Language: The Relational Content of Interpersonal Communication
Message and Metamessage
With every communicated message, there are two levels of information conveyed. The top layer, so to speak, is the content level. This level simply conveys the actual content of the message. "I'm going to the mall.", "Give that to me.", and "Could I see you for a moment?", are all statements of which the content is quite explicit. However, the more underlying message (called the metamessage), is not apparent simply in text form, and must be spoken to be conveyed. The metamessage is entirely dependent on the person for whom the message is intended. A teenage girl could be telling one of her parents that she's going to the mall, in which case the relational message conveys something like "I'm going to the mall, but you're my parent, so will you grant me permission?". On the other hand, if the girl is on the phone with one of her friends with whom she would like to hang out, the metamessage would be "I'm going to the mall, and would you like to join me?".
Within the relational message are three bids. Like in an auction, bids are not money/resources intent on being spent on things we've already won/earned, but on things that we intend to purchase. Relational bids are proposals of relationship status, face bids are proposals of self-status, and altercasting bids are bids reflecting the person to whom the message is directed. The three bids are all sent simultaneously and subconsciously and work in conjunction with one another to convey meaning.
The face bid is the part of the relational message stating how the speaker desires to be seen. This is greatly important because it is affected by self-esteem, mood, desires and the actual relationship to the person. A person who is speaking to their boss at the workplace and would very much like to be seen as a hard-working individual would speak in a manner that conveys that. If that is indeed the case, the face bid would say something like "I am a hard-working individual".
The altercasting bid is the part of the relational message which conveys information about how the speaker sees the individual(s) to receive the message. Continuing with the example in the previous paragraph, the employee would simultaneously send the message. In that case, the altercasting message would be something akin to "You are the boss and are in control of my employment and current rate of pay".
The relational bid declares the relationship between the two persons as seen by the speaker. This bid is entirely dependent on the first two bids. In the example above, the relational bid would be something like "I am subordinate to you and need to do what you say if I want to keep my job".
All three bids work in conjunction to carry across every message we speak.