Chapter 13. Mixed Messages: A Communication Experiment

Branton K. Holmberg and Daniel W. Mullene


  • To explore the dynamics of receiving verbal and nonverbal communication cues that are in conflict with one another.

  • To examine how nonverbal cues can convey listener attitudes that can affect the communication process.

  • To develop an understanding of the importance and impact of being direct and congruent in all forms of interpersonal communication.

Group Size

A minimum of four trios is most effective. (One or two extra members can join trios to serve as additional process observers.)

Time Required

Approximately forty-five minutes to one hour.


  • A copy of the Mixed Messages Communicator Instruction Sheet for one member of each trio.

  • A copy of the Mixed Messages Observer Instruction Sheet and a pencil for the second member in each trio.

  • One of four different Mixed Messages Listener Instruction Sheets ("Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," "Who Gives a Damn?," "How Sweet It Is," or "This Is How It Ought to Be") for the third member in each trio. If there are more than four trios, one or more listener roles can be duplicated.

  • Newsprint and a felt-tipped marker (optional).

Physical Setting

Enough room for the trios to work without disturbing one another. The observer in each trio should be seated slightly away from the communicator and listener.


  1. The facilitator divides the group into trios, disperses them about the room, and tells them to talk about whatever they wish.

  2. After five minutes, ...

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