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Last updated Feb 14, 2001


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Communication Competence


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.

Theorist: Spitzberg & Cupach

Date:  1984

Primary Article:

     Spitzberg, B. H., & Cupach, W. R. (1984). Interpersonal communication competence. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

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).


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.


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.

Relavant Research:

     Beach, W. A., & Metzger, T. R. (1997). Claiming insufficient knowledge. Human Communication Research, 23,  562-89.

     Cooper, L. O. (1997). Listening competency in the workplace: A model for training. Business Communication Quarterly, 60,  75-85.

     Duran, R. L., & Spitzberg, B. H. (1995). Toward the development and validation of a measure of cognitive communication competence. Communication Quarterly, 43,  259-86.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A