following email message - and why? Would you consider this message to be audience centered? Why or why not?

"I wanted to welcome you ASAP to our little family here in the States. It's high time we shook hands in person and not just across the sea, I'm pleased as punch about getting to know you all, and I for one will do my level best to sell you on America."

Q.8 Intercultural Sensitivity: Recognizing Differences

You represent a Canadian toy company that's negotiating to buy miniature truck wheels from a manufacture in Osaka, Japan. In your first meeting you explain that your company expects to control the design of the wheels as well as the materials that are used to make them. The manufacturer's representative looks down and says softly, "Perhaps that will be difficult." You press for agreement, and to emphasize your willingness to buy, you show the prepared contract you've brought with you. However, the manufacturer seems increasingly vague and uninterested. What cultural differences might be interfering with effective communication in this situation? Explain

Q.9 Ethical choices

A U.S. manager wants to export T-shirts to a West African country, but a West African official expects a special payment before allowing the shipment into his country. How can the two sides resolve their different approaches without violating U.S. rules against bribing officials? On the basis of the information presented in Chapter 1, would you consider this situation an ethical dilemma or an ethical lapse? Please explain

Q.10 Team Work

Working with two other students, prepare a list of 10 examples of slang (in your own language) that would probably be misinterpreted or misunderstood during a business conversation with someone from another culture. Next to each example, suggest other words you might use to convey the same meaning. Do the alternatives mean exactly the same as the original slang or idiom?

Q.11 Culture and Language Understanding Differences

Germany is a low-context culture; by comparison, France and England are high-context cultures. These three translations of the same message were posted on a lawn in Switzerland:

The German sign read, "Walking on the grass is forbidden";

The English sign read, "Please do not walk on the grass";

and the French sign read, "Those who respect their environment will avoid walking on the grass."

How does the language of each sign reflect the way information is conveyed in the cultural context o each nation? Write a brief (two-to-three paragraph explanation)

PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNCIATION

Communication is only successful when the reaction of the receiver is that which the communicator intended. Effective communication takes place with shared meaning and understanding.

Now I'll introduce you to the five magical principles of effective communication.

Magical why? Because the ability to effectively communicate at work, home and in life is probably one of the most important set of skills a person needs.

Let's take a normal office scenario:

Z has just done the exact opposite of what Mr. X wanted him to do. X claims to have told Z exactly what to do. Yes, maybe X did tell Z but did he check that Z was listening, that he understood, that he agreed and that he would carry out the required action? Obviously not.

The first principle of effective communication is to get appropriate feedback.

This brings us to the second principle, in today's world of nonstop information overdose, it is vital that you connect with the audience. You need to address their different needs as partners because communication is a two-way process. You have to decide what you want the outcome of your communication to be: are you trying to inform, persuade, shock, praise, criticize, shame, please, inspire? Whatever your aim you need to plan your message, and the medium for the message, to trigger the emotional and cognitive responses that will ensure you engage your audience. And how do you know you've done that? By getting the appropriate feedback of course.

In the corporate world, as part of an induction course, new recruits are generally given a manual containing all the operational information they need. As time is always short, they are requested to study it at their leisure. But nobody ever does. And then all hell breaks loose; the recruits start bombarding everyone with simple questions that were addressed in the manual. If the course includes a proper interactive session where the new recruits could connect with the trainers and follow it up with subsequent opportunities to study and discuss the information then so much time and energy of the organization would be saved.

The third principle of effective communications is to listen and understand first. Don't send out a message until you know what your audience needs. If you are concerned about the quality of somebody's work, for example, don't jump in and issue an official warning. First find out what the employee's perception is. Use active listening skills to really probe the situation. Reformulate the employee's words, for example, echo the last words of their sentences, and invite them to say a little more if they are hesitant. That way, if you discover the family has a seriously sick child or a big financial problem, you will start to understand what is behind the poor performance. You can then decide on the appropriate action.

The fourth principle is to understand that communication is more than the surface meaning of words. You need to be able to interpret other people's messages. This is just another form of feedback. Let's say you make an announcement and your group is discussing the information with you. They may feel inhibited about disagreeing openly, but read the signs because you don't have to be openly aggressive to show disagreement: note the body language, the kinds of words they use, the tone of voice. Somebody who is receptive will give you eye contact, will lean forward and will participate by asking questions, or offering to assist in some way. Those who are not in favor will look elsewhere, maybe fold their arms, use vague language instead of precise terms.

The fifth principle is respect. I don't want to go over the top here because you may well ask who is she to question the behavior of the world's leaders? But it seems to me that many of the international political problems we experience are the result of lack of respect for the other party. Sure, it would be great if other nations didn't want to develop nuclear weapons, if they had democratic governments, if they weren't religious fanatics. But we don't produce good outcomes by taking the view that western leaders know best. To communicate with those we want to persuade, we need to respect them. Just because they don't agree with us, doesn't make them inferior or wrong. They have cultural backgrounds and histories that have led them to a particular course of action. Only by respecting that hinterland can we expect to make progress towards cooperation. To translate that to the workplace, you will only gain the cooperation of employees if they know you respect them. If you base your communications on lies, if you try to mislead people, if you ignore their needs and rights, they will see that you don't respect them and they will lose respect for you.

So where does all this lead us? Simply to the point that if you are having communications problems, you can now start analyzing where you are going wrong. What sort of feedback do you allow for? Do you understand how to appeal to people's emotions, their reasoning powers? Do you understand what makes your audience tick? Have you tried to find out about their real lives and what is important to them? And are you showing lack of respect by trying to hoodwink them? By addressing these questions as fully as possible you will go a long way towards improving the outcomes of your communications.

Questions

Q.1 Discuss the five principles of effective communication in a corporate scenario

CASE STUDIES

Effective Communication Case Studies

Everyone in the country is touched in one way or another by topics that are related to energy, the public services, local government, schools and hospitals. Many issues and disputes arise that are based upon ethics and beliefs about what is right or what is wrong.

Effective communication helps to give:

a direction for those involved in a dispute or issue

an understanding to the varying groups of what these issues involve

help and support for those who need it

the ability to change opinion about a dispute in a way that leads to it being resolved.

Communication in action

UNISON recently co-ordinated a National Health Service day of action. It was held to support hospitals and secure the future of the NHS by influencing government policy. The campaign involved writing to local newspapers and providing leaflets for people that described some of the problems in their local hospitals. UNISON also needed to be in touch with the media. This included newspapers as well as television and radio stations.

The website was used to manage activities. It encouraged members of UNISON to lobby their MPs. On the day of action, an open-top bus was driven around Parliament Square in London.

The day got huge coverage across the media. The campaign was supported by several unions and other key bodies including the British Medical Association - the professional association for doctors. Public meetings helped to provide awareness for the campaign. Balloons, hats and other forms of promotional items helped to advertise the event and offer publicity.

All of this enables a dispute to become visible. It means that members feel they are being truly supported by their union and that they are all contributing together to resolve something they feel strongly about.

Open communication - importance of effective communication systems in corporations; General Electric Co. and Cypress Semiconductor Corp. case studies

Business Horizons, Sept-Oct, 1993 by D. Keith Denton

A great deal of management's current concern for employee productivity and the need to empower people has revolved around the use of teams. No doubt teams have enhanced productivity and employee relations, but one should never assume that teams are the singular, correct path toward empowerment. Sometimes individual effort rather than group effort is needed. But more often what is required is the simplest need of all - communication.

When a group of industrial engineers were asked in a 1990 study how to improve productivity, communication concerns drew the strongest response to any question on the survey. More than 88 percent of the engineers strongly agreed that the lack of communication and cooperation among different components of a business leads to reduced productivity ("P and Q Survey" 1990).

CEOs have also recognized the importance of communication. In a study by A. Foster Higgins and Company, an employee-benefits consulting firm found that 97 percent of the CEOs surveyed believe that communicating with employees positively affects job satisfaction. Furthermore, the survey found that 79 percent think that communication benefits the bottom line; surprisingly, only 22 percent communicate with employees weekly or more (Farnham 1989).

Executives think communicating is extremely important to the success of their business, but they do not do it. Why is this? Perhaps many CEOs and other top officials prefer the company of their peers to those who do not share their perspectives. Perhaps, like generals on the battlefield, they are more fascinated with strategy than with tactics. Regardless of the reason, it is extremely rare to find CEOs or other top officials who actively seek out a down-in-the-trenches perspective.

An exception to the normal situation is the approach used by the CEO of Alabama Gas, Mike Warren. When Warren became CEO, he found that relations with the company's union were in poor repair. In a display of showmanship, he used a 20-foot papier-mache dinosaur with a stake plunged through its heart. He then wheeled the corpse around from department to department. The message was that the old ways of conducting business were over.

If all he had done was to go around the departments with a papier-mache dinosaur, everyone would have thought of the stunt as merely hype. Follow-through was critical. So Warren began eating dinner regularly with union leaders. When he was out driving and saw workers laboring in a ditch, he got out and visited with them. He surveyed employees and solicited their suggestions. Such actions may seem hokey, but Warren and others maintain it has had a dynamic effect on employee relations and productivity. The key to such an approach appears to lie in whether employees see it as manipulation or as an honest desire to communicate and understand their viewpoint.

TRANSFER OF MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Communication is both the solution and the problem. Communication within companies continues to be an age-old challenge, but some radical new solutions can help. Most organizations consist of departments resembling a crude caste system, with each area insulating itself from other functional areas. These perceptual walls separate design engineering from production, production from marketing, and so forth.

Communication solutions today revolve around much greater data sharing and exchange of information among and within departments. As already noted, teams are used widely today. "Concurrent engineering" is one such team approach that involves bringing in a wider range of departments and people into the product and production design stage. There are also several ways in which open communication can be used to enhance employee relations and productivity.

One such example of a company using open communication as a competitive weapon is General Electric. GE is a diversified organization consisting of 14 divisions with business involved in medical systems, engineering, plastics, major appliances, financial services, aircraft engineers, and even an NBC television station. If ever there were a risk of communication problems, it would be in this $55 billion organization.

Recognizing the need for constant improvement, GE's executives have experimented with team management and programs for eliminating and simplifying work procedures with a program called "Work Out." One particularly effective system they use is called "Integrated Diversity." Jack Welch, the company's CEO, uses this term to describe how GE tries to coordinate its 14 separate businesses.

The idea behind integrated diversity is that each business division is supposed to help the others rather than operating separate fiefdoms. Welch notes that most diversified companies do a good job of transferring technical resources and dollars across their business, and some do a good job of transferring human resources. He believes that GE does the best job of transferring management practices across its businesses, including the best techniques, systems, and management principles to produce growth and profitability.

DEVELOPING COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE

KNOWLEDGE- SKILLS- MOTIVATION

Explanation of Theory:

Communication competence is the ability to choose a communication behavior that is both appropriate and effective for a given situation. Interpersonal competency allows one to achieve their communication goals without causing the other party to lose face. The model most often used to describe competence is the component model (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984) which includes three components: 1) knowledge, 2) skill, and 3) motivation.

Knowledge simply means knowing what behavior is best suited for a given situation.

Skill is having the ability to apply that behavior in the given context.

Motivation is having the desire to communicate in a competent manner.

Individual Interpretations:

The component model's three parts requires that a communicator be able to 1) recognize what communication practice is appropriate (knowledge), 2) have the ability to perform that practice (skill), and 3) want to communicate in an effective and appropriate manner (motivation).

Critique:

The component model of competence is not a theory about communication, but rather a model that sets the framework for what makes someone a competent communicator. The component model has been used as the basis for many other models of competence because of its breadth. The model can be easily applied to the criteria of effectiveness and appropriateness that make up a competent communicator.

Ideas and Implications:

Specifically there is a new focus on this idea of competence that is concerned with how the dyad creates competency rather than the focus on the individual competency. In this model a dyad's communication can be competent in that within the relationship it is both effective and appropriate, but to those outside of the group, it might seem incompetent.

Example: In order to be a competent communicator, one must be able to recognize which skills are necessary in a particular situation, have those skills, and be properly motivated to use those skills.

What is communication competence?

Initially, Spitzberg (1988) defined communication competence as "the ability to interact well with others" (p.68).  He explains, "the term 'well' refers to accuracy, clarity, comprehensibility, coherence, expertise, effectiveness and appropriateness" (p. 68).  A much more complete operationalization is provided by Friedrich (1994) when he suggests that communication competence is best understood as "a situational ability to set realistic and appropriate goals and to maximize their achievement by using knowledge of self, other, context, and communication theory to generate adaptive communication performances." 

Communicative competence is measured by determining if, and to what degree, the goals of interaction are achieved.  As stated earlier, the function of communication is to maximize the achievement of "shared meaning." Parks (1985) emphasizes three interdependent themes:  control, responsibility, and foresight; and argues that to be competent, we must "not only 'know' and 'know how,' we must also 'do' and 'know that we did'" (p. 174). He defines communicative competence as "the degree to which individuals perceive they have satisfied their goals in a given social situation without jeopardizing their ability or opportunity to pursue their other subjectively more important goals" (p. 175).  This combination of cognitive and behavioral perspectives is consistent with Wiemann and Backlund's (1980) argument that communication competence is: 

The ability of an interactant to choose among available communicative behaviors in order that he (sic) may successfully accomplish his (sic) own interpersonal goals during an encounter while maintaining the face and line of his (sic) fellow interactants within the constraints of the situation.  (p. 188)

A useful framework for understanding communication competence was designed by Spitzberg & Cupach (1984) and is known as the component model of competence because it is comprised of three specific dimensions: motivation (an individual's approach or avoidance orientation in various social situations), knowledge (plans of action; knowledge of how to act; procedural knowledge), and skill (behaviors actually performed).

The component model asserts that communication competence is mutually defined by the interdependency of the cognitive component (concerned with knowledge and understanding), the behavioral component (concerned with behavioral skills), and the affective component (concerned with attitudes and feelings about the knowledge and behaviors) by interactants in an interpersonal encounter within a specific context.  Rubin (1985) explains that communication competence is "an impression formed about the appropriateness of another's communicative behavior" and that "one goal of the communication scholar is to understand how impressions about communication competence are formed, and to determine how knowledge, skill and motivation lead to perceptions of competence within various contexts" (p. 173). 

When applying the component model to organizational communication contexts, Shockley-Zalabak (1988) divides motivation into two separate (though related) elements: sensitivity (the ability to show concern and respect for others) and commitment (the desire to avoid previous mistakes and find better ways of communicating through the process of self-monitoring).  This revised model consisting of four dimensions (knowledge, skill, sensitivity, and commitment) is used by Rothwell (1998) to study communication competence in small group interaction. 

Note that communicative competence is dependent on the context in which the interaction takes place (Cody and McLaughlin, 1985; Applegate and Leichty, 1984; Rubin, 1985). Communication which is successful with one group in one situation, may not be perceived as competent with a different group in another situation. McCroskey (1982) attempts to clarify the importance of competence when he writes, "The domain of communicative competence includes learning what are the available means (available strategies), how they have been employed in various situations in the past, and being able to determine which ones have the highest probability of success in a given situation (p. 5). 

Canary and Cody (2000) provide six criteria for assessing competence which include, but are not limited to, perceived appropriateness and effectiveness. The criteria include adaptability, conversational involvement, conversational management, empathy, effectiveness, and appropriateness.  They are explained in more detail below:

 

SIX CRITERIA FOR ASSESSING COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE

1. Adaptability (flexibility)

     a. The ability to change behaviors and goals to meet the needs 

          of interaction

      b. Comprised of six factors

          1.  Social experience - participation in various social interactions

          2.  Social composure - refers to keeping calm through accurate 

               perception

          3.  Social confirmation - refers to acknowledgment of partner's 

               goals

          4.  Appropriate disclosure - being sensitive to amount and type of 

               info

          5.  Articulation - ability to express ideas through language

          6.  Wit - ability to use humor in adapting to social situations;

               ease tensions

 2. Conversational Involvement

      a. Behavioral and cognitive activity

      b. Cognitive involvement demonstrated through interaction        

          behaviors

      c. Assessed according to three factors

          1.  Responsiveness -  knowing what to say, know roles, interact

          2.  Perceptiveness -  be aware of how others perceive you

          3.  Attentiveness -  listen, don't be pre-occupied

 3. Conversational Management

      a. How communicators regulate their interactions

      b. Adaptation and control of social situations

      c. Who controls the interaction ebb and flow and how smoothly the 

          interaction proceeds

      d. How topics proceed and change

 4. Empathy

      a. The ability to demonstrate understanding and share emotional 

          reactions to the situation

      b. Need not lead to "helping" the other person

      c. Cognitive understanding

      d. Parallel emotions

 5. Effectiveness

      a. Achieving the objectives of the conversation

      b. Achieving personal goals

      c. A fundamental criteria for determining competence

 6. Appropriateness

      a. Upholding the expectations for a given situation

      b. A fundamental criteria for determining competence