Sample Essay on Communication Context

Communication Context


According to Wood (2013), communication is among the fundamental and basic needs that aid in human beings’ survival. Communication is generally defined as the conveyance of information from one person to the other. This exchange of information happens across time, space, and contexts. Communication context lays main focus on the varied communication processes and effects. In light of this, interpersonal communication is a context that focuses on a conversation between dyads or two people. It mainly involves the process of developing a message that is putted across and received. In the film Changing Lanes, interpersonal communication is well developed by the two main characters. The film will be used severally in this paper in order to highlight the use of interpersonal communication as a communication context. The main aim of this paper is to keenly evaluate the concept of interpersonal communication drafting examples from the aforementioned film; this involves defining and discussing the interpersonal perspectives, theories, and some specific terms such as “devaluation, conflict, network, and proxemics.”

Movie summary

Changing Lanes is an American drama that was directed by Roger Michell and released on 2002 (Ebert, 2002). It was written by Chap Taylor and stars big names such as Ben Affleck, Toni Collette and Samuel L. Jackson. A powerful and renowned city Attorney Gaven Baneck played by Ben Affleck is in a rush to file a court case that would make him very wealthy. On his way to the court, he gets involved in a minor accident with Doyle Gipson played by Samuel Jackson who is a recovering alcohol addict. Gipson on the other hand is also rushing to the court to stop an injunction that would see him loose his children to his wife. The accident brings a stalemate to both characters and they indulge in a war of words that leads to vengeance from both parties. Gipson leaves with Baneck’s documents that would have helped win the case while Baneck freezes Gipson’s credit for revenge. They both despise their moral and ethical standings by carry out revenge against each other. Later on, they review their behaviors individually and decide to approach one another, apologize, and work together towards working out their problems.

Interpersonal perspectives

There are four main perspectives that define interpersonal communication context. Wood (2013) refers to the first perspective as quantitative which implies that the conversation is dependent on the number of parties sharing the information. As mentioned earlier, an interpersonal context has to embrace two people just like in the film Changing Lanes where there are two main characters. In the film, the story revolves around a lawyer Gavin Banek played by Ben Affleck and recovering alcoholic Doyle Gipson, played by Samuel L. Jackson who meets by mere accident. They are involved in a minor accident as they are both headed to different courts for varied but important reasons. As a result, they are involved into an interpersonal communication by the virtue of qualitative perspective. Secondly, situation or contextual perspective refers to the type of communication that is triggered by a specific situation (Baack et al., 2000).The two characters are involved in an accident and they are both rushing to a court preceding which a reason to converse despite being strangers. Qualitative or relational perspective focuses on the type of information that is shared by the conversing parties. In this case, the role of the sender and the receiver is shared simultaneously in order to create meaning. Lastly, functional or strategic perspective is derived from the zeal to achieve interpersonal goals. When the two characters in the film experience a mishap, they both leave hurriedly to the court for their daily activities. The lawyer realizes that he misplaced very important documents for the case and Gipson is on a recovery process; hence, he wants to do the right thing to get back the custody of his children. They soon realize that they have to look for each other and evaluate their values in order to progress with their activities of the day.

Interpersonal theories and terms

To begin with, when dyads meet their communication is largely dependent on their prior relationship. This means strangers will react differently as compared to allies or work-mates. The uncertainty reduction theory asserts that when strangers meet they will have to go through some stages in order to predict the behavior of each party (Baack et al., 2000). They are always vigil and rely heavily on the physical or non-verbal communication to learn each other. Referring back to the movie, when the two main characters get involved in an accident, they approach each other cautiously. They both pose the common question “are you hurt?” and after realizing they are both okay, they begin making assumption about each other. The uncertainty reduction theory is clearly highlighted in this scene as the lawyer looks at Gipson dress code, car, and his physical appearance. He hurriedly makes up his mind that Gipson is not a well-up guy and they can solve the situation by giving him money. He flashes out a signed blank check and his adamant about exchanging insurance details. The lawyer then enters in his car and drives away leaving Gipson with stranded with a flat tire; hence, he arrives at the court 20 minutes to find his case settled in his absentia and he losses. Just from their non-verbal gestures at the scene of the carnage, each party makes assumption about the other just because they are strangers. Banek thinks that Gipson is a poor guy who can settle anything for money; on the other hand, Gipson finds the lawyer to be rude and he is determined to revenge after his case loss.

This brings us to the second theory which is known as the attribution theory. The main agenda of this theory is to discern the intention behind an observed behavior. After Banek gives Gipson a blank check to cater for the damages caused during the accident, he infers that the lawyer is rude and non-courteous. Conti-Ramsden (2012) states that the attribution theory is developed through a three-stage process and there are two adverse impacts that may arise. The process involves making observations, which is followed by being judgmental, and later making the attribution. The results of this process may be either fundamental attribution error or the actor-observer bias. The attribution theory is intertwined with the expectancy violation theory that is concerned with the relationship between non-verbal message production and individual interpretation of the non-verbal behaviors (Conti-Ramsden, 2012).According to this theory, individuals hold expectations for non-verbal behaviors that are based on societal occurrences, prior experience, or in a current situation (Lie & Boyle, 2014).. The expectations may either be met or violated leaving an individual to be judgmental of the situation and of the other partner. The situation presented in the movie is current and both parties have expectations from their conversation. For Gipson, he wishes to settle the matter legally by exchanging their insurance details while the lawyer wishes for a short-cut that will end the process even faster. Basically, these are their expectations from their small banter that is characterized with emotions and feelings based on where they are headed to.

From the expectancy violations theory, such a situation in the film presents the dyads with an increased interest known as arousal. Cognitive arousal mainly asserts that the individuals have mental awareness of their expectations and physical arousal is the body language that results from violation of the expected results. Varied emotions are elicited in a certain situation just like Gipson and Banek in the film Challenging Lanes (Ebert, 2002). An individual’s arousal can be influenced by the proxemics between the two conversing individuals. Proxemics refers to the space between the two people that separates the dyads. The proxemics between the two main characters in the movie can be defined as social distance that is mainly observed in professional meetings. The conversing parties are separated by a distance of half to one meter. Since the two are strangers, they observe this distance as their communication may turn to be argumentative. Later in the movie, an intimate proxemics is elicited between Banek and his wife as they get very close to each other showing a close relationship.

Another aspect of expectancy violation theory is dyadic communication relationship that calls for something to happen. At this point, Gipson and Banek get involved in an argument that leads the lawyer to driving off (Ebert, 2002). Dyadic communication is well defined in this film by other characters Delano and his wife, and Banek’s wife. Banek married his boss’, Delano, daughter who opens up about her parents’ relationship. Delano has been cheating on his wife for 20 years and the wife has been okay with it because the guy is rich and has given her a wealthy life. The case that Banek is going to solve at the court is fraudulent as hewas manipulated by Delano to obtain a signature from an old-wealthy man that upon his death his wealth should be transferred to Banek. Delano has been used to these frauds and he has accumulated a lot of wealth. Banek’s wife feels that there is a need to talk with her fiancé to avoid their relationship ending up just like her father’s. Dyadic communication aims at conversing between partners in order to save a relationship (Lowry et al., 2004).

The next aspect of interpersonal communication is known as “devaluation” or hurt that refers to the feeling of being unappreciated or devalued by the other individual. This notion is derived from the relational transgression where people interrupt with the relational rules. In this case, hurtful messages are communicated at each other and may result into psychological pain that may trigger revenge or a conflict. In Changing Lanes, Gipson is the first person who suffers devaluation immediately at the accident scene (Ebert, 2002). The lawyer downplays him just by his looks and possession which makes him feel devalued. The aftermath is revenge from both parties where Gipson sends an irritating fax, “better luck next time” to Banek which he has obtained from the lawyer’s misplaced documents. Banek retaliates by finding ways of ruining Gipson credit ratings since the court had given him one day to find the documents and present them. A day is enough for the two individuals to create havoc in each other’s lives. Devaluation in communication may result to both short and long-term adverse consequences that affect the rapport of the dyads (Lowry et al., 2004). The argument that the movie characters had engaged in earlier in the day draws theunpleasant occurrences later. Being hurt or feeling unappreciated in a conversation is a notion that may arise depending on the message that has been put across. A message that is perceived to be disturbing may ruin a relationship and cause adverse effects.

The film Changing Lanes makes it clear that devaluation can make an individual forego their moral stance and beliefs just to one-up each other. Both Banek and Gipson have an angry and vengeful streak which trickles down to the conversation they engaged in earlier in the day. This notion explains that perceptions and expectations shape the development of an interpersonal communication. The results may be either positive or negative depending on the contextual perspective of the communication.

On the same breadth, cognitive dissonance theory guides an individual into encountering new information and experiences (Wood, 2013). It aids in eliminating the existence of premeditated thoughts and beliefs that may result to prejudice during an interpersonal communication. In most cases, people usually make assumptions based on the physical appearance of their mates, colleagues, strangers, and even spouses. When individuals are presented with new information they may categorize it in accordance to their established mindset. This may result into a biased judgment which is discouraged by the dissonance theory. It involves making decisions or actions that resonate with perspectives that are believed to be positive in the society. When dyads are conversing, they may opt to be positive towards each other and avoiding being judgmental; hence, they embrace a dissonance (Baack et al., 2000). Alternatively, they may take time to learn and understand each other before embracing a dissonance. This is covered under the onion theory which states that a relationship may take time before people get to know each other well.

The analogy depicts how an onion peels which means that a person character is made of layers which shed off allowing people to understand his “real-self (Lie & Boyle, 2014).” This allows the participants to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain towards each other under the ethical egoism. For Banek and Gipson, they come into terms with their actions and realize that their hate is just costing them. They decide to shed off their preexisting mindset towards each other through the ethical egoism aspect.

The first step these men take is to decide to stop the cat and mouse chase that is causing displeasure on their lives. They decide to lay their focus on their ethics and moral implications of their actions. As a result, Gipson returns the file to Banek and apologize for his earlier actions. This turn of events depicts the tittle of the movie Changing Lanes which shows that they have decided to abandon their unpleasant behaviors and beliefs. Therefore, their second meeting is characterized by a restored relationship. They incorporate the depth penetration aspect of interpersonal communication which talks giving each other a chance of looking for equilibrium of understanding. This step comes in place during the process of conflict resolution process where the dyads decide on how to deal with their conflict. Conflict resolution strategies are categorized into either pro-social or anti-social where individuals can avoid, compete, or cooperate (Baack et al., 2000). Cooperation involves coming into terms amicably and finding a lasting solution through a conversation. Banek and Gipson choose to follow this strategy where there are a number of changes. Firstly, Banek decides to follow Gipson’s case and stop his boss from entering into a fraudulent contract. He also finds time to speak to his wife of his new stand which saves their marriage from experiencing challenges that may lead to a break-up.


Interpersonal communication context is broad and has various concepts and theories that define how people converse. The first thing to note was that it involves a conversation between two people who are passing a piece of information across. The message has to be sent and received and some instances the recipient sends back feedback.  Secondly, a conversation between two people heavily depends on the situation that they are in and the context. For example, the aforementioned story depicted from the movie Changing Lanes, the situation is an accident between two people. The other perspective of interpersonal communication is the relationship; where in this movie the characters are strangers. The other perspective is qualitative context is concerned with the type of message that the dyads are sharing.

Similarly, interpersonal communication is defined by the certain theories that characterize how dyads behave in a conversation. Uncertainty reduction theory is profound when strangers are conversing. This theory states that the dyads stay vigil and scan each other’s behavior before getting into details with each other. Attribution theory focuses on the judgments that an individual makes when speaking with a stranger. The expectancy violation theory discusses how an individual remains expectant when in an interpersonal communication (Conti-Ramsden, 2012). There is mentality that one party creates of what to expect from their conversation. When these expectations are not met, it becomes an expectation violation. There is also the aspect of devaluation in an interpersonal conversation where an individual feels unappreciated by the other; this brings about emotional imbalance and hurt. Cognitive dissonance theory teaches the speaker to avoid have a prejudice mindset that may ruin the dyads’ relationship. In conclusion, communication is an important aspect of lives that shapes how people relate. Actually, interpersonal communication may either aid in capturing or squandering an opportunity. If Gipson and Banek came into an amicable conclusion by engaging in a healthy conversation, they could have not wasted their time and chances. Therefore, interpersonal communication requires understanding each other without making judgments via physical appearance


Baack, D., Christine ,& James H. (2000):  “The Personal Impact of Ethical Decision: A Social Penetration Theory.” Journal of Business Ethics 24.1 39-49

Conti-Ramsden, G. (2012 “Jun 17). “Human Communication and Deafness””. Language development and assessment in the preschool period 22 (4): 384–401

Ebert, Roger (April 12, 2002). “Changing Lanes – Reviews”. Chicago Sun-Times

Lie, Y. & Boyle, P.A (2014). Residual decline in cognition after adjustment for common neuropathologic conditions. Neuropsychology. American psychological association. Retrieved from:


Lowry, P.; Curtis, A.; Lowry, Michelle R. (2004).”Building a taxonomy and nomenclature of collaborative writing to improve interdisciplinary research and practice”  (PDF). Journal of Business Communication 41: 66.


Wood, J. (2013). Communication mosaics: An introduction to the field of communication (7thed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.