John Stewart, ed., Bridges Not Walls

6th edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 526 pp.

Summary by Tanya Glaser.

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium


TOPICS:

Bridges Not Walls is a collection of essays addressing a number of topics within the field of interpersonal communication. As a whole, the text takes a relational or transactional approach to communications theory.

ABSTRACT:

The essays in Part One focus on the basic elements of communication. Three readings serve to introduce the relational approach to interpersonal communication. In his Introduction, Stewart argues that one's quality of life is directly connected to one's quality of communication. More than just the exchange of information, communication is a person-building activity. Subsequent readings explore both the verbal and non-verbal elements of communication.

Part Two focuses on the input or perception side of communication. The first set of readings discusses the awareness of one's own values, and the awareness of one's own actions and responses within communication. Many specific barriers to communication are described. The next set of readings focuses on the awareness of others. The authors discuss the subjective nature of perception and the ways in which stereotypes structure perceptions of other individuals, of relationships, and of social events. The last readings in this section address listening. Essays describe common misconceptions about listening, and describe the kinds of responses that indicate effective listening. The final essay presents a new, dialogic approach to listening.

Part Three addresses self expression and self disclosure in communication. Authors discuss the uses of I-statements and you-statements, and the paradoxical power of vulnerability. They also introduce guidelines for more effective self-expression. This topic concludes with an essay which argues that open honest communication may, in certain situations, do more harm than good. Subsequent readings explore different expressive styles, and particularly gender differences.

The readings in Part Four apply the findings from earlier sections to particular types of interpersonal communication: friendships, family relationships, and intimate relationships. The first set of readings discusses communication in the context of relationships, examines relationships as a process of negotiation, and explores communication as a person-building process. Subsequent readings discuss friendship, families, and intimate relationships more specifically.

Part Five explores conflict and communication across cultural differences. The first set of readings distinguishes productive from destructive conflicts, and describes some of the processes by which conflict become destructive. These readings also distinguish between defensive and supportive conflict climates, and explore ways of dealing with anger. The second set of readings explores the problems encountered in communicating across differences. Essays address cultural, ethnic, racial, age, sexual orientation, and disability differences.

Part Six explores various overall approaches to interpersonal communication. C. Roland Christiansen takes a teacher's approach to interpersonal communication. Carl Rogers discusses interpersonal communication from a psychotherapist's perspective. Martin Buber takes a philosophical approach. Each of these essays offers a different synthesis of the issues and techniques discussed in the earlier sections.