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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA assistant professor publishes books about positive communication research

Hailey Eisenbach
Hailey Eisenbach / Arizona Daily Wildcat Dr. Maggie Pitts of the University of Arizona’s Department of Communication is conducting a survey about the importance of positive interpersonal communication. Students can be found all around campus interacting with eachother positvely.

A UA assistant professor of communication has compiled the first scholarly works on positive communication in her field.

Margaret Pitts, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, compiled two books over the course of four years.
The first book was released in late 2012, the other in January.

Previously, communication research had focused on the darker side of communication, such as lying and troubled relationships, but now the communication field is moving to center on more positive aspects.

“This is a real shift in direction in terms of now saying, ‘What about communication can make your life better?’ and ‘What are people who are doing really well, how is their communication working for them?’” said Chris Segrin, department head of communication. “So that is a real shift in direction, intellectually, to a greater sense of positivity.”

Positive communication is dedicated to messages that enhance health and relationships and organizations, communication that is facilitative of happiness and well-being, Pitts said.

The works have been well-received because the scholars that contributed are important people in the field, Pitts explained. In the epilogue of the book, primary scholars who focus on the dark side of communication responded to the research presented.

“Basically they read the book and they said, ‘Yeah, this is good stuff,’” Pitts said. “I think what we mutually agreed is that you can’t study the dark side without focusing on the bright side.”

The study of positive communication began in the ’90s, with much of the research taking place within the field of psychology, Pitts said.

“Psychology was the big move forward toward positivity, seeing the positivity in life and asking the questions about what makes people succeed [and] what makes people feel good,” Pitts explained. “Rather than looking at what’s wrong with people, like we often do in the medical field — for example, when you go to a doctor, [you’re asked] what’s wrong with you and [they are] always trying diagnose problems. What we really should be doing is diagnosing assets.”

No field of study can actually see inside people’s heads, but research into communication draws clues from how people talk and what they say to form a more complete image of their inner workings.

“We know that our psychology influences our communication, so when we study communication what we are sort of studying is like a road or a bridge between two people,” Pitts said. “Psychology doesn’t look as much at the messages that are sent and received and how we make meaning out of those, whereas communication focuses primarily on those messages.”

The compiled works focus on a variety of research,from surveys to case studies to essays. One survey was a series of interviews between mothers and daughters in which one of the pair had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Positive communication was studied within the interviews to determine whether it hurt or helped the relationship. It was discovered that an excess of positive communication without regard to reality seemed to hurt the relationship, because it didn’t engage the other person’s feelings.

As for the next step, Pitts said she and a few other scholars are working on a handbook to show the development and future positive communication.

The two volumes are still new to the communication field, but Segrin said he thinks they will be well-received.

“They will really draw a lot of people’s attention to this area so I’m very excited about them,” Segrin said.

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