About John

John was born and raised in the Northwest corner of the U.S. in the small town of Centralia, Washington. After completing community college there, he earned his B.A. at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Then John, his wife, and two young daughters journeyed to Evanston, Ill, where he completed his M.A. at Northwestern University. After two years’ teaching communication at Wisconsin State University-Stout in Menomonie, the family moved to Los Angeles, where John became a doctoral student at the University of Southern California. In 1970, he completed the Ph.D. and accepted an almost-home town position at the University of Washington, where he taught for 32 years. Summers, weekends, and holidays, he worked as an executive trainer, offering seminars, workshops, and individual consultations to engineers, architects, physicians, attorneys, parent groups, and public employees. In 2001, John accepted the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Dubuque, in Eastern Iowa. He retired from that position in 2010 and became Special Assistant to the President at UD. He retired a second time in June, 2016. Now he volunteers for Inclusive Dubuque, the Multicultural Family Center, My Brother’s Keeper, and the Rotary Club of Dubuque. John and Becky also enjoy traveling and spending time with their four children, five grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.

John’s twin loves, interpersonal communication and philosophy, led him to study communication in families, dating relationships, and work groups and to help people understand how the quality of their lives is directly related to the quality of their communication. This was a central theme of his first book, Bridges Not Walls: A Book About Interpersonal Communication, published in 1973. The broad acceptance of that work led him to co-author Together: Communicating Interpersonally in 1975. Bridges is now in its eleventh edition, and Together is in its 6th edition. In 1995 and 1996 John summarized thirty years of his research in Language as Articulate Contact: Toward a Post-Semiotic Philosophy of Communication and Beyond the Symbol Model: Reflections on the Representational Nature of Language. Both these books argue that human language is not, as many have believed, a system of symbols that people use to represent aspects of their world, but is a set of practices we inhabit, the main way we become human. In 2014, John published U&ME: Communicating in Moments that Matter, Rev. ed., which summarizes his earlier work in interpersonal communication. In 2017, he published Personal Communicating and Racial Equity: A Humane Technology for Developing Anti-Stereotyping Relationships With People Who Are Different from You, which connects his life-long focus on personal communicating and his post-2010 study and practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. In 2023, John published one of the few antiracism books focused on interpersonal, as contrasted with systemic racism, Dismantling Racism One On One: Uniqueness Narrative Equity (Strategic Book Publishing Co). All his books are available from their publishers, Ingram, and

Along the way, John received several teaching awards, served professional, community, and church organizations, and published articles and chapters about communication, philosophy, and interpretive (as contrasted with scientific) research. He pursued his lifelong interests in water and snow skiing, completed several 10k runs, commuted to work on his bicycle, and enjoyed sailing in Puget Sound and the waters of British Columbia. His daughters grew into beautiful and competent women, two of his grandchildren were born, Jamie and Josh, and in 1992, the extended family welcomed his son, Lincoln.

On January 1, 2011, John married Rebecca Marie Johnson at the Episcopal church where they met in Dubuque. His extended family now includes Becky’s parents, her 14 siblings, their spouses and families, a new son-in-law, Brad, and three more wonderful grandchildren, Luke, Isaac, and Beau.