Being open without talking about it: A rhetorical/normative approach to understanding topic avoidance in families after a lung cancer diagnosis

John P. Caughlin, Sylvia L. Mikucki-Enyart, Ashley V. Middleton, Anne M. Stone, Laura E. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The present study uses a rhetorical/normative perspective to examine families' communication and coping in response to a parent's diagnosis of, and eventual death from, lung cancer. Through in-depth, semistructured interviews with 35 adult children, we identified two broad areas of communicative avoidance (avoiding information and avoiding emotion) and three general ways of managing avoidance and openness (denial, segmentation, and being open while avoiding). The interviews suggested that denial was a particularly dissatisfying means of managing competing goals, whereas being open while avoiding appeared to be functional for family members. The discussion focuses on our understanding of reasons why people avoid in this context, implications for rhetorical/normative approaches and theories of information management, and practical implications of the current findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-436
Number of pages28
JournalCommunication Monographs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011



  • Coping
  • Lung cancer
  • Multiple goals
  • Normative approach
  • Topic avoidance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

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