ow that you have a general understanding of what the field of Communication is, its history, verbal and nonverbal communication, and its theoretical and research approaches, we want to introduce you to a number of its specializations. Communication is a broad and diverse field. One way to understand it better is to understand the individual specializations that make up what we call Communication. There is not enough room in this text to introduce you to all of the interesting specializations in our field. Therefore, we have decided to stay consistent with the chronological development of specializations as presented in Chapter 4 and highlight ones that still have prominent focus on campuses today. Thus, we present the areas of specializations in their historical and chronological context. There is often disagreement by those in our field as to what areas of specialization to include or not include in these types of textbooks (e.g. mass communication, new technologies, instructional communication, etc.). We have made strategic choices to include those specializations that have followed the historical path of the field from ancient times, through the 20th century, to the present. Hence, the order of the chapters in Part II follows the chronological introduction and development of the specializations that are still highly researched and practiced today in Communication.
What do you think of when you hear the word “rhetoric”? Do you have a positive association with the word? Perhaps it feels difficult to define. We often hear that rhetoric is connected to politics, or specifically, the speeches made by politicians, as in, “That campaign speech was just a bunch of empty rhetoric.” Sound familiar? As is often the case, the popular media has distorted the meaning of this word thus, making it difficult to understand. Another problem is that “rhetoric is not a content area that contains a definite body of knowledge, like physics; instead, rhetoric might be understood as the study and practice of shaping content” (Covino and Jolliffe 4). A third source of difficulty when it comes to defining this concept is that scholars themselves have been debating this term for thousands of years!
In this chapter, we will explore both Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism. We treat these as separate but related fields of inquiry, and briefly map out their history, discuss some of the major rhetorical theories and methods of doing rhetorical criticism, and finally, explain how this specialization contributes to the larger discipline of Communication. But, before going any further, let’s begin by highlighting the definitional and historical debate so we may begin with a common understanding of the term, “rhetoric.” Remember from Chapter 5 that we are defining rhetoric as “any kind of symbol use that functions in any realm” (Foss, Foss, and Griffin 7).
One would think that after thousands of years scholars would finally come to an agreement about what rhetoric means. But as is the way with all symbols (words in this case) their meaning can and does change over time to reflect the ever-changing social, political, religious, and cultural context in which they operate. More specifically, they change to reflect the needs, attitudes and beliefs of the people living and communicating within a particular context. Let us take a trip around the world and through time to explore the origin and meaning of rhetoric. As we tour the origins and various definitions of rhetoric we will also highlight the view or scope allowed by each, for “a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (Burke 49).
We will begin our tour in Ancient Greece with the “first four”—Aspasia of Miletus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—who have come to be regarded as the foremother and forefathers of rhetoric and the Communication discipline as a whole. Although little is known about her because she vanished from history circa 401 BCE, as we discussed in Chapter 4, Aspasia of Miletus can be considered the foremother of classical rhetoric as she is rumored to have taught rhetoric and home economics to Socrates. With specialties in philosophy and politics, she became the only female member of the elite Periclean circle that included the most prominent Sophists of the day. In the circle she made both friends and enemies as a result of her political savvy and public speaking ability.
To put it in contemporary terms, let us look at an example from the marketing and advertising world. Mattel, the company who makes Barbie has long been interested in selling the doll as well as her friends and accessories worldwide. (Currently, a Barbie is sold somewhere in the world every 2 seconds!) Researching the Japanese doll market, advertisers found that Japanese girls do not play with their dolls in the same way as American girls--dressing them, fixing their hair, and role-playing with them. Instead, Japanese girls might place the dolls on a shelf and admire them. To sell Barbie in Japan meant that Mattel must also “teach” Japanese girls how to play and use Barbie like American kids do. As a result, their Japanese television commercials are explicit in the verbal messages as well as the images of playing with (not looking at) Barbie. Mattel has taken the same message—sell Barbie—and constructed it differently depending on the context and their audience. This would be an example of creating the necessary appeals to persuade kids (to buy Barbie) in each particular case (America versus Japan) based on audience analysis.
The second part of his definition dealing with persuasion suggests that Aristotle conceptualized a very specific and limited scope for rhetoric. Rhetoric exists in contexts where a person or a group of people is engaged in the process of communicating for the purpose of changing another in some way. Change may come in the form of trying to influence a prospective voter in an upcoming election or convincing a jury on the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a murder trial. As we will discuss later in this chapter, the sole focus on persuasion is one of the critiques that contemporary theorists have when assessing rhetorical theory.
While much of the classical theorists were men and dealt with traditionally male roles, Pan Chao (c. 45 CE-115 CE) provides historical insight into Eastern rhetoric and the role of women in rhetoric. A strong believer in the benefits of education, she was one of the first people to argue for the education of girls and women. The role of women and other non-dominant groups is another concern of contemporary theorists that will be discussed later in more detail.
Two other key figures in classical rhetoric are Cicero (106-43 BCE) and Quintillian (c. 35-95). They deserve recognition for combining much of what was known from the Greeks and Romans into more complete theoretical systems. Many of the concepts to emerge from this time are still relevant today, although they may have been transformed in some way to reflect a more contemporary context. You may, for example, recognize them in the setting of a public speaking course. In the classical system there were three types of public speeches—legal, political, and ceremonial. Eventually the genre of rhetorical discourse would include poetry, sermons, letters, songs; and with the advent of the technology, mass mediated discourse such as television, radio, and film.
As we discussed in Chapter 4, another major contribution was the formation of the five canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. All of these should be easily recognizable as the stages of speech preparation. First, the speechwriter must invent and formulate the arguments based on logos-- rational appeal or logic. Next, the speech is organized in the most effective manner. Aristotle thought the logical appeals should go in the main part or body of the speech and the appeals to ethos and pathos should fall in the introduction and conclusion. After the proper arrangement of the information, the writer must think about style—the particular language choices that will enhance the enjoyment, and thus acceptability of the argument, on the part of the audience. The fourth step, memory, was vital in the classical period but is rarely a requirement in today’s public speaking contexts. Today, we favor more extemporaneous speaking styles instead of memorized speeches. The final element, delivery, consists of the use of nonverbal gestures, eye contact and vocal variations when presenting the speech to an audience. Think back to the evaluation form that your professor used to evaluate your speeches in class; chances are you were evaluated in some manner on your ability to perform the five canons.
As the Roman Empire fell and the historical period known as the Middle Ages (400-1400) dominated, rhetoric fell from grace. It was no longer a valued and honored skill, but instead, was thought of as a pagan art. This view coincided with the Christian domination of the period as, “Christians believed that the rhetorical ideas formulated by the pagans of classical Greece and Rome should not be studied and that possession of Christian truth was accompanied by an automatic ability to communicate the truth effectively” (Foss, Foss, and Trapp 8). Ironically, it was a Christian, Augustine, who recognized and articulated the role for rhetoric in the church. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric, thus, he knew skills in oratory and that the ability to move an audience was consistent with the duties of a preacher. As the world grew bigger, people needed a form of communication that would travel across distance—thus letter writing became popular and was now considered within the scope of rhetoric.
As the Middle Ages ended, the Renaissance took its place from 1400-1600. During this period two intellectual trends—humanism and rationalism—shaped the study of rhetoric. Humanism is the study of history, moral philosophy, poetry, and rhetoric of classical antiquity. These thinkers believed that the word was to be known and understood through language, rather that the natural or physical worlds. Rationalism, however, privileged scientific and objective answers to life’s questions and as such had little use for rhetoric. In the modern period that followed, three trends in rhetoric emerged—the epistemological, belletristic, and elocutionist.
While much of the classical rhetorical theories arose from the closely related context of public speaking, much of the theorizing that contributes to contemporary rhetoric comes from outside this context and, to some extent, outside the Communication discipline. While Aristotle and Augustine were chiefly concerned with questions of persuasive ability, contemporary theorists are concerned with relationships between power, knowledge, and discourse. Hopefully, you can see that this is a much broader set of questions and in turn the scope of rhetoric has also expanded. Below, we will discuss this expansion and the contributors.
In addition to the broader set of concerns on the part of contemporary theorists, they specifically challenged certain assumptions and biases of the canon—that of rationalism and voice. Responding to this rational bias are social constructionism and postmodernism. Social Constructionism often associated with Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty, questions the premise that scientific or philosophical knowledge can be assumed as fundamentally true. This perspective “discounts the possibility that truth/reality/knowledge exists in an a priori state.” [Instead,] it emphasizes what cultures regard as knowledge or truth” (Covino and Jolliffe 83). Meaning, that the “truth” is not “out there” (as X Files would have us believe). Rather, the truth is determined by our own personal and cultural experiences and how language is used to understand and explain those experiences.
In any discussion of Postmodernism the difficulty of defining the term is invariably part of the discussion. Part of that problem can be located the etymology of the word itself. Modern refers to just now (from modo in Latin) and post means after. Thus, this term translates into “after just now”—an idea difficult to wrap our heads around you might say. How do you, for example, point to or mark the period after just now? (Covino and Jolliffe 76). Some qualities that describe postmodernism are that of fragmentation, nonlinearity, and instability. The film, Moulin Rouge, is an excellent example of a postmodern text as it exemplifies these qualities. The story is told not in a traditionally linear (or modern) form, but instead the dialogue is made up of a patchwork of pop songs from Elton John to Madonna to weave the tale of a 19th century romance.
The second major challenge to the rhetorical canon and to a rational paradigm has been that of voice; who gets to speak and whose rhetoric is considered significant (or even gets labeled as rhetoric)? Going back to the classical period, you remember that public oratory was considered the scope of rhetoric. And you also know who traditionally hold positions of power that would grant them access to the public speaking contexts—primarily white, wealthy men. This obviously left out a lot of people: they had no voice. An Afrocentric and feminist perspective offer two responses to this challenge. An Afrocentric position seeks to include linguistic elements from African languages as well as the Black experience in America into the scope and understanding of rhetorical processes. A feminist perspective looks at the ways in which women and other groups have been similarly left of the scope of rhetorical discourse and attempts to uncover the patriarchal biases in language and restore them with more egalitarian principles.
In the second half of this chapter we would like to discuss the application of rhetorical theory through rhetorical criticism. To explain praxis as applied to rhetorical theory, we will discuss the scope of rhetorical criticism, the purpose of this method, the kinds of knowledge produced, and the relationship between rhetorical theory and criticism. We will conclude with examples of how rhetorical criticism seeks to answer contemporary socio and political concerns.
While there is general agreement among rhetorical scholars that criticism is an appropriate method of study, there are differing opinions about why and how it contributes to an overall understanding of rhetoric. Depending on the rhetorical critic, the assumptions about rhetorical criticism vary. As a way of uncovering some of the various assumptions scholars bring to this method of inquiry, we will look at the various definitions of criticism and rhetoric and what is considered within the scope of rhetorical criticism.
Other scholars tried to fill in some of the gaps of this early essay. Ewbank tried to broaden the scope in 1931 by performing "case studies" where the critic wrote from personal experience derived from witnessing the speech. He looked at the audience's immediate reactions and the effect of the speech on them. Hunt (1935) said the critic should be focused more on values and less on performance of a work. He wanted critics to make value judgments but gave no definition of such. Bryant (1937) was the first person to question the exclusive focus on "great" individuals. He wanted a focus on social forces or movements and thought forces and figures should be studied together. Booth expanded rhetoric to include novels, plays, editorials and songs.
Of the more recent critics, Cathcart says, "rhetoric is used . . . to refer to a communicator's intentional use of language and other symbols to influence or persuade selected receivers to act, believe, or feel the way the communicator desires in problematic situations" (2). Of criticism he says it is, "that special form of communication which examines how communication is accomplished and whether it is worthwhile. . . Criticism is thus the counterpart of creativity" (3). Imbedded in these definitions are Cathcart's assumptions that only messages that are intended are within the scope of study. Such messages are designed to change the listener or the situation in some way, presumably to solve the problematic situation. This implies that the rhetor knows how to solve the problem and believes that he or she has the best solution. The requirement of a "problematic situation" narrows the scope considerably as does Cathcart's examples of rhetoric—public discourse such as speeches, essays, interviews, and slogans (2). Thus, for Cathcart, a rhetor comes to the problematic speaking situation with his or her solution based on what he or she believes the audience needs to resolve the conflict. Criticism is used to assess whether the rhetor was successful in persuading the audience to accept the solution and the strategies used to gain such acceptance.
Many other critics assume the intent to persuade as the natural goal of rhetoric and focus on the strategies for doing so. Stewart says rhetorical criticism is "the study of man's past attempt to change the behavior of fellow man, primarily through verbal symbols" (1). Brock and Scott claim rhetoric may be defined as the human effort to induce cooperation through the use of symbols" (6). By reading about the various definitions and assumptions of rhetorical criticism we hope you can begin to see a relationship between some of the early definitions of rhetorical theory (as persuasion) and how that impacted the development of rhetorical criticism.
Foss defines criticism as "the process of systematically investigating and explaining symbolic acts and artifacts for the purpose of understanding rhetorical processes" (7). Like other critics she wants to understand strategies or processes, but she does not assume that she can understand "man," rather she wants to understand rhetoric and how humans use it. From her definitions, we see that Foss approaches rhetorical criticism with two assumptions that differ from other scholars. First, she does not assume that the role of the rhetorical critic is to judge the effectiveness of the speaker or discourse: their purpose is to understand. Second, she does not believe that the critic must possess knowledge of the motives of the communicator. In her perspective, this is not necessary because, regardless of intent, a message has been transmitted and produces an effect upon the audience. The goal is to uncover the meanings that are produced; not necessarily the intended meaning.
While scholars debate the purpose of rhetorical criticism, the arguments fall into one of two categories: judgment and understanding. While, this may be an oversimplification in some cases, it is useful for our purpose here. Those who see rhetorical criticism as a means of judgment are concerned with articulating the effectiveness of a text or artifact and the strategies that contributed or detracted from its overall success. How effective was President Trump, for example, in persuading the American people that the US should build a wall along the southern border?
Those concerned with understanding may be concerned with comprehension and appreciation of the artifact itself and how that knowledge contributes to an understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical processes. A critic interested in this sort of project might ask a question such as, "Does the television show Stranger Things offer an empowering feminist voice or does it reinscribe a traditionally feminine image?" Both questions can be answered by rhetorical criticism: they are just different kinds of questions.
Currently, the collective opinion seems to be moving in the direction of understanding as the purpose of rhetorical criticism. We see that Foss is less concerned with judgment as she is with comprehension as suggested in her above definitions of rhetoric and criticism. She sees a direct and explicit correlation between the criticism of an artifact and an understanding of rhetorical theory: "the critic is interested in discovering what the artifact teaches us about the nature of rhetoric" (8). The overall goal is to contribute to our effectiveness as communicators. When we know and understand how rhetoric works we are able to critique the rhetorical choices of others and make effective rhetorical choices for our own communication. The aim for the individual is to be rhetorically effective in a given situation by understanding the communicative options available to him or her.
Other specific purposes can include artistic, analytic, and ideological. Leff describes the artistic critic as one who sees the text as art and wants to foster an appreciation in the reader (224). The purpose is for the reader to understand and therefore, appreciate the art form. The analytic critic sees the text, (such as advertisements or political campaigns) as an object of study and seeks the means to comprehend. Wanderer talks of the ideological or advocate critic as looking at how a text may be oppressive, suppress the readers' interpretations, closes off other readings or possibilities (social protests, minorities.) Feminist and ideological criticism seek the emancipation of all human potential and exposes how that potential is being silenced by the existing ideologies.
The value of rhetorical criticism comes from the insights it can provide about rhetorical communication and the artifacts we study. Through these methodological process critics come to a greater awareness about the variety of communication options open to us in a given situation. This awareness helps us to be effective communicators. Conversely, discovering what is ineffective in a discourse teaches us what not to do when we communicate with others. By uncovering hidden meanings in a text we learn how various messages are produced and their effects. This can help us decipher how we may want to respond in a given situation: "The value of both critical theory and textual criticism derives from the extent to which they inform discursive practice and advance our understanding of rhetorical communication" (Henry 220-221). Criticism also helps us learn about a specific text. When we can identify a text with pervasive effects, rhetorical criticism can inform us as to how and why that text is so effective. Thus, rhetorical criticism enables scholars to learn more about their own communication strategies, the study of rhetoric, and the specific artifacts that interest us.
Many critics are concerned with the relationship between theory and practice and how an understanding of one contributes to the other. In this way theory and criticism are mutually interdependent: the purpose for criticism is to unite theory and practice - praxis. Criticism must be informed by method so others can see why and how we reason about quality i.e. we need theory for criticism and criticism for theory (Farrell 4). Campbell says the purpose of criticism is to contribute to the modification and application of theory (18). Criticism helps us see gaps in theory and the limits of knowledge so we may ascertain social significance of discourse. If there is a gap in theory criticism helps us create a new one. Hart, however, claims that critics do not have to choose between studying texts and contributing to theory; productive criticism can do both, regardless of the critic’s intention. If you remember back to the chapter on theory, we talked about theory as an idea of how something works. The “something” in this case is language or discourse; rhetorical theories provide models for how language functions as part of the human experience and rhetorical criticism is a way of testing and revising the particular theory with a real life case study.
By now you should have a clear understanding of what rhetorical theory and criticism are and the uses they serve for the discipline, as well as the world outside academia. We would like to conclude this chapter by detailing some of the current issues and questions occupying rhetorical scholars. As the examples are numerous, we will speak to three specific content areas: the study of social movements, political and campaign rhetoric, and studies of popular culture.
One of the exciting things about Communication is that is it has always been interested in the large sociopolitical issues facing society. Social change as it occurs through social movements is one such area of research. Think back to your history lessons concerning minority populations in the United States. Has the political status of women; African Americans; Asians; gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals always been what it is today? (We are not suggesting here that there is finally equality among people of various races, ethnicities, genders, or sexual orientations; only that it has been much worse.) How have those changes come about? Certainly laws and customs have changed in an attempt to provide more equal access to resources and opportunities. But prior to such legislative changes, a change in attitude was necessary. Here is where social movement rhetoric played a vital role in changes our nation’s history. The rhetoric of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Caesar Chavez have all been influential in changing attitudes. They inspired movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to create discussion and to bring to light issues that are going on today using platforms such as social media to reach big audiences. Scholars interested in these issues study the discourse of the leaders (i.e. their speeches) as well as the rhetorical vision they create for their audience. Moreover, they also attempt to learn from the past about what sort of rhetorical strategies will be successful in contemporary and future movements. As Bowers, Ochs, and Jensen explain, "one of the goals of studying social movements is to make predictions" (141).
Another area of research that falls within the scope of rhetorical theory and criticism is that of public address. This area is concerned with politics and political oratory. Some students of rhetoric may go onto careers in speech writing and campaign design on the behalf of political candidates. In this context they are able to utilize their skills in rhetoric and persuasion to answer the challenge of, how can I get people to vote for a particular candidate. Kathleen Hall Jamison is an example of such a person. She worked on the Dukakis presidential campaign and has authored several books in this area. Similarly, one might be in the business of analyzing political speeches and offering suggestions about what is effective and ineffective in a politician’s rhetoric.
The study and critique of popular culture is something that most, if not all, of us participate in at some level. Do you ever watch music videos with your friends and comment on the use of some of the images? Do you look forward to the commercials during the Super Bowl to see the latest and innovative advertising techniques? As you watch, critique, and analyze these images, you are beginning the process of rhetorical criticism. The only difference between you and the professional critic (beside lots of schooling) is that the professional critic has decided to make his or her analysis systematic. This is accomplished by employing one of the formal methods discussed earlier, such as the pentad or a feminist critique. As most people participate in some form of popular culture such as television, films, music, sports, or fashion, you can see the potential impact that popular culture messages and images have on a society. Thus, scholars of popular culture feel it is important to pay critical attention to them rather than dismiss them as trivial.
By now you have a more complex understanding of the term rhetoric and realize the distinction between the use of the term in the popular press and its meaning within the context of the Communication discipline. At a very basic level, you know that it refers to the process in which humans use symbols to communicate with one another. Moreover, you should know the contributions of classical and well as contemporary theorists to understanding human symbol use. As a way of knowing, rhetorical criticism provides scholars with a unique methodological tool for understanding communication. Through the contributions and paradigm shifts from classical to contemporary scholars, the scope of rhetorical criticism has been widened to include a variety of social events, acts, and artifacts that we encounter in our daily life. This method has a direct impact on our lives by informing us about the communicative options available to us when communicating with others in cultural, professional, personal and political contexts.
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You’re sitting in a classroom checking twitter while listening to your favorite music when the clock hits the top of the hour. You take out your headphones and put the phone down when you hear the instructor begin talking. She is referring to a web page projected on the screen in front of class. She welcomes everyone to the start of the school year, but stops to wait for the guy next to you to put down his phone that he's reading. She explains that she will only provide an electronic version of the syllabus, pointing to the course web page. Everyone in the class is to go online and read the syllabus before the next class meeting. She explains that, besides lecture and discussion, you will need to watch CNN, listen to NPR, and watch several clips she’s listed on YouTube to demonstrate and learn key concepts. Suddenly, from the back of the class a cell phone begins ringing. The instructor stops mid-sentence and explains the class policy about turning off cell phones during class. Your classmate never answers the phone but reaches into his pocket and looks at the phone screen. The instructor explains that you will need to read chapter one of the textbook by next week. Included with your textbook is a pass-code that allows you to connect to an online database so you can access articles for your semester project. After she answers student questions, class is over.
As you head out the door you hear music coming from the building sound system playing the student-run FM radio station. You walk to the student union to grab lunch and watch whatever they're playing on the large screen television. On your drive home, you plug in the aux to your Spotify and hear an ad about its Premium Package. While driving, you notice the new billboard advertising Ford trucks. When you get home, you open up your laptop. You check a class web page to see if you have homework, check the day’s current events and sporting scores, then check your email. You read several messages, delete the spam, and get irritated at the pop-up advertisements that keep jumping on your screen. After shutting down your computer you sit on the couch to watch a movie streaming through Netflix. As you lean back on the couch, you clear away a stack of magazines to set down your drink.
The above example is a representation of the amount of mass communication we are exposed to daily. In the U.S. we witness and understand a great deal of our world through mass communication. Remember from Chapter 2 that in the early part of the 20th century, communication scholars began to ask questions about the impact of media as more and more mass communication outlets were developed. Questions then and now include: To what degree does mass communication affect us? How do we use or access mass communication? How does each medium influence how we interpret messages? Do we play an active or passive role when we interact with media? This chapter explores these questions by examining the concept of mass communication, its evolution, its functions, its theories, and its place in society.
Nevertheless, most mass communication comes from large organizations that influence culture on a large scale. Schramm refers to this as a “working group organizer” (115). Today the working groups that control most mass communication are large conglomerates such as Viacom, NewsCorp, Disney, ComCast, Time Warner, and CBS. In 2014, these conglomerates controlled 90% of American Media and mergers continue to consolidate ownership even more. An example of an attempt at such a takeover of power occurred throughout 2014 with Comcast and Time Warner pursuing a merger for $45 billion.
Remember our definition of communication study: “who says what, through what channels (media) of communication, to whom, [and] what will be the results” (Smith, Lasswell & Casey 121)? When examining mass communication, we are interested in who has control over what content, for what audience, using what medium, and what are the results? Media critic Robert McChesney said we should be worried about the increasingly concentrated control of mass communication that results when just a handful of large organizations control most mass communication. “The implications for political democracy, by any standard, are troubling” (23). When interviewed, Ben Bagdikian, media critic and former Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, cautiously pointed out that over the past two decades, major media outlets went from being owned by 50 corporations to just five (WGBH/Frontline). Both McChesney and Bagdikian warn about the implications of having so few organizations controlling the majority of our information and communication. Perhaps this is the reason new media outlets like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook have consistently grown in popularity as they offer alternative voices to the large corporations that control most mass communication.
To understand mass communication one must first be aware of some of the key factors that distinguish it from other forms of communication. First, is the dependence on a media channel to convey a message to a large audience. Second, the audience tends to be distant, diverse, and varies in size depending on the medium and message. Third, mass communication is most often profit driven, and feedback is limited. Fourth, because of the impersonal nature of mass communication, participants are not equally present during the process.
As mass communication evolves, it continues to follow trends set by technological advances. This trend has been labeled Diffusion: “the process in which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system’’ (Rodgers). When new technological trends arise, old trends are partially replaced over time. This can be described by the Rogers’ Innovation-Decision Process Model below:
In this model, Rogers creates adopter categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The more early adopters a new media has, the more likely its success. Early adopters are typically younger, more affluent, and better educated.
As more mass communication mediums develop, Marshall McLuhan states that we can understand media as either hot or cold depending on the amount of information available to the user, as well as the degree of participation. A hot medium“extends one single sense in high definition” (McCluhan 22). Examples of hot media include photographs or music (Spotify, radio, etc.) because the message is mostly interpreted using one sense and requires little participation by participants. An audience is more passive with hot media because there is less to filter. Television is considered a cold medium because of the large amount of multisensory information. Berg Nellis states “Virtual reality, the simulation of actual environment complete with tactile sensory input, might be the extreme in cold media...This and other cutting edge technologies seem to point to increasingly cold media as we move into the digital communication future” (256). Think about online video games, such as the military sci-fi game, Halo. Games like this can be played in teams but the players do not necessarily have to be in close proximity. Simply by logging onto the server gamers can connect, interact, communicate through microphones and play as a team. These games have become so involved and realistic that they represent cold mediums because of the vast amount of sensory input and participation they require.
Perhaps we are turning into a “global village” through our interdependence with mass communication. Suddenly, “across the ocean” has become “around the corner.” McLuhan predicted this would happen because of mass communication’s ability to unify people around the globe. Are you a player in what Hagermas calls the “public sphere” that mass communication creates by posting information about yourself on public sites? If so, be careful about what you post about yourself, or allow others to "tag" you in, as many employers are googling potential employees to look into their personal lives before making decisions about hiring them. As we continue our discussion of mass communication we want to note that mass communication does not include every communication technology. As our definition states, mass communication is communication that potentially reaches large audiences. We will deal with other communication technologies in the last chapter.
Societies have long had a desire to find effective ways to report environmental dangers and opportunities; circulate opinions, facts, and ideas; pass along knowledge, heritage, and lore; communicate expectations to new members; entertain in an expansive manner; and broaden commerce and trade (Schramm). The primary challenge has been to find ways to communicate messages to as many people as possible. Our need-to-know prompted innovative ways to get messages to the masses.
Before writing, humans relied on oral traditions to pass on information. “It was only in the 1920s-according to the Oxford English Dictionary-that people began to speak of 'the media’ and a generation later, in the 1950s, of a ‘communication revolution’, but a concern with the means of communication is very much older than that” (Briggs & Burke 1). Oral and written communication played a major role in ancient cultures. These oral cultures used stories to document the past and impart cultural standards, traditions, and knowledge. With the development of alphabets around the world over 5000 years ago, written language with ideogrammatic (picture-based) alphabets like hieroglyphics started to change how cultures communicated.
Still, written communication remained ambiguous and did not reach the masses until the Greeks and Romans resolved this by establishing a syllabic alphabet representing sounds. But, without something to write on, written language was inefficient. Eventually, paper making processes were perfected in China, which spread throughout Europe via trade routes (Baran). Mass communication was not quick, but it was far-reaching (Briggs & Burke). This forever altered how cultures saved and transmitted cultural knowledge and values. Any political or social movement throughout the ages can be traced to the development and impact of the printing press and movable metal type (Steinberg). With his technique, Guttenberg could print more than a single page of specific text. By making written communication more available to larger numbers of people, mass printing became responsible for giving voice to the masses and making information available to common folks (McLuhan & Fiore). McLuhan argued that Gutenberg’s evolution of the printing press as a form of mass communication had profound and lasting effects on culture, perhaps the most significant invention in human history.
With the transition to the industrial age in the 18th century, large populations headed to urban areas, creating mass audiences of all economic classes seeking information and entertainment. Printing technology was at the heart of modernization WHICH led to magazines, newspapers, the telegraph, and the telephone. At the turn of the century (1900), pioneers like Thomas Edison, Theodore Puskas, and Nikola Tesla literally electrified the world and mass communication. With the addition of motion pictures and radio in the early 1900s, and television in the 40s and 50s, the world increasingly embraced the foundations of today’s mass communication. In the 1970s cable started challenging over-the-air broadcasting and traditional program distribution making the United States a wired nation. In 2014, there was an estimated 116.3 million homes in America that own a TV (Nielson, 2014 Advance National TV Household Universe Estimate). While traditionally these televisions would display only the programs that are chosen to be broadcast by cable providers, more and more households have chosen to become more conscious media consumers and actively choose what they watch through alternative viewing options like streaming video.
Today, smart T.V.'s and streaming devices have taken over the market. Many American households have multiple devices – especially smartphones. A third of American households have three or more smartphones, compared with 23% that have three or more desktops, 17% that have three or more tablets and only 7% that have three or more streaming media devices. These new forms of broadcasting have created a digital revolution. Thanks to Netflix and other streaming services we are no longer subjected to advertisements during our shows. Similarly, streaming services like Hulu provide the most recent episodes as they appear on cable that viewers can watch any time. These services provide instant access to entire seasons of shows (which can result in binge watching).
The Information Age eventually began to replace the ideals of the industrial age. In 1983 Time Magazine named the PC the first "Machine of the Year." Just over a decade later, PCs outsold televisions. Then, in 2006, Time Magazine named “you” as the person of the year for your use of technology to broaden communication. "You" took advantage of changes in global media. Chances are that you, your friends, and family spend hours engaged in data-mediated communication such as emailing, texting, or participating in various form of social media. Romero points out that, “The Net has transformed the way we work, the way we get in contact with others, our access to information, our levels of privacy and indeed notions as basic and deeply rooted in our culture as those of time and space” (88). Social media has also had a large impact in social movements across the globe in recent years by providing the average person with the tools to reach wide audiences around the world for the first time in history.
Another example of mainstream social media is Twitter. Twitter allows for quick 280 character or less status updates (called tweets) for registered users. Tweets can be sent from any device with access to internet in a fast, simple way that connects with a number of people, whether they be family, friends or followers. Twitter's microblogging format allows for people to share their daily thoughts and experiences on a broad and sometimes public stage. The simplicity of Twitter allows it to be used as a tool for entertainment and blogging, but also as a way of organizing social movements and sharing breaking news. President Donald Trump is fond of using Twitter as a means of communicating, a first in Presidential politics.
Snapchat is a newer social media platform used by more and more people every day. The function of Snapchat allows the user to send a photo (with the option of text) that expires after a few seconds. It can be looked at like a digital self-destructing note you would see in an old spy movie. Unlike its competitors, Snapchat is used in a less professional manner, emphasizing humor and spontaneity over information efficiency. Contrary to Facebook, there is no pressure to pose, or display your life. Rather, it is more spontaneous. It’s like the stranger you wink at in the street or a hilarious conversation with a best friend.
In this age of information overload, multiple news sources, high-speed connections, and social networking, life seems unimaginable without mass communication. Can you relate to your parents’ stories about writing letters to friends, family, or their significant others? Today, when trying to connect with someone we have a variety ways of contacting them; we can call, text, email, Facebook message, tweet, and/or Snapchat; the options are almost endless and ever-changing. Society today is in the midst of a technological revolution. Only a few years ago families were arguing over landline internet cable use and the constant disruptions from incoming phone calls. Now, we have the ability to browse the web anytime on smart phones. Since the printing press, mass communication has literally changed the ways we think and interact as humans. We take so much for granted as “new technologies are assimilated so rapidly in U.S. culture that historic perspectives are often lost in the process” (Fidler 1). With all of this talk and research about mass communication, what functions does it serve for us?
Mass communication doesn’t exist for a single purpose. With its evolution, more and more uses have developed and the role it plays in our lives has increased greatly. Wright characterizes seven functions of mass communication that offer insight into its role in our lives.
Given the power of the various functions of mass communication, we need to be reflective about its presence in our lives (McLuhan & Fiore). We will now turn our attention to the study of mass communication by looking at what mass communication scholars study, and how they study it.
Continuing with the theme of this book, studying the role of mass communication heightens our awareness, helping us become media literate and strengthen our “ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages” (Baran 374). Look around you. Mass communication’s influence in contemporary society is pervasive, as we are all interlaced with it in our daily lives.
Keep in mind that popular culture does not necessarily mean poor quality. Popular is not always bad and is often relative to the times. For example, think about baby boomers. Their parents said rock-n-roll music was going to ruin their generation. However, today that very same music is considered classic. In the 1950’s it was said that comic books would corrupt children, and jazz was sinful. It seems like every generation has the opinion that the current pop culture of the time will destroy the moral fiber of young people. But it’s often the case that those cultural references become our most revered and loved cultural icons of the time period. Regardless of how mass communication is perceived, it implants words, behaviors, trends, icons, and patterns of behaviors that show up in our culture. Or, as some ask, is it the other way around?
Mass communication influences all aspects of society, including the language we use (Spitulnik). For example, in the 1980’s, Wendy’s aired the popular television commercial “where’s the beef?” In the 1990s, Jerry Seinfeld’s television show got us saying, “yada, yada, yada.” Saturday Night Live popularized the phrase, “I need more cow bell.” And Who Wants to Be a Millionaire coined the term "phone a friend." It is common for us to personalize words or phrases, especially if they’re funny, and integrate them into our lives relative to our social contexts. The Seattle Times News Service reported that the 2003 version of the Oxford Dictionary of English now contains the catch phrase made famous by the HBO show The Sopranos-“bada bing” meaning an exclamation to emphasize that something will effortlessly and predictably happen. This dictionary now contains words implanted by popular culture such as “counterterrorism” and “bootylicious.” Certain words become a part of our shared understanding through media exposure. Think about other acronyms and language that are now commonplace that were not just a few years ago: iPhone, Instagram, Selfie, Hashtag, Google and Skype (as verbs), sexting, etc.
Almost forty years ago Osmo Wiio argued that mass communication does not accurately portray reality. Interesting that all this time later we now have a large number of “reality tv” shows that continue to blur the lines of reality and fiction. Are you always able to tell the difference between fiction and reality in mass communication? Most people tend to rationalize that others are more affected by mass communication than they are (Paul, Salwen, & Dupagne). However, we are all susceptible to the influence of mass communication.
As we discussed in Chapter 5, theories are our best representations of the world around us. “Mass communication theories are explanations and predictions of social phenomena that attempt to relate mass communication to various aspects of our personal and cultural lives or social systems” (Baran 374). We need to be discerning as we examine mass communication (Baran). “The beginning of the television age in the 1950s brought in visual communication as well as stimulated the rise of an interdisciplinary theory of the media. Contributions were made from economics, history, literature, art, political science, psychology, sociology and anthropology, and led to the emergence of academic departments of communication and cultural studies” (Briggs & Burke 2). Mass communication theories explore explanations for how we interact with mass communication, its role in our lives, and the effects it has on us.
What kind of impact does all of this have? Is it possible to tell when the average viewer becomes desensitized to violent content, or does it serve as an outlet for normal aggression? Why doesn’t all violent content affect every viewer in the same manner? Does too much consumption of violent media cause violent behavior from viewers? People who consume a lot of media see the world as a more violent and scary place because of the high levels of violence they see (Gerbner).
The theory has been extended to address the more general influences of media on human social life and personal beliefs (Lowery; DeFleur). Media present cultural realities such as fear of victimization (Sparks & Ogles), body image, promiscuity, religion, families, attitudes toward racism (Allen & Hatchett), sex roles, and drug use. Kilbourne states, “Advertising doesn’t cause eating problems, of course, any more than it causes alcoholism. [However,] Advertising does promote abusive and abnormal attitudes about eating, drinking, and thinness” (261). Gerbner developed the three B’s which state that media blurs people’s traditional distinctions of reality, blends people’s realities into one common cultural mainstream, and bends the mainstream to fit its institutional interests and the interests of its sponsors.
Mass communication theories are outlined into three categories:(1) theories about culture and society, (2) theories of influence and persuasion and (3) media use theories (Littlejohn and Foss). Understanding a few of the theories on mass communication, let’s look at some skills that will help you become a better and more critical consumer of mass communication.
Studying how we use and consume mass communication allows us to scrutinize the conflicts, contradictions, problems, or even positive outcomes in our use of mass communication. With so much to learn about mass communication, how informed are you? Our consciousness of our media consumption is vital to understanding its effects on us as members of society. Media literacy is our awareness regarding our mediated environment or consumption of mass communication. It is our ability to responsibly comprehend, access, and use mass communication in our personal and professional lives. Potter states that we should maintain cognitive, emotional, aesthetic, and moral awareness as we interact with media. Baran suggests a number of skills we can develop in order to be media literate.
Societies have always needed effective and efficient means to transmit information. Mass communication is the outgrowth of this need. If you remember our definition of mass communication as the public transfer of messages through media or technology driven channels to a large number of recipients, you can easily identify the multiple forms of mass communication you rely on in your personal, academic, and professional lives. These encompass print, auditory, visual, interactive media, and social media forms. A relatively recent mass communication phenomenon known as mass-personal communication combines mass communication channels with interpersonal communication and relationships, where individuals are now gaining access to technology that allows them to reach large audiences.
While mass communication is vital to the success of social movements and political participation it has seven basic functions. The first of which is surveillance, or the “watch dog” role. Correlation occurs when an audience receives facts and usable information from mass media sources. When the most outrageous or fantastic stories are presented we are witnessing the sensationalization function of media. Needing an escape from routines or stress we turn to media for its entertainment value. As a cultural institution, mass communication transmits cultural values, norms and behaviors, mobilizes audiences, and validates dominant cultural values.
As media technology has evolved, so have the scholarly theories for understanding them. The five theories we discussed are different primarily in the degree of passivity versus activity they grant the audience. The magic-bullet theory assumes a passive audience while the two-step-flow and multi-step-flow theories suggest that there is a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the message. The theory of uses and gratification suggests that audiences pick and choose media to satisfy their individual needs. Gerbner’s cultivation theory takes a long-term perspective by suggesting that media is one of many cultural institutions responsible for shaping or cultivating attitudes.
Because of mass communication’s unquestionable role in our lives, media literacy skills are vital for any responsible consumer and citizen. Specifically, we can become media literate by understanding and respecting the power of mass communication messages, understanding media content by paying attention, understanding emotional versus reasoned responses to mass communication, developing heightened expectations of mass communication content, understanding genre conventions and recognizing when they’re mixed, understanding the internal language of mass communication, and above all—thinking critically!
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Chapter 9 - Interpersonal Communication
Let us define interpersonal communication. “Inter” means between, among, mutually, or together. TheL second part of the word, “personal” refers to a specific individual or particular role that an individual may occupy. Thus, interpersonal communication is communication between individual people. We often engage in interpersonal communication in dyads or tryads, which means between two or more people.
Important to know, is that the definition of interpersonal communication is not simply a quantitative one. What this means is that you cannot define it by merely counting the number of people involved. Instead, Communication scholars view interpersonal communication qualitatively; meaning that it occurs when people communicate with each other as unique individuals. Thus, interpersonal communication is a process of exchange where there is desire and motivation on the part of those involved to get to know each other as individuals. We will use this definition of interpersonal communication to explore the three primary types of relationships in our lives—friendships, romantic, and family. Given that conflict is a natural part of interpersonal communication, we will also discuss multiple ways of understanding and managing conflict. But before we go into detail about specific interpersonal relationships, let’s examine two important aspects of interpersonal communication: self-disclosure and climate.
Interpersonal Communication Now
Melanie Booth and Self-disclosure in the Classroom
One emerging area of interest in the arena of interpersonal communication is self-disclosure in a classroom setting and the challenges that teachers face dealing with personal boundaries. Melanie Booth wrote an article discussing this issue, incorporating her personal experiences. Even though self-disclosure challenges boundaries between teacher-student or student-student, she states that it can offer “transformative” learning opportunities that allow students to apply what they have learned to their life in a deeper more meaningful way. She concludes that the “potential boundary challenges associated with student self-disclosure can be proactively managed and retroactively addressed with careful thought and action and with empathy, respect, and ethical responses toward our students” (Booth).
Because interpersonal communication is the primary means by which we get to know others as unique individuals, it is important to understand the role of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about yourself to others that is not readily known by them—you have to disclose it. In face-to-face interactions, telling someone “I am a tall woman” would not be self-disclosure because that person can perceive that about you without being told. However, revealing, “I am an avid surfer” or “My favorite kind of music is "electronic trance” would be examples of self-disclosure because these are pieces of personal information others do not know unless you tell them. Given that our definition of interpersonal communication requires people to “build knowledge of one another” to get to know them as unique individuals, the necessity for self-disclosure should be obvious.
There are degrees of self-disclosure, ranging from relatively safe (revealing your hobbies or musical preferences), to more personal topics (illuminating fears, dreams for the future, or fantasies). Typically, as relationships deepen and trust is established, self-disclosure increases in both breadth and depth. We tend to disclose facts about ourselves first (I am a Biology major), then move towards opinions (I feel the war is wrong), and finally disclose feelings (I’m sad that you said that). An important aspect of self-disclosure is the rule of reciprocity which states that self-disclosure between two people works best in a back and forth fashion. When you tell someone something personal, you probably expect them to do the same. When one person reveals more than another, there can be an imbalance in the relationship because the one who self discloses more may feel vulnerable as a result of sharing more personal information.
One way to visualize self-disclosure is the Johari Window which comes from combining the first names of the window’s creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. The window is divided into four quadrants: the arena, the blind spot, the facade, and the unknown (Luft).
The arena area contains information that is known to us and to others, such as our height, hair color, occupation, or major. In general, we are comfortable discussing or revealing these topics with most people. Information in the blind spot includes those things that may be apparent to others, yet we are unaware of it in ourselves. The habit of playing with your hair when nervous may be a habit that others have observed but you have not. The third area, the façade, contains information that is hidden from others but is known to you. Previous mistakes or failures, embarrassing moments, or family history are topics we typically hold close and reveal only in the context of safe, long-term relationships. Finally, the unknown area contains information that neither others, nor we, know about. We cannot know how we will react when a parent dies or just what we will do after graduation until the experience occurs. Knowing about ourselves, especially our blind and unknown areas, enables us to have a healthy, well-rounded self-concept. As we make choices to self-disclose to others, we are engaging in negotiating relational dialectics.
One way we can better understand our personal relationships is by understanding the notion of relational dialectics. Baxter describes three relational dialectics that are constantly at play in interpersonal relationships. Essentially, they are a continuum of needs for each participant in a relationship that must be negotiated by those involved. Let’s take a closer look at the three primary relational dialectics that are at work in all interpersonal relationships.
Autonomy-Connection refers to our need to have close connection with others as well as our need to have our own space and identity. We may miss our romantic partner when they are away but simultaneously enjoy and cherish that alone time. When you first enter a romantic relationship, you probably want to be around the other person as much as possible. As the relationship grows, you likely begin to desire fulfilling your need for autonomy, or alone time. In every relationship, each person must balance how much time to spend with the other, versus how much time to spend alone.
Novelty-Predictability is the idea that we desire predictability as well as spontaneity in our relationships. In every relationship, we take comfort in a certain level of routine as a way of knowing what we can count on the other person in the relationship. Such predictability provides a sense of comfort and security. However, it requires balance with novelty to avoid boredom. An example of balance balance might be friends who get together every Saturday for brunch, but make a commitment to always try new restaurants each week.
Openness-Closedness refers to the desire to be open and honest with others while at the same time not wanting to reveal every thing about yourself to someone else. One’s desire for privacy does not mean they are shutting out others. It is a normal human need. We tend to disclose the most personal information to those with whom we have the closest relationships. However, even these people do not know everything about us. As the old saying goes, “We all have skeletons in our closet,” and that’s okay.
How We Handle Relational Dialectics
Understanding that these three dialectical tensions are at play in all relationships is a first step in understanding how our relationships work. However, awareness alone is not enough. Couples, friends, or family members have strategies for managing these tensions in an attempt to meet the needs of each person. Baxter identifies four ways we can handle dialectical tensions.
The first option is to neutralize the extremes of the dialectical tensions. Here, individuals compromise, creating a solution where neither person’s need (such as novelty or predictability) is fully satisfied. Individual needs may be different, and never fully realized. For example, if one person seeks a great deal of autonomy, and the other person in the relationship seeks a great deal of connection, neutralization would not make it possible for either person to have their desires met. Instead, each person might feel like they are not getting quite enough of their particular need met.
The second option is separation. This is when someone favors one end of the dialectical continuum and ignores the other, or alternates between the extremes. For example, a couple in a commuter relationship in which each person works in a different city may decide to live apart during the week (autonomy) and be together on the weekends (connection). In this sense, they are alternating between the extremes by being completely alone during the week, yet completely together on the weekends.
When people decide to divide their lives into spheres they are practicing segmentation. For example, your extended family may be very close and choose to spend religious holidays together. However, members of your extended family might reserve other special days such as birthdays for celebrating with friends. This approach divides needs according to the different segments of your life.
The final option for dealing with these tensions is reframing. This strategy requires creativity not only in managing the tensions, but understanding how they work in the relationship. For example, the two ends of the dialectic are not viewed as opposing or contradictory at all. Instead, they are understood as supporting the other need, as well as the relationship itself. A couple who does not live together, for example, may agree to spend two nights of the week alone or with friends as a sign of their autonomy. The time spent alone or with others gives each person the opportunity to develop themselves and their own interests so that they are better able to share themselves with their partner and enhance their connection.
In general, there is no one right way to understand and manage dialectical tensions since every relationship is unique. However, to always satisfy one need and ignore the other may be a sign of trouble in the relationship (Baxter). It is important to remember that relational dialectics are a natural part of our relationships and that we have a lot of choice, freedom, and creativity in how we work them out with our relational partners. It is also important to remember that dialectical tensions are negotiated differently in each relationship. The ways we self disclose and manage dialectical tensions contributes greatly to what we call the communication climate in relationships.
Do you feel organized, or confined, in a clean workspace? Are you more productive when the sun is shining than when it’s gray and cloudy outside? Just as factors like weather and physical space impact us, communication climate influences our interpersonal interactions. Communication climate is the “overall feeling or emotional mood between people” (Wood 245). If you dread going to visit your family during the holidays because of tension between you and your sister, or you look forward to dinner with a particular set of friends because they make you laugh, you are responding to the communication climate—the overall mood that is created because of the people involved and the type of communication they bring to the interaction. Let’s look at two different types of communication climates: Confirming and Disconfirming climates.
Interpersonal Communication Now
“Sticks and Stones Can Beak my Bones But Words Can Hurt Me Too”
In a study published in the journal Science, researchers reported that the sickening feeling we get when we are socially rejected (being ignored at a party or passed over when picking teams) is real. When researchers measured brain responses to social stress they found a pattern similar to what occurs in the brain when our body experiences physical pain. Specifically, “the area affected is the anterior cingulated cortex, a part of the brain known to be involved in the emotional response to pain” (Fox). The doctor who conducted the study, Matt Lieberman, a social psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “It makes sense for humans to be programmed this way. . .Social interaction is important to survival.”
Confirming and Disconfirming Climates
Positive and negative climates can be understood along three dimensions—recognition, acknowledgement, and endorsement. We experience Confirming Climates when we receive messages that demonstrate our value and worth from those with whom we have a relationship. Conversely, we experience Disconfirming Climates when we receive messages that suggest we are devalued and unimportant. Obviously, most of us like to be in confirming climates because they foster emotional safety as well as personal and relational growth. However, it is likely that your relationships fall somewhere between the two extremes. Let’s look at three types of messages that create confirming and disconfirming climates.
Recognition Messages: Recognition messages either confirm or deny another person’s existence. For example, if a coworker enters your cubicle and you smile, and say, “I’m so glad to see you” you are confirming the person's existence. If you say “good morning” to a colleague and the colleague ignores you by walking out of the room without saying anything, the colleague is creating a disconfirming climate by not recognizing you as a unique individual.
Acknowledgement Messages: Acknowledgement messages go beyond recognizing another’s existence by confirming what they say or how they feel. Nodding our head while listening, or laughing appropriately at a funny story, are nonverbal acknowledgement messages. When a coworker or friend tells you they had a really bad day at work and you respond with, “Yeah, that does sound hard, do you want to go somewhere private and quiet to talk?”, you are acknowledging and responding to that person's feelings. In contrast, if you were to respond to the colleague's or friend's frustrations with a comment like, “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me today,” you would be ignoring the experience and presenting your's as more important.
Endorsement Messages: Endorsement messages go one step further by recognizing a person’s feelings as valid. Suppose a friend comes to you upset after a fight with their significant other. If you respond with, “Yeah, I can see why you would be upset” you are endorsing their right to feel upset. However, if you said, “Get over it. At least you have a significant other” you would be sending messages that deny their right to feel frustrated in that moment. While it is difficult to see people we care about in emotional pain, people are responsible for their own emotions. When we let people own their emotions and do not tell them how to feel, we are creating supportive climates that provide a safe environment for them to work though their problems.
Now you understand that we must self-disclose to form interpersonal relationships, and that self-disclosure takes place in communication climates. Let's look at developing and maintaining friendships.
Developing and Maintaining Friendships
A common need we have as people is the need to feel connected with others. We experience great joy, adventure, and learning through our connection and interactions with others. The feeling of wanting to be part of a group and liked by others is natural. One way we meet our need for connection is through our friendships. Friendship means different things to different people depending on age, gender, and cultural background. Common among all friendships is the fact that they are interpersonal relationships of choice. Throughout your life, you will engage in an ongoing process of developing friendships. Rawlins suggests that we develop our friendships through a series of six steps. While we may not follow these six steps in exact order in all of our relationships, these steps help us understand how we develop friendships.
The first step in building friendships occurs through Role-Limited Interaction. In this step, we interact with others based on our social roles. For example, when you meet a new person in class, your interaction centers around your role as “student.” The communication is characterized by a focus on superficial, rather than personal topics. In this step we engage in limited self-disclosure, and rely on scripts and stereotypes. When two first-time freshmen met in an introductory course, they struck up a conversation and interacted according to the roles they played in the context of their initial communication. They began a conversation because they sit near each other in class and discussed how much they liked or disliked aspects of the course.
The second step in developing friendships is called Friendly Relations. This stage is characterized by communication that moves beyond initial roles as the participants begin to interact with one another to see of there are common interests, as well as an interest to continue getting to know one another. As the students spend more time together and have casual conversations, they may realize a wealth of shared interests. They realize that both were traveling from far distances to go to school and understood each other's struggle with missing their families. Each of them also love athletics, especially playing basketball. The development of this friendship occurred as they identified with each other as more than classmates. They saw each other as women of the same age, with similar goals, ambitions, and interests. Moreover, as one of them studied Communication and the other Psychology, they appreciated the differences as well as similarities in their collegiate pursuits.
The third step in developing friendships is called Moving Toward Friendship. In this stage, participants make moves to foster a more personalized friendship. They may begin meeting outside of the setting in which the relationship started, and begin increasing the levels of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure enables the new friends to form bonds of trust. When the students entered this stage it was right before one joined the basketball club on their college campus. As she started practices and meetings, she realized this would be something fun for her and her classmate to do together so she invited her classmate along.
The fourth step in developing friendships is called Nascent Friendship. In this stage individuals commit to spending more time together. They also may start using the term “friend” to refer to each other as opposed to “a person in my history class” or “this guy I work with.” The interactions extend beyond the initial roles as participants work out their own private communication rules and norms. For example, they may start calling or texting on a regular basis or reserving certain times and activities for each other such as going on evening runs together. As time went on, the students started texting each other more frequently just to tell each other a funny story that happened during the day, to make plans for going out to eat, or to plan for meeting at the gym to work out.
The fifth step in developing friendships is Stabilized Friendship. In this stage, friends take each other for granted as friends, but not in a negative way. Because the friendship is solid, they assume each other will be in their lives. There is an assumption of continuity. The communication in this stage is also characterized by a sense of trust as levels of self-disclosure increase and each person feels more comfortable revealing parts of him or herself to the other. This stage can continue indefinitely throughout a lifetime. When the women became friends, they were freshmen in college. After finishing school some years later, they moved to separate regions for graduate school. While they were sad to move away from one another, they knew the friendship would continue. To this day they continue to be best friends.
Interpersonal Communication And YouThe Internet and Friendships
Friendships naturally ebb and flow, following the various rhythms of the participants in building and losing trust, intimacy, and enjoyment of each other’s company. But a shift in our culture may be changing our understanding of how friendships end, and whether or not we are tampering with a process of the human psyche that we don’t fully understand. Nowadays, you can reach almost any of your friends through a mediated channel, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or just by simply texting them. Is it possible that we are utilizing these tools at the expense of a very natural part of friendships: that friendships end? Watch this video
and decide for yourself.
The final step in friendship development is Waning Friendship. As you know, friendships do not always have a happy ending. Many friendships come to an end. Friendships may not simply come to an abrupt end. Many times there are stages that show a decline of a friendship, but in Rawlin’s model, the ending of a friendship is summed up by this step. Perhaps the relationship is too difficult to sustain over large geographic distances. Or, sometimes people change and grow in different directions and have little in common with old friends. Sometimes friendship rules are violated to a degree beyond repair. We spoke earlier of trust as a component of friendships. One common rule of trust is that if we tell friends a secret, they are expected to keep it a secret. If that rule is broken, and a friend continually breaks your trust by telling your secrets to others, you are likely to stop thinking of them as your friend.
Challenges for Friendships
While the above steps are a general pathway toward friendship, they are not always smooth. As with any relationship, challenges exist in friendships that can strain their development. Three of the more common challenges to friendships are gender, cultural diversity, and sexual attraction. Important to remember, is that each of these constructs comes with its own conflicts of power and privilege because of the cultural norms and the values we give to certain characteristics. These are challenges to relationships since studies show that people tend to associate with others that are similar to themselves (Echols & Graham). Take a look at the pair on the side of the page, they identify as different genders, ethnicities, cultures, and are even attracted to different sexes. Their friendship not only offers an opportunity to learn about differences through each other, but also offers challenges because of these differences. As we emphasize throughout the book, factors such as our gender identities and cultural backgrounds always play a role in our interactions with others.
Gender: Research suggests that both women and men value trust and intimacy in their friendships and value their time spent with friends (Mathews, Derlega & Morrow; Bell & Coleman; Monsour & Rawlins). However, there are some differences in the interactions that take place within women’s and men’s friendships (Burleson, Jones & Holmstrom; Coates; Harriman). Quite common among female friends, is to get together simply to talk and catch up with one another. When calling her close friend, Antoinette might say, “Why don’t you come over to my place so we can talk?” The need to connect through verbal communication is explicitly stated and forms the basis for the relationship. In contrast, many males are socialized to approach interaction as an invitation to engage in an activity as a means of facilitating conversation. For example, John might say to his friend, “Hey, Mike, let’s get out surfing this weekend.” The explicit request is to engage in an activity (surfing), but John and Mike understand that as they engage in the activity, they will talk, joke around, and reinforce their friendship ties.
While we have often looked at gender as male and female (binary), culture is changing in that gender is viewed as a spectrum rather than the male/female binary. Monsour & Rawlins explain the new waves of research into different types of gender communities. More recent research is more inclusive to gender definitions that extend beyond the male/female binary. This research may be cutting edge in its field, but as society becomes more accepting of difference, new ideas of relationship rules will emerge.
Friendship and personal relationships have changed a lot in the past 10 years with the advent of social media. Making friends and acquaintances online is easy with the amount of shared hubs like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Steam for gamers. Have you met anyone online and had them become a better friend than some of the people you interact with daily? Programs like Skype and FaceTime make it easy to maintain face-to-face contact, while a variety of other services can keep you connected with friends 24/7. Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of online and virtual communication in your life? Does that group chat stress you out with the amount of times it goes off per day, or does it make you feel happy that you are connected with your friends when you need them? Children growing up in the Tech Era may never know what it’s like to have to wait until the next day to tell a friend about something that happened. Our access to each other is changing how we perceive interpersonal relationships and changing how we manage them as well. Some people found it very difficult to stay in touch with high school friends when they went to college before the advent of communication technologies, but now students have the chance to communicate with their high school friends everyday. Others may feel as though they cannot get away from old friends because of social media. How do you feel about it? Are you accustomed to tech’s role in everyday interpersonal communication?
Culture: Cultural values shape how we understand our friendships. In most Western societies that emphasize individualism (as opposed to collectivism), friendships are seen as voluntary in that we get to choose who we want in our friendship circle. If we do not like someone we do not have to be friends with them. Contrast this to the workplace, or school, where we may be forced to get along with colleagues or classmates even though we may not like them. In many collectivist cultures, such as Japan and China, friendships carry certain obligations that are understood by all parties (Carrier; Kim & Markman). These may include gift giving, employment economic opportunities, and cutting through so-called ‘bureaucratic red tape.’ Although these sorts of connections, particularly in business and politics, may be frowned upon in the United States because they contradict our valuing of individualism, they are a natural, normal, and logical result of friendships in collectivist cultures.
Sexual Attraction: The classic film, When Harry Met Sally, highlights how sexual attraction can complicate friendships. In the movie, Harry quotes the line, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex always gets in the way.” Levels of sexual attraction or sexual tension may challenge friendships between heterosexual men and women, gay men, lesbian women, and those who identify as bi. This may arise from an internal desire of one of the friends to explore a sexual relationship, or if someone in the relationship indicates that they want to be “more than friends.” These situations might place strain on the friendship and require the individuals to address the situation if they want the friendship to continue. One approach has been the recent definition of friendships called, “Friends with Benefits.” This term implies an understanding that two people will identify their relationship as a friendship, but will be open to engaging in sexual activity without committing to the other characteristics common in romantic relationships.
Developing and Maintaining Romantic Relationships
Thinking About Conflict
When you hear the word “conflict,” do you have a positive or negative reaction? Are you someone who thinks conflict should be avoided at all costs? While conflict may be uncomfortable and challenging it doesn’t have to be negative. Think about the social and political changes that came about from the conflict of the civil rights movement during the 1960’s. There is no doubt that this conflict was painful and even deadly for some civil rights activists, but the conflict resulted in the elimination of many discriminatory practices and helped create a more egalitarian social system in the United States. Let’s look at two distinct orientations to conflict, as well as options for how to respond to conflict in our interpersonal relationships.
Case In PointStressful Relationships Can Hurt You
Lot's of things can cause us physical and mental harm. But, did you know that unhealthy relationships can too? Your life may be shortened by participating in a stressful relationship. According to researchers, stressful relationships can lead to premature death! As compared to relationships with infrequent worries or conflicts, stressful relationships can increase the chance of premature death by 50%! However, healthy, close bonds contribute to longevity. If you think you have a partner (or family member) that drives you nuts, they may actually be killing you. Read the rest of this article here
Conflict as Destructive
When we shy away from conflict in our interpersonal relationships we may do so because we conceptualize it as destructive to our relationships. As with many of our beliefs and attitudes, they are not always well-grounded and lead to destructive behaviors. Augsburger outlined four assumptions of viewing conflict as destructive. 1. Conflict is a destructive disturbance of the peace. 2. The social system should not be adjusted to meet the needs of members; rather, members should adapt to the established values. 3. Confrontations are destructive and ineffective. 4. Disputants should be punished.
When we view conflict this way, we believe that it is a threat to the established order of the relationship. Think about sports as an analogy of how we view conflict as destructive. In the U.S. we like sports that have winners and losers. Sports and games where a tie is an option often seem confusing to us. How can neither team win or lose? When we apply this to our relationships, it’s understandable why we would be resistant to engaging in conflict. I don’t want to lose, and I don’t want to see my relational partner lose. This type of zero-sum conflict style often ends in destructive outcomes where the “win” of one party comes at the expense of another, which over time can lead to the degradation of our relationships. So, an option is to avoid conflict so that neither person has to face that result.
Conflict as Productive
In contrast to seeing conflict as destructive, also possible, even healthy, is to view conflict as a productive natural outgrowth and component of human relationships. Augsburger described four assumptions of viewing conflict as productive. 1. Conflict is a normal, useful process. 2. All issues are subject to change through negotiation. 3. Direct confrontation and conciliation are valued. 4. Conflict is a necessary renegotiation of an implied contract—a redistribution of opportunity, release of tensions, and renewal of relationships.
From this perspective, conflict provides an opportunity for strengthening relationships, not harming them. Conflict is a chance for relational partners to find ways to meet the needs of one another, even when these needs conflict. Think back to our discussion of dialectical tensions. While you may not explicitly argue with your relational partners about these tensions, the fact that you are negotiating them points to your ability to use conflict in productive ways for the relationship as a whole, and the needs of the individuals in the relationship.
Types of Conflict
Understanding the different ways of valuing conflict is a first step toward engaging in productive conflict interactions. Likewise, knowing the various types of conflict that occur in interpersonal relationships also helps us to identify appropriate strategies for managing certain types of conflict. Cole states that there are five types of conflict in interpersonal relationships: Affective, Conflict of Interest, Value, Cognitive, and Goal.
Affective conflict. Affective conflict arises when we have incompatible feelings with another person. For example, if a couple has been dating for a while, one of the partners may want to marry as a sign of love while the other decides they want to see other people. What do they do? The differences in feelings for one another are the source of affective conflict.
Conflict of Interest. This type of conflict arises when people disagree about a plan of action or what to do in a given circumstance. For example, Julie, a Christian Scientist, does not believe in seeking medical intervention, but believes that prayer can cure illness. Jeff, a Catholic, does believe in seeking conventional medical attention as treatment for illness. What happens when Julie and Jeff decide to have children? Do they honor Jeff’s beliefs and take the kids to the doctor when they are ill, or respect and practice Julie’s religion? This is a conflict of interest.
Value Conflict. A difference in ideologies or values between relational partners is called value conflict. In the example of Julie and Jeff, a conflict of interest about what to do concerning their children’s medical needs results from differing religious values. Many people engage in conflict about religion and politics. Remember the old saying, “Never talk about religion and politics with your family.”
Cognitive Conflict. Cognitive conflict is the difference in thought process, interpretation of events, and perceptions. Marsha and Victoria, a long-term couple, are both invited to a party. Victoria declines because she has a big presentation at work the next morning and wants to be well rested. At the party, their mutual friends Michael and Lisa notice Marsha spending the entire evening with Karen. Lisa suspects Marsha may be flirting and cheating on Victoria, but Michael disagrees and says Marsha and Karen are just close friends catching up. Michael and Lisa are observing the same interaction but have a disagreement about what it means. This is an example of cognitive conflict.
Goal Conflict. Goal conflict occurs when people disagree about a final outcome. Jesse and Jerome are getting ready to buy their first house. Jerome wants something that has long-term investment potential while Jesse wants a house to suit their needs for a few years and then plans to move into a larger house. Jerome has long-term goals for the house purchase and Jesse is thinking in more immediate terms. These two have two different goals in regards to purchasing a home.
Strategies for Managing Conflict
When we ask our students what they want to do when they experience conflict, most of the time they say “resolve it.” While this is understandable, also important to understand is that conflict is ongoing in all relationships, and our approach to conflict should be to “manage it” instead of always trying to “resolve it."
One way to understand options for managing conflict is by knowing five major strategies for managing conflict in relationships. While most of us probably favor one strategy over another, we all have multiple options for managing conflict in our relationships. Having a variety of options available gives us flexibility in our interactions with others. Five strategies for managing interpersonal conflict include dominating, integrating, compromising, obliging, and avoiding (Rahim; Rahim & Magner; Thomas & Kilmann). One way to think about these strategies, and your decision to select one over another, is to think about whose needs will be met in the conflict situation. You can conceptualize this idea according to the degree of concern for the self and the degree of concern for others.
When people select the dominating strategy, or win-lose approach, they exhibit high concern for the self and low concern for the other person. The goal here is to win the conflict. This approach is often characterized by loud, forceful, and interrupting communication. Again, this is analogous to sports. Too often, we avoid conflict because we believe the only other alternative is to try to dominate the other person. In relationships where we care about others, it’s no wonder this strategy can seem unappealing.
The obliging style shows a moderate degree of concern for self and others, and a high degree of concern for the relationship itself. In this approach, the individuals are less important than the relationship as a whole. Here, a person may minimize the differences or a specific issue in order to emphasize the commonalities. The comment, “The fact that we disagree about politics isn’t a big deal since we share the same ethical and moral beliefs,” exemplifies an obliging style.
The compromising style is evident when both parties are willing to give up something in order to gain something else. When environmental activist, Julia Butterfly Hill agreed to end her two-year long tree sit in Luna as a protest against the logging practices of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO), and pay them $50,000 in exchange for their promise to protect Luna and not cut within a 20-foot buffer zone, she and PALCO reached a compromise. If one of the parties feels the compromise is unequal they may be less likely to stick to it long term. When conflict is unavoidable, many times people will opt for compromise. One of the problems with compromise is that neither party fully gets their needs met. If you want Mexican food and your friend wants pizza, you might agree to compromise and go someplace that serves Mexican pizza. While this may seem like a good idea, you may have really been craving a burrito and your friend may have really been craving a pepperoni pizza. In this case, while the compromise brought together two food genres, neither person got their desire met.
When one avoids a conflict they may suppress feelings of frustration or walk away from a situation. While this is often regarded as expressing a low concern for self and others because problems are not dealt with, the opposite may be true in some contexts. Take, for example, a heated argument between Ginny and Pat. Pat is about to make a hurtful remark out of frustration. Instead, she decides that she needs to avoid this argument right now until she and Ginny can come back and discuss things in a more calm fashion. In this case, temporarily avoiding the conflict can be beneficial. However, conflict avoidance over the long term generally has negative consequences for a relationship because neither person is willing to participate in the conflict management process.
Finally, integrating demonstrates a high level of concern for both self and others. Using this strategy, individuals agree to share information, feelings, and creativity to try to reach a mutually acceptable solution that meets both of their needs. In our food example above, one strategy would be for both people to get the food they want, then take it on a picnic in the park. This way, both people are getting their needs met fully, and in a way that extends beyond original notions of win-lose approaches for managing the conflict. The downside to this strategy is that it is very time consuming and requires high levels of trust.
Interpersonal communication is communication between individuals that view one another as unique. Quite often, interpersonal communication occurs in dyads. In order for interpersonal communication to occur, participants must engage in self-disclosure, which is the revealing of information about oneself to others that is not known by them. As we self-disclose, we manage our relationships by negotiating dialectical tensions, which are opposing needs in interpersonal relationships. We use a variety of strategies for navigating these tensions, including neutralization, separation, segmentation, and reframing.
As we navigate our interpersonal relationships, we create communication climates, which are the overall feelings and moods people have for one another and the relationship. When we engage in disconfirming messages, we produce a negative relational climate, while confirming messages can help build a positive relational climate by recognizing the uniqueness and importance of another person.
The three primary types of interpersonal relationships we engage in are friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships. Each of these relationships develop through a series of stages of growth and deterioration. Friendships and romantic relationships differ from family relationships in that they are relationships of choice. Each of these relationships requires commitment from participants to continuously navigate relational dynamics in order to maintain and grow the relationship.
Finally, all relationships experience conflict. Conflict is often perceived as an indicator that there is a problem in a relationship. However, conflict is a natural and ongoing part of all relationships. The goal for conflict is not to eliminate it, but to manage it. There are five primary approaches to managing conflict which include dominating, obliging, compromising, avoiding, and integrating.
Think about a time that you needed to deal with conflict. Was the outcome destructive or productive? How could you have used the information in this chapter on to better handle the situation if it was destructive?
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Chapter 10 - Group Communication
Group and Team Communication
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
● Define what constitutes a group and team.
● Understand cultural influences on groups.
● Explain how groups and teams form.
● Identify group roles and norms.
● Understand different styles of leadership in groups.
● Recognize style and options for decision making in groups.
● Explain the impact of technology on group communication.
Have you ever had this happen to you in a college class? At the beginning of the semester your professor hands out the syllabus and explains that a group project is part of the course requirements. You, and others in the class, groan at the idea of this project because you have experienced the difficulties and frustrations of working in a group, especially when your grade depends on the work of others. Does this sound familiar? Why do you think so many students react negatively to these types of assignments? Group work can be fraught with complications. But, the reality is, many companies are promoting groups as the model working environment (Forbes).
“When I die, I would like the people I did group projects with to lower me in to my grave so they can let me down one last time.” - Jessica Clydesdale, frustrated student.
Chances are that a class assignment is not your first and only experience with groups. Most likely, you have already spent, and will continue to spend, a great deal of your time working in groups. You may be involved with school athletics in which you are part of a specialized group called a team. You may be part of a work or professional group. Many of you participate in social, religious, and/or political groups. The family in which you were raised, regardless of the configuration, is also a group. No matter what the specific focus—sports, profession, politics, or family—all groups share some common features.
While group communication is growing in popularity and emphasis, both at the academic and corporate levels, it is not a new area of study. The emergence of group communication study came about in the mid 1950s, following World War II, and has been a focus of study ever since. Group communication is often closely aligned with interpersonal communication and organizational communication which is why we have placed it as a chapter in between these two areas of specialization. In your personal, civic, professional lives, you will engage in group communication. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a group or team.
Defining Groups and Teams
To understand group and team communication, we must first understand the definition of a group. Many people think that a group is simply a collection of people, but that is only part of it. If you walk out your front door and pull together the first ten people you see, do you have a group? No! According to Wilson and Hanna, groups are defined as, “a collection of three or more individuals who interact about some common problem or interdependent goal and can exert mutual influence over one another” (14). They go on to say that the three key components of groups are, “size, goal orientation, and mutual influence” (14). Interpersonal communication is often thought about in terms of dyads, or pairs. Organizational communication might be thought of as a group that is larger than 12 people. While there are exceptions, for the most part, group size is often thought of in terms of 3-12 people.
Case In Point
Astronaut Jim Lovell’s words during the Apollo 13 lunar mission, “Houston, we have a problem,” launched a remarkable tale of effective teamwork and creative problem solving by NASA engineers working to try to save the lives of the jeopardized crew when two oxygen tanks exploded en route to the moon. Details of the dramatic and successful resolution to the problem became widely known in the motion picture Apollo 13, but it’s not just during dramatic moments when the importance of good teamwork is needed or recognized. In fact, some form of team-oriented work is encouraged in most, if not all, organizations today (Hughes, Jones). So if you feel this is unimportant to know, remember that group communication and teamwork skills are critical for your success later in life.
For example, Joseph Bonito, a Communication professor at the University of Arizona, allows no more than five people in a group to ensure that everyone’s opinions are reflected equally in a discussion. (Baughman and Everett-Haynes). According to Bonito, if there are too many people in a group it’s possible that some individuals will remain silent without anyone noticing. He suggests using smaller groups when equal participation is desirable. So, if the ten people you gathered outside of your front door were all neighbors working together as part of a “neighborhood watch” to create safety in the community, then you would indeed have a group.
For those of you who have participated on athletic teams you’ll notice that these definitions also apply to a team. While all of the qualities of groups hold true for teams, teams have additional qualities not necessarily present for all groups. We like to define a team as a specialized group with a strong sense of belonging and commitment to each other that shapes an overall collective identity. Members of a team each have their own part, or role, to fulfill in order to achieve the team’s greater goals. One member's strengths can be other member's weaknesses, so working in a team is beneficial when balancing individual input. Take a football team, for example: While all teammates share some degree of athletic ability as well as an appreciation for the sport, each member has a highly specialized skill as indicated in the various positions on the team—quarterback, receiver, and running back. In addition to athletic teams, work and professional teams also share these qualities. Now that you know how to define groups and teams, let’s look at characteristics of groups and teams, as well as the different types of groups and teams.
Characteristics of Groups
What makes groups different than interpersonal communication, organizational communication, or simply talking with a group of friends at dinner? Below we outline characteristics that make groups distinct in terms of their communication.
Interdependence. Groups cannot be defined simply as three or more people talking to each other or meeting together. Instead, a primary characteristic of groups is that members of a group are dependent on the others for the group to maintain its existence and achieve its goals. In essence, interdependence is the recognition by those in a group of their need for the others in the group (Lewin; Cragon, Wright& Kasch; Sherblom). Imagine playing in a basketball game as an individual against the five members of another team. Even if you’re considered the best basketball player in the world, it’s highly unlikely you could win a game against five other people. You must rely on four other teammates to make it a successful game.
Interaction. It probably seems obvious to you that there must be interaction for groups to exist. However, what kind of interaction must exist? Since we all communicate every day, there must be something that distinguishes the interaction in groups from other forms of communication. Cragon, Wright and Kasch state that the primary defining characteristic of group interaction is that it is purposeful. They go on to break down purposeful interaction into four types: problem solving, role playing, team building, and trust building (7). Without purposeful interaction a true group does not exist. Roles, norms, and relationships between members are created through interaction. If you’re put into a group for a class assignment, for example, your first interaction probably centers around exchanging contact information, settings times to meet, and starting to focus on the task at hand. It’s purposeful interaction in order to achieve a goal.
Group Communication Then
The first study that was published on group communication in the New School era of communication study was credited to Edwin Black in 1955. He studied the breakdowns in group interactions by looking at communication sequences in groups. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that a large number of studies in group communication began to appear. Between 1970 and 1978 114 articles were published on group communication and 89 more were published by 1990 (Stacks & Salwen 360). Study in group communication is still important over a decade later as more and more organizations focus on group work for achieving their goals.
Synergy. One advantage of working in groups and teams is that they allow us to accomplish things we wouldn’t be able to accomplish on our own. Remember back to our discussion of Systems Theory in Chapter 5. Systems Theory suggests that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is the very idea of synergy (Sherblom). In an orchestra or band, each person is there to perform in order to help the larger unit make music in a way that cannot be accomplished without each member working together.
Common Goals. Having interaction and synergy would be relatively pointless in groups without a common goal. People who comprise groups are brought together for a reason or a purpose. While most members of a group have individual goals, a group is largely defined by the common goals of the group. Think of the example at the beginning of the chapter: Your common goal in a class group is to learn, complete an assignment, and earn a grade. While there may be differences regarding individual goals in the group (what final grade is acceptable for example), or how to achieve the common goals, the group is largely defined by the common goals it shares.
Shared Norms. Because people come together for a specific purpose, they develop shared norms to help them achieve their goals. Even with a goal in place, random interaction does not define a group. Group interaction is generally guided by norms a group has established for acceptable behavior. Norms are essentially expectations of the group members, established by the group and can be conscious and formal, or unconscious and informal. A couple of examples of group norms include the expectation that all members show up at group meeting times, the expectation that all group members focus on the group instead of personal matters (for example, turning cell phones and other distractions off), and the expectation that group members finish their part of the work by the established due date. When members of the group violate group norms, other members of the group get frustrated and the group’s overall goal may be affected.
Cohesiveness. One way that members understand of the idea of communicating in groups and teams is when they experience a sense of cohesiveness with other members of the group. When we feel like we are part of something larger, we experience a sense of cohesion or wholeness, and may find a purpose that is bigger than our own individual desires and goals. It is the sense of connection and participation that characterizes the interaction in a group as different from the defined interaction among loosely connected individuals. If you’ve ever participated in a group that achieved its goal successfully, you are probably able to reflect back on your feelings of connections with the other members of that group.
You may be asking yourself, what about teams? We have focused primarily on groups, but it’s critical to remember the importance of team communication characteristics as well as group communication characteristics. Check out this article
that breaks down team characteristics and skills that ensure team success (we bet you’ll find similarities to the group characteristics that we have just explained).
Types of Groups
Not all groups are the same or brought together for the same reasons. Brilhart and Galanes categorize groups “on the basis of the reason they were formed and the human needs they serve” (9). Let’s take a look!
Primary Groups. Primary groups are ones we form to help us realize our human needs like inclusion and affection. They are not generally formed to accomplish a task, but rather, to help us meet our fundamental needs as relational beings like acceptance, love, and affection. These groups are generally longer term than other groups and include family, roommates, and other relationships that meet as groups on a regular basis (Brilhart & Galanes). These individuals in your life tend to offer love and support on a meaningful level, and therefore constitute primary groups. Given this factor, primary groups are typically more significant than secondary groups.
Secondary Groups. Unlike primary groups, we form secondary groups to accomplish work, perform a task, solve problems, and make decisions (Brilhart & Galanes; Sherblom; Cragan, Wright & Kasch). Larson and LaFasto state that secondary groups have “a specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained; and coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective” (19). An example of this would be a group of students coming together to volunteer at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving. With so many people that need to be served, it takes coordination and a team mentality for the operation to run smoothly.
Activity Groups. Activity Groups are ones we form for the purpose of participating in activities. I’m sure your campus has many clubs that are organized for the sole purpose of doing activities. For example, your campus probably has a debate team that meets regularly for the sole purpose of engaging in debates about relevant topics and broadening their own personal knowledge and experience. If it weren’t for that context, the team would have no other reason for meeting.
PHC Debate Team
Personal Growth Groups. We form Personal Growth Groups to obtain support and feedback from others, as well as to grow as a person. Personal Growth Groups may be thought of as therapy groups. An example that is probably familiar to you is Alcoholics Anonymous, where alcoholics can share their stories and struggles and get support from others affected by alcohol. There are many personal growth groups available for helping us develop as people through group interaction with others, such as book clubs, weight watchers, and spiritual groups.
Learning Groups. Learning Groups focus mainly on obtaining new information and gaining knowledge. If you have ever been assigned to a group in a college class, it most likely was a learning group with the purpose of interacting in ways that can help those in the group learn new things about the course content.
Problem-Solving Groups. These groups are created for the express purpose of solving a specific problem. The very nature of organizing people into this type of group is to get them to collectively figure out effective solutions to the problem they have before them. Committees are an excellent example of people who are brought together to solve problems. A great example would be the on-campus group, Check It, which takes action in preventing harm caused by sexual assault.
After looking at the various types of groups, it’s probably easy for you to recognize just how much of your daily interaction occurs within the contexts of groups. The reality is, we spend a great deal of time in groups, and understanding the types of groups you’re in, as well as their purpose, goes a long way toward helping you function as a productive member.
The Importance of Studying Communication in Groups and Teams
One of the reasons communication scholars study groups and teams is because of the overwhelming amount of time we spend interacting in groups in professional contexts. More and more professional organizations are turning to groups and teams as an essential way of conducting business and getting things done. Even professions that are seemingly independent, such as being a college professor, are heavily laden with group work. The process of writing this book was a group effort as the authors and their students worked in groups to bring the book to you. Each of us had specific roles and tasks to perform.
Another vital area of group communication concerns the study of social change or social movement organizations. Groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Organization of Women (NOW) are all groups bound together by a shared social and political commitment—-to promote the rights of nonhuman animals, African-Americans, and women respectively. While individuals can be committed to these ideas, the social, political, and legal rights afforded to groups like these would not have been possible through individual action alone. It was when groups of like-minded people came together with shared commitments and goals, pooling their skills and resources, that change occurred. Just about any Interest Group you can think of has a presence in Washington D.C. and spends money to maintain that presence. Visit here for more information on Interest Groups
The study of social movements reveals the importance of groups for accomplishing goals. Bowers, Ochs, Jensen and Schulz, in The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control, explain seven progressive and cumulative strategies through which movements progress as they move toward success. Three of the seven strategies focus explicitly on group communication—-promulgation, solidification, and polarization. Promulgation refers to the “a strategy where agitators publicly proclaim their goals and it includes tactics designed to win public support” (23). Without a sufficient group the actions of individual protestors are likely to be dismissed. The strategy of solidification “occurs mainly inside the agitating group” and is “primarily used to unite followers” (29). The point is to unite group members and provide sufficient motivation and support. The communication that occurs through the collective action of singing songs or chanting slogans serves to unite group members. Because the success of social movements depends in part on the ability to attract a large number of followers, most employ the strategy of polarization, which is designed to persuade neutral individuals or “fence sitters” to join a group (40). The essence of this strategy is captured in the quote from Eldridge Cleaver, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Taken together these three strategies stress that the key to group success is the sustained effort of group members working together through communication.
Case In Point
#Take A Knee
Colin Kaepernick in 2013
On August 27th, Colin Kaepernick, player for the 49ers, drew attention when he took a knee during the National Anthem to display his protest for the injustices faced by African Americans in the USA, namely, police brutality. Though he was fired from his team and the form of protest was thought to be dismantled, many athletes began showing their solidarity to him and the movement by also taking a knee during the National Anthem. This display of group solidarity was incredibly powerful and continues to be a large topic of debate. This social movement effectively displays the strategies of agitation as mentioned above: Promulgation, Solidification, and Polarization, and has only garnered its strength through the unity of athletes prepared to voice their support for a cause.
Not only do Communication scholars focus on work and social movements, we are also interested in the role that one’s cultural identity and membership plays in our communicative choices, and how we interpret the communication of others. This focus sheds interesting insights when we examine membership and communication in groups and teams. One reason for this is that different cultures emphasize the role of individuals while other cultures emphasize the importance of the group. For example, collectivist cultures are ones that place high value on group work because they understand that outcomes of our communication impact all members of the community and the community as a whole, not just the individuals in the group. Conversely, individualistic cultures are ones that place high value on the individual person above the needs of the group. Thus, whether we view group work as favorable or unfavorable may stem from our cultural background. The U.S. is considered an individualistic culture in that we value the work and accomplishments of the individual through ideals such as being able to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and create success for yourself.
Power in Groups
Given the complexity of group interaction, it’s short-sighted to try to understand group communication without looking at notions of power (think back to Critical Theories and Research Methods). Power influences how we interpret the messages of others and determines the extent to which we feel we have the right to speak up and voice our concerns and opinions to others. Take a moment to reflect on the different ways you think about power. What images come to mind for you when you think of power? Are there different kinds of power? Are some people inherently more powerful than others? Do you consider yourself to be a powerful person? We highlight three ways to understand power as it relates to group and team communication. The word “power” literally means “to be able” and has many implications.
If you associate power with control or dominance, this refers to the notion of power as power-over. According to Starhawk, “power-over enables one individual or group to make the decisions that affect others, and to enforce control” (9). Control can and does take many forms in society. Starhawk explains that,
This power is wielded from the workplace, in the schools, in the courts, in the doctor’s office. It may rule with weapons that are physical or by controlling the resources we need to live: money, food, medical care; or by controlling more subtle resources: information, approval, love. We are so accustomed to power-over, so steeped in its language and its implicit threats, that we often become aware of its functioning only when we see its extreme manifestations. (9)
When we are in group situations and someone dominates the conversation, makes all of the decisions, or controls the resources of the group such as money or equipment, this is power-over.
Power-from-within refers to a more personal sense of strength or agency. Power-from-within manifests itself when we can stand, walk, and speak “words that convey our needs and thoughts” (Starhawk 10). In groups, this type of power “arises from our sense of connection, our bonding with other human beings, and with the environment” (10). As Heider explains in The Tao of Leadership, “Since all creation is a whole, separateness is an illusion. Like it or not, we are team players. Power comes through cooperation, independence through service, and a greater self through selflessness” (77). If you think about your role in groups, how have you influenced other group members? Your strategies indicate your sense of power-from-within.
Finally, groups manifest power-with, which is “the power of a strong individual in a group of equals, the power not to command, but to suggest and be listened to, to begin something and see it happen” (Starhawk 10). For this to be effective in a group or team, at least two qualities must be present among members: 1) All group members must communicate respect and equality for one another, and 2) The leader must not abuse power-with and attempt to turn it into power-over. Have you ever been involved in a group where people did not treat each others as equals or with respect? How did you feel about the group? What was the outcome? Could you have done anything to change that dynamic?
Communication is the cornerstone of any group, where group members utilize it to organize and maintain groups. We all have experienced being a part of a group. How are groups formed, and under what circumstances?
Sometimes we join a group because we want to. Other times, we might be assigned to work in groups in a class or at work. Whether we like it or not, groups are a significant and unavoidable factor of life. Lumsden, Lumsden and Wiethoff give three reasons why we form groups. First, we may join groups because we share similar interests or attractions with other group members. When taking courses that pertain to your chosen college major, chances are you share some of the same interests as your classmates. Likewise, you might find yourself attracted to others in your group for romantic, friendship, political, religious or professional reasons. On our campus, our majors have formed the Communication Club to bring together students in the major. Though students within the group come from a diverse variety of backgrounds, they are able to bond through their shared studies and interests.
A second reason we join groups is called drive reduction. Essentially, we join groups so our work with others reduces the drive to fulfill our needs by spreading out involvement. As Maslow explains, we have drives for physiological needs like security, love, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Working with others helps us achieve these needs thereby reducing our obligation to meet these needs ourselves (Maslow; Paulson). If you accomplished a task successfully for a group, your group members likely complimented your work, thus fulfilling some of your self-esteem needs. If you had done the same work only for yourself, the building up of your self-esteem may not have occurred. A third reason we join groups is for reinforcement. We are often motivated to do things for the rewards they bring. Participating in groups provides reinforcement from others in the pursuit of our goals and rewards.
Much like interpersonal relationships, groups go through a series of stages as they come together. These stages are called forming, storming, norming, and performing (Tuckman; Fisher; Sherblom; Benson; Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Groups that form to achieve a task often go through a fifth stage called termination that occurs after a group accomplishes its goal. Let’s look at each of the stages of group formation and termination.
Forming. Obviously, for a group to exist and work together its members must first form the group. During the forming stage, group members begin to set the parameters of the group by establishing what characteristics identify the members of the group as a group. During this stage, the group’s goals are made generally clear to members, initial questions and concerns are addressed, and initial role assignments may develop. This is the stage when group norms begin to be negotiated and established. Essentially, norms are a code of conduct which may be explicit or assumed and dictate acceptable and expected behavior of the group.
Storming. The storming stage might be considered comparable to the “first fight” of a romantic couple. After the initial politeness passes in the forming stage, group members begin to feel more comfortable expressing their opinions about how the group should operate and the participation of other members in the group. Given the complexity of meeting both individual goals as well as group goals, there is constant negotiation among group members regarding participation and how a group should operate. Imagine being assigned to a group for class and you discover that all the members of the group are content with getting a C grade, but you want an A. If you confront your group members to challenge them to have higher expectations, you are in the storming stage.
Norming. Back to our romantic couple example, if the couple can survive the first fight, they often emerge on the other side of the conflict feeling stronger and more cohesive. The same is true in groups. If a group is able to work through the initial conflict of the storming stage, there is the opportunity to really solidify the group’s norms and get to the task at hand as a cohesive group. Norming signifies that the members of a group are willing to abide by group rules and values to achieve the group’s goals.
Performing. Performing is the stage we most often associate as the defining characteristic of groups. This stage is marked by a decrease in tensions, less conscious attention to norm establishment, and greater focus on the actual work at hand in order to accomplish the group’s goals. While there still may be episodes of negotiating conflict and re-establishing norms, performing is about getting to the business at hand. When you are in a weekly routine of meeting at the library to work on a group project, you are in the performing stage.
Terminating. Groups that are assigned a specific goal and timeline will experience the fifth stage of group formation, termination. Think about groups you have been assigned to in college. We’re willing to bet that the group did not continue once you achieved the required assignment and earned your grade. This is not to say that we do not continue relationships with other group members. But, the defining characteristics of the group established during the forming stage have come to an end, and thus, so has the group.
Group Communication Now
Technology is changing so many things about the ways we communicate. This is also true in group communication. One of the great frustrations for many people in groups is simply finding a time that everyone can meet together. However, computer technology has changed these dynamics as more and more groups “meet” in the virtual world, rather than face-to-face. But, what is the impact of technology on how groups function? Dr. Kiran Bala argues that “new media has brought a sea of changes in intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and mass communication processes and content." With group chat available on almost all social media networks and numerous technological devices, we have a lot to learn about the ways communication technologies are changing our notions of working in groups and individual communication styles.
Now that you understand how groups form, let’s discuss the ways in which people participate in groups. Since groups are comprised of interdependent individuals, one area of research that has emerged from studying group communication is the focus on the roles that we play in groups and teams. Having an understanding of the various roles we play in groups can help us understand how to interact with various group members.
Take a moment to think about the individuals in a particular group you were in and the role each of them played. You may recall that some people were extremely helpful, organized and made getting the job done easy. Others may have been more difficult to work with, or seemed to disrupt the group process. In each case, the participants were performing roles that manifest themselves in most groups. Early studies on group communication provide an overwhelming number of different types of group roles. To simplify, we provide an overview of some of the more common roles. As you study group roles, remember that we usually play more than one role at a time, and that we do not always play the same roles from group to group.
We organize group roles into four categories—task, social-emotional, procedural, and individual. Task roles are those that help or hinder a group’s ability to accomplish its goals. Social-emotional roles are those that focus on building and maintaining relationships among individuals in a group (the focus is on how people feel about being in the group). Procedural roles are concerned with how the group accomplishes its task. People occupying these roles are interested in following directions, proper procedure, and going through appropriate channels when making decisions or initiating policy. The final category, individual roles, includes any role “that detracts from group goals and emphasizes personal goals” (Jensen & Chilberg 97). When people come to a group to promote their individual agenda above the group’s agenda, they do not communicate in ways that are beneficial to the group. Let’s take a look at each of these categories in more detail.
Task Roles. While there are many task roles a person can play in a group, we want to emphasize five common ones. The Task Leader is the person that keeps the group focused on the primary goal or task by setting agendas, controlling the participation and communication of the group’s members, and evaluating ideas and contributions of participants. Your associated students president probably performs the task leader role. Information Gatherers are those people who seek and/or provide the factual information necessary for evaluating ideas, problem solving, and reaching conclusions. This is the person who serves as the liaison with your professors about what they expect from a group project. Opinion Gatherers are those that seek out and/or provide subjective responses about ideas and suggestions. They most often take into account the values, beliefs, and attitudes of members. If you have a quiet member of your group, the opinion gatherer may ask, “What do you think?” in order to get that person’s feedback. The Devil’s Advocate is the person that argues a contrary or opposing point of view. This may be done positively in an effort to ensure that all perspectives are considered, or negatively as the unwillingness of a single person to participate in the group’s ideas. The Energizer is the person who functions as the group’s cheer-leader, providing energy, motivation, and positive encouragement.
Social-Emotional Roles. Group members play a variety of roles in order to build and maintain relationships in groups. The Social-Emotional Leader is the person who is concerned with maintaining and balancing the social and emotional needs of the group members and tends to play many, if not all, of the roles in this category. The Encourager practices good listening skills in order to create a safe space for others to share ideas and offer suggestions. Followers are group members that do what they are told, going along with decisions and assignments from the group. The Tension Releaser is the person that uses humor, or can skillfully change the subject in an attempt to minimize tension and avoid conflict. The Compromiser is the one who mediates disagreements or conflicts among members by encouraging others to give in on small issues for the sake of meeting the goals of the group. What role do you find yourself most likely to enact in groups? Or, do you find you switch between these roles depending on the group?
Procedural Roles. Groups cannot function properly without having a system of rules or norms in place. Members are responsible for maintaining the norms of a group and play many roles to accomplish this. The Facilitator acts like a traffic director by managing the flow of information to keep the group on task. Gatekeepers are those group members that attempt to maintain proper communicative balance. These people also serve as the points of contact between times of official group meetings. The Recorder is the person responsible for tracking group ideas, decisions, and progress. Often, a written record is necessary, thus, this person has the responsibility for keeping, maintaining, and sharing group notes. If you’re the person who pulls out a pen and paper in order to track what the group talks about, you’re the recorder.
The popular sitcom Workaholics (2011-present) follows three college drop-outs who work in a telemarketing company and are notoriously terrible workers. Always working as a group in their shared cubicle, the three young men are all prime examples of group members who play Individual Roles: Anders as the Aggressor, Blake as the Self-Confessor, Adam as the Blocker, and all three of them as the joker or clown at one point or another. As you might guess, this group is very unproductive and ineffective.
Individual Roles. Because groups are made of individuals, group members often play various roles in order to achieve individual goals. The Aggressor engages in forceful or dominating communication to put others down or initiate conflict with other members. This communication style can cause some members to remain silent or passive. The Blocker is the person that fusses or complains about small procedural matters, often blocking the group’s progress by not letting them get to the task. They worry about small details that, overall, are not important to achieving the group’s desired outcome. The Self-Confessor uses the group as a setting to discuss personal or emotional matters not relevant to the group or its task. This is the person that views the group as one that is there to perform group therapy. The Playboy or Playgirl shows little interest in the group or the problem at hand and does not contribute in a meaningful way, or at all. This is the person who does essentially no work, yet still gets credit for the group’s work. The Joker or Clown uses inappropriate humor or remarks that can steer the group from its mission.
While we certainly do not have the space to cover every role you might encounter in a group, we’re sure you can point to your own examples of people who have filled the roles we’ve discussed. Perhaps you can point to examples of when you have filled some of these roles yourself. Important for group members to understand, are the various roles they play in groups in order to engage in positive actions that help the group along. One dynamic that these roles contribute to in the process of group communication is leadership in groups. Let’s briefly examine how leadership functions in groups.
Leadership In Groups
While we’ve examined roles we can play in groups, the role that often gets the most attention is that of the leader. Like defining communication, many people have an idea of what a leader is, but can’t really come up with a good definition for the term as there are many ways to conceptualize the role of leader. One way to do this is to think of leaders in terms of their leadership styles. Let’s look at three broad leadership styles to better understand the communication choices leaders can make, as well as the outcome of such choices, in a group.
First, let’s visualize leadership styles by seeing them as a continuum. The position to the left (Laissez-faire) indicates a leader who exerts little to no control over a group, while the position on the right (Authoritarian) indicates a leader who seeks complete control. The position in the middle (Democratic) is one where a leader maintains a moderate level of control or influence in a group with the group’s permission (Bass & Stogdill; Berkowitz).
Laissez-faire is a French term that literally means “let do.” This leadership style is one in which the leader takes a laid back or hands-off approach. For a variety of reasons, leaders may choose to keep their input at a minimum and refrain from directing a group. What do you think some reasons may be for selecting this leadership style? Perhaps a person feels uncomfortable being a leader. Perhaps a person does not feel that she/he possesses the skills required to successfully lead the group. Or, perhaps the group is highly skilled, motivated, and efficient and does not require much formal direction from a leader. If the latter is the case, then a laissez-faire approach may work well. However, if a group is in need of direction then a laissez-faire style may result in frustration and inefficiency. An example of a Laissez-faire leader if Michael Scott from The Office. His laid back attitude and focus on making friends prevents substantial work to occur. The Office is relaxed, unproductive, and distracted by Michael’s shenanigans.
An authoritarian leadership style is one in which a leader attempts to exert maximum control over a group. This may be done by making unilateral decisions rather than consulting all members, assigning members to specific tasks or duties, and generally controlling group processes. This leadership style may be beneficial when a group is in need of direction or there are significant time pressures. Authoritarian leaders may help a group stay efficient and organized in order to accomplish its goals. However, group members may be less committed to the outcomes of the group process than if they had been a part of the decision making process. One term that you may have heard on your campus is “shared-governance.” In general, faculty do not like working in groups where one person is making the decisions. Instead, most faculty prefer a system where all members of a group share in the leadership process. This can also be called the democratic style of leadership.
The democratic style of leadership falls somewhere in the middle of laissez-faire and authoritarian styles. In these situations, the decision-making power is shared among group members, not exercised by one individual. In order for this to be effective, group members must spend considerable time sharing and listening to various positions and weighing the effects of each. Groups organized in this fashion may be more committed to the outcomes of the group, creative, and participatory. However, as each person’s ideas are taken into account, this can extend the amount of time it takes for a group to accomplish its goals.
While we’ve certainly oversimplified our coverage of the complex nature of group leaders, you should be able to recognize that there are pros and cons to each leadership style depending on context. There is not one right way to be a leader for every group. Effective leaders are able to adapt their leadership style to fit the needs of the group. Furthermore, as a group’s needs and members change over time, leadership styles can accommodate natural changes in the group’s life cycle. Take a moment to think of various group situations in which each leadership style may be the most and the least desirable. What are examples of groups where each style of leadership could be practiced effectively?
Every group in which we participate has a set of norms like we discussed in the “norming” stage. Each group’s rules and norms are different, and we must learn them to be effective participants. Some groups formalize their norms and rules, while others are less formal and more fluid. Norms are the recognized rules of behavior for group members. Norms influence the ways we communicate with other members, and ultimately, the outcome of group participation. Norms are important because, as we highlighted in the “norming” stage of group formation, they are the defining characteristics of groups.
Brilhart and Galanes divide norms into two categories. General norms “direct the behavior of the group as a whole” (130). Meeting times, how meetings run, and the division of tasks are all examples of general norms that groups form and maintain. These norms establish the generally accepted rules of behavior for all group members. The second category of norms is role-specific norms. Role-specific norms “concern individual members with particular roles, such as the designated leader” (130).
Not only are there norms that apply to all members of a group, there are norms that influence the behaviors of each role. Consider our brief discussion on leadership. If a group’s members are self-motivated, and do not need someone imposing structure, they will set a norm that the group leader should act as a laissez-faire or democratic leader rather than an authoritarian leader. Violation of this norm would most likely result in conflict if leaders try to impose their will. A violation like this will send a group back to the “storming” stage to renegotiate the acceptable norms of the group. When norms are violated, group members most often will work to correct the violation to get the group back on task and functioning properly. Have you ever been in a group in which a particular group member did not do the task that was assigned to them? What happened? How did the group handle this situation as a whole? What was the response of the person who did not complete the task? In hindsight, would you have handled it differently? If so, how?
As groups progress through the various stages, and as members engage in the various roles, the group is in a continual process of decision making. Since this is true, it makes sense to ask the question, “How is it that groups make decisions?”
Decision Making In Groups
When groups need to get a job done they should have a method in place for making decisions. The decision making process is a norm that may be decided by a group leader or by the group members as a whole. Let’s look at four common ways of making decisions in groups. To make it simple we will again use a continuum as a way to visualize the various options groups have for making decisions. On the left side are those methods that require maximum group involvement (consensus and voting). On the right are those methods that use the least amount of input from all members (compromise and authority rule).
The decision-making process that requires the most group input is called consensus. To reach consensus group members must participate in the crafting of a decision and agree to adopt it. While not all members may support the decision equally, all will agree to carry it out. In individualistic cultures like the U.S., where a great deal of value is placed on independence and freedom of choice, this option can be seen by group members as desirable, since no one is forced to go along with a policy or plan of action to which they are opposed. Even though this style of decision making has many advantages, it has its limitations as well—it requires a great deal of creativity, trust, communication, and time on the part of all group members. When groups have a hard time reaching consensus, they may opt for the next strategy which does not require buy-in from all or most of the group.
Group Communication and You
Okay, you’re a Communication major and this whole idea of working in groups really appeals to you and seems to come naturally. But perhaps you’re not a Communication major and you’re thinking to yourself that your future career isn’t really going to require group or team work. Well, you might want to think again. Forbes magazine released an article titled The Ten Skills Employers Most Want in 2015 Graduates which stated that technical knowledge related to the job is not nearly as important as effective teamwork and communications skills. In fact, the top three skills listed include, 1) ability to work in a team structure, 2) ability to make decisions and solve problems, and 3) ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization. Even non-Communication majors need to develop effective group communication skills to succeed at work.
Even non-Communication majors need to develop effective group communication skills to succeed at work.
Voting by majority may be as simple as having 51% of the vote for a particular decision, or may require a larger percentage, such as two-thirds or three-fourths, before reaching a decision. Like consensus, voting is advantageous because everyone is able to have an equal say in the decision process (as long as they vote). Unlike consensus, everyone may not be satisfied with the outcome. In a simple majority, 49% of voters may be displeased and may be resistant to abide by the majority vote. In this case the decision or policy may be difficult to carry out and implement. For example, our campus recently had a department vote on whether or not they wanted to hire a particular person to be a professor. Three faculty voted yes for the person, while two faculty voted no. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of contention among the professors who voted. Ultimately, the person being considered for the job learned about the split vote and decided that he did not want to take the job because he felt that the two people that voted no would not treat him well.
Toward the right of our continuum is compromise. This method often carries a positive connotation in the U.S. because it is perceived as fair since each member gives up something, as well as gains something. Nevertheless, this decision making process may not be as fair as it seems on the surface. The main reason for this has to do with what is being given up and obtained. There is nothing in a compromise that says these two factors must be equal (that may be the ideal, but it is often not the reality). For individuals or groups that feel they have gotten the unfair end of the bargain, they may be resentful and refuse to carry out the compromise. They may also foster ill will toward others in the group, or engage in self-doubt for going along with the compromise in the first place. However, if groups cannot make decisions through consensus or voting, compromise may be the next best alternative.
At the far right of our continuum is decision by authority rule. This decision-making process requires essentially no input from the group, although the group’s participation may be necessary for implementing the decision. The authority in question may be a member of the group who has more power than other members, such as the leader, or a person of power outside the group. While this method is obviously efficient, members are often resentful when they feel they have to follow another’s orders and feel the group process was a façade and waste of valuable time.
During the decision making process, groups must be careful not to fall victim to groupthink. Groupthink happens when a group is so focused on agreement and consensus that they do not examine all of the potential solutions available to them. Obviously, this can lead to incredibly flawed decision making and outcomes. Groupthink occurs when members strive for unanimity, resulting in self-deception, forced consent, and conformity to group values and ethics (Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Many people argue that groupthink is the reason behind some of history’s worst decisions, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, The Pearl Harbor attack, The North Korea escalation, the Vietnam escalation, and the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq (Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Let’s think about groupthink on a smaller, less detrimental level. Imagine you are participating in a voting process during a group meeting where everyone votes yes on a particular subject, but you want to vote no. You might feel pressured to conform to the group and vote yes for the sole purpose of unanimity, even though it goes against your individual desires.
As with leadership styles, appropriate decision making processes vary from group to group depending on context, culture, and group members. There is not a “one way fits all” approach to making group decisions. When you find yourself in a task or decision-making group you should consider taking stock of the task at hand before deciding as a group the best ways to proceed.
Group Work and Time
By now you should recognize that working in groups and teams has many advantages. However, one issue that is of central importance to group work is time. When working in groups time can be both a source of frustration, as well as a reason to work together. One obvious problem is that it takes much longer to make decisions with two or more people as opposed to just one person. Another problem is that it can be difficult to coordinate meeting times when taking into account people’s busy lives of work, school, family, and other personal commitments. On the flip side, when time is limited and there are multiple tasks to accomplish, it is often more efficient to work in a group where tasks can be delegated according to resources and skills. When each member can take on certain aspects of a project, this limits the amount of work an individual would have to do if he/she were solely responsible for the project.
For example, Alex, Kellsie and Teresa all had a project to work on. The project was large and would take a full semester to complete. They had to split up the amount of work equally to each person as well as based on skills. The thought of doing all the work alone was daunting in terms of the required time and labor. Being able to delegate assignments and work together to achieve a professional result for their project indicated that the best option for them was to work together. In the end, the group’s work produced different results and views that you wouldn’t have necessarily come to working alone. On the flip side, imagine having to work in a group where you believe you could do just the same on your own. When deciding whether or not to work in groups, it is important to consider time. Is the time and effort of working in a group worth the outcome? Or, is it better to accomplish the task as an individual?
Groups and Technology and Social Media
Social media and technology are changing the ways we communicate in groups. There is no doubt that technology is rapidly changing the ways we communicate in a variety of contexts, and group communication is no exception. Many organizations use computers and cell phones as a primary way to keep groups connected given their ease of use, low cost, and asynchronous nature. In fact, it's likely that your course web pages also have “group forums” for class groups to deal with the complexities of finding times to meet. In fact, the group that worked on this chapter used Google Docs to have live chats online, transfer documents back and forth, and form messages to achieve the group’s goals--all without ever having to meet in person. As you enter the workforce, you’ll likely find yourself participating in virtual groups with people who have been brought together from a variety of geographical locations.
Group Communication and You
Today, we know that social media has the power to bring people together and drive change. Sports fans flock to Twitter and other social media outlets to follow their favorite teams and athletes. Less than 5 percent of TV is sport, but 50 percent of what is tweeted is about sports. And if there was any thought that this phenomenon was only for Americans that is quickly debunked by the worldwide usage statistics.
“The power to create the global sports village and encourage the next generation of pro-social media sports fans is at our fingertips.” -Adam C. Earnheardt
While communication technologies can be beneficial for bringing people together and facilitating groups, they also have drawbacks. When we lack face-to-face encounters, and rely on asynchronous forms of communication, there is greater potential for information to be lost and messages to be ambiguous. The face-to-face nature of traditional group meetings provides immediate processing and feedback through the interaction of group members. When groups communicate through email, threads, discussion forums, text messaging, etc., they lose the ability to provide immediate feedback to other members. Also, using communication technologies takes a great deal more time for a group to achieve its goals due to the asynchronous nature of these channels.
Case in Point
A screenshot from our group’s iMessage shows how a medium like texting helps to keep our group connected, updated, and motivated to get our project done.
Nevertheless, technology is changing the ways we understand groups and participate in them. We have yet to work out all of the new standards for group participation introduced by technology. Used well, technology opens the door for new avenues of working in groups to achieve goals. Used poorly, technology can add to the many frustrations people often experience working in groups and teams.
We participate in groups and teams at all stages and phases of our lives, from play groups, to members of an athletic team, to performing in a band, or performing in a play. We form groups based on personal and professional interests, drive reduction, and for reinforcement. Through group and team work we can save time and resources, enhance the quality of our work, succeed professionally, or accomplish socio-political change.
As you recall, a group is composed of three or more people who interact over time, depend on each other, and follow shared rules and norms. A team is a specialized group which possesses a strong sense of collective identity and compatible and complimentary resources. There are five general types of groups depending on the intended outcome. Primary groups are formed to satisfy our long-term emotive needs. Secondary groups are more performance based and concern themselves with accomplishing tasks or decision making. Personal growth groups focus on specific areas of personal problem solving while providing a supportive and emotionally positive context. Learning groups are charged with the discovery and dissemination of new ideas while problem solving groups find solutions.
Once a group comes together they go through typical stages (forming, storming, norming, performing, and terminating) to develop roles, create a leadership strategy, and determine the process for decision making. While numerous specific group roles exit, the four categories of roles include: task, social-emotional, procedural, and individual roles. It is likely that members will occupy multiple roles simultaneously as they participate in groups.
There are three broad leadership styles ranging from least to most control—laissez faire, democratic, and authoritarian. Also related to power and control are options for decision making. Consensus gives members the most say, voting and compromise may please some but not others, and authority rule gives all control to the leader. None of the options for leadership styles and decision making are inherently good or bad—the appropriate choice depends on the individual situation and context. It is important for groups not to become victims of groupthink as they make decisions.
New technologies are continually changing how we engage in group communication. The asynchronous nature of communication technologies can facilitate group processes. However, they also have the potential to slow groups down and make it more difficult to accomplish group goals.
- What are the differences between the terms “team” and “group?” Write down a team you have been a part of and a group you have been a part of. In what ways were they effective or not effective?
- Review all the different types of group roles. Reflect back on a time when you worked in a group and discuss the role(s) you played. If there were any individuals in this group that prevented the group's progress, identify their role and explain why it was problematic.
- Think of all the groups you participate in and the roles you take on. Do different groups call for different variations of roles? Do you find yourself taking on the same or different roles for each group?
- What are the potential strengths of group discussions? What are the potential limitations of group discussions? What are some strategies to enhance a group's cohesion?
- Reflect back on a time when you were working on a group project in class. Discuss each stage of development (forming, storming, norming, performing, and terminating) as it applied to this group.
- How were/are decisions made in your family? Has the process changed over time? What kinds of communication surround the decision making?
- activity groups
- authority rule
- common goals
- devil’s advocate
- drive reduction
- general norms
- individual roles
- information gatherers
- learning groups
- opinion gatherers
- personal growth groups
- primary groups
- problem solving groups
- procedural roles
- role-specific norms
- secondary groups
- shared norms
- social-emotional roles
- social-emotional leader
- task leader
- task roles
- tension releasers
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Wilson, Gerald L., and Michael S. Hanna. Groups in context: Leadership and participation in small groups. McGraw-Hill, 1990.
Chapter 11 - Organizational Communication
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
• Define organizations and organizational communication.
• Explain how the study of organizational communication developed.
• Explain the five theoretical perspectives for understanding organizational communication.
• Understand the challenges to organizational communication.
• Explain the future directions of organizational communication.
If you have ever worked a part-time job during the school year, worked a full-time summer job, volunteered for a non-profit, or belonged to a social organization, you have experienced organizational communication. It’s likely that you’ve been a job seeker, an interviewee, a new employee, a co-worker, or maybe a manager? In each of these situations, you make various choices regarding how you choose to communicate with others in an organizational context.
We participate in organizations in almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, you will spend the bulk of your waking life in the context of organizations (March & Simon). Think about it, that means you'll spend more waking time with your co-workers than your family! At the center of every organization is what we’ve been studying throughout this book – Communication. Organizational communication is a broad and ever-growing specialization in the field of Communication. For the purpose of this chapter, we will provide a brief overview of the field, highlighting what organizational communication is and how it is studied.
Before we define organizational communication let’s look at what organizations are, and how pervasive they are in today’s society. Etzioni states, “We are born in organizations, educated by organizations, and most of us spend much of our lives working for organizations” (1). Simply put, from birth to death, organizations impact every aspect of our lives (Deetz).
Case In Point
What is Organizational Communication?
Flickr - The U.S. Army - 2010 Best Ranger Competition (9)
The United States Army is an example of an organization. As such, it has a system of hierarchies, networks, and purpose. In this organization, there is an importance placed on moving swiftly and skillfully, having a respect for the line of command and each other, and protecting the American citizenry.
Peta Anti Burberry Fur Protest (cropped)
”You can help. Tell Yale University to stop these pointless experiments before one more songbird dies.”
Here you can see, PETA, a very different organization from the Army, that is dedicated to protecting animals. Rather than recruiting soldiers for a larger conglomerate, it encourages pockets of resistance against the mistreatment of animals. There is an ‘action’ tab on their website that alerts visitors how they too can help. See More
Stephen P. Robbins defines an organization as a “consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals” (4). Why have organizations in the first place? We organize together for common social, personal, political, or professional purposes. We organize together to achieve what we cannot accomplish individually.
When we study organizational communication our focus is primarily on corporations, manufacturing, the service industry, and for-profit businesses. However, organizations also include not-for-profit companies, schools, government agencies, small businesses, and social or charitable agencies such as churches or a local humane society. Organizations are complicated, dynamic organisms that take on a personality and culture of their own, with unique rules, hierarchies, structures, and divisions of labor. Organizations can be thought of as systems of people (Goldhaber) who are in constant motion (Redding). Organizations are social systems (Thayer; Katz & Kahn) that rely on communication to exist. Simon puts it quite simply: “Without communication, there can be no organization” (Simon 57).
What Is Organizational Communication?
Like defining communication study, many definitions of organizational communication exist. Deetz argues that one way to enlighten our understanding of organizational communication is to compare different approaches. However, for the purpose of this text, we want to define organizational communication so you have a frame of reference for understanding this chapter. Our definition is not definitive, but creates a starting point for understanding this specialization of communication study.
We define organizational communication' as the sending and receiving of messages among interrelated individuals within a particular environment or setting to achieve individual and common goals. Organizational communication is highly contextual and culturally dependent. Individuals in organizations transmit messages through face-to face, written, and mediated channels.
Organizational communication helps us to
- accomplish tasks relating to specific roles and responsibilities of sales, services, and production;
- acclimate to changes through individual and organizational creativity and adaptation;
- complete tasks through the maintenance of policy, procedures, or regulations that support daily and continuous operations;
- develop relationships where “human messages are directed at people within the organization-their attitudes, morale, satisfaction, and fulfillment” (Goldhaber 20);
- coordinate, plan, and control the operations of the organization through management (Katz & Kahn; Redding; Thayer).
Organizational communication is how organizations represent, present, and constitute their organizational climate and culture—the attitudes, values and goals that characterize the organization and its members.
Organizational communication largely focuses on building relationships and interacting with with internal organizational members and interested external publics. As Mark Koschmann explains in his animated YouTube video, we have two ways of looking at organizational communication. The conventional approach focuses on communication within organizations. The second approach is communication as organization -- meaning organizations are a result of the communication of those within them. Communication is not just about transmitting messages between senders and receivers. Communication literally constitutes, or makes up, our social world. There is much more going on in our communication contexts then merely exchanging information. You are actually engaging in a complex process of meaning and negotiating rules created by the people involved.
For organizations to be successful, they must have competent communicators. Organizational communication study shows that organizations rely on effective communication and efficient communication skills from their members. A number of surveys (Davis & Miller; Holter & Kopka; Perrigo & Gaut) identify effective oral and written communication as the most sought after skills by those who run organizations. The U.S. Department of Labor reported communication competency as the most vital skill necessary for the 21st century workforce to achieve organizational success (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills). According to an article from Forbes, they state that there are four qualities that will help Millennials to stand out amongst their co-workers to be promoted. Those qualities are; interpersonal skill, resiliency, openness to feedback, and finally ability to follow through (Carpenter, 2017). The Public Forum Institute
maintained that employees need to be skilled in public presentation, listening, and interpersonal communication to flourish in an organization.
Organizations seek people who can follow and give instructions, accurately listen, provide useful feedback, get along with coworkers and customers, network, provide serviceable information, work well in teams, and creatively and critically solve problems and present ideas in an understandable manner. Developing organizational communication awareness and effectiveness is more than just having know-how or knowledge. Efficient organizational communication involves knowing how to create and exchange information, work with diverse groups or individuals, communicate in complicated and changing circumstances, as well as having the aptitude or motivation to communicate in appropriate manners.
How the Field of Organizational Communication Began
As you now know, Communication study is deeply entrenched in the oral rhetorical traditions of ancient Rome and Greece. Similar to many of the early concepts that shaped the discipline, some of the founding principles of organizational communication originated in the East. As early as the fourth century, Chinese scholars concentrated on the “problems of communicating within the vast government bureaucracy as well as between the government and the people” (Murphy, Hildebrandt & Thomas 4). Ancient eastern scholars focused on information flow, message fidelity, and quality of information within their governmental bureaucracy (Krone, Garrett & Chen; Paraboteeah). These still remain areas of focus for organizational communication that you will learn in your classes today.
Organizational Communication and YouGood CommunicationYou’re Hired! Change the Process To Fill The Gender Gap So Women In Tech Win
. With the Communication field continuously growing, it is important to recognize that women are now a huge part of the field of organizational communication. Women in the tech industry are also becoming a very important issue because they have not been treated equally. This example shows how important it is for Women in Tech to Win. Good Communication Skills May Be the Only Skill You Need
! The 10 Skills Employers Most Want in 2015 Graduates, a news article from Forbes
demonstrates the communication skills desired by most organizations.
Like most of our field’s specializations, organizational communication began in the mid 20th century with the work of P. E. Lull and W. Charles Redding at the University of Purdue (Putnam & Cheney). During the industrial age, the focus of organizational communication was on worker productivity, organizational structure, and overall organizational effectiveness. Through this work people were interested in higher profits and managerial efficiency. Follett is often referred to as the first management consultant in the United States (Stohl). She focused specifically on message complexity, appropriate channel choice, and worker participation in organizations. Bernard placed communication at the heart of every organizational process, arguing that people must be able to interact with each other for an organization to succeed.
As a specialization in our field, organizational communication can arguably be traced back to Alexander R. Heron’s 1942 book, Sharing Information With Employees that looked at manager-employee communication (Redding & Tompkins; Meyers & Sadaghiani). Putnam and Cheney stated that the specialization of “organizational communication grew out of three main speech communication traditions: public address, persuasion, and social science research on interpersonal, small group, and mass communication” (131). Along with public-speaking training for corporate executives as early as the 1920’s (Putnam & Cheney), early works like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936 focused on necessary oral presentation and written communication skills for managers to succeed in organizations.
Redding and Thompkins identify three periods in the development of organizational communication. During the Era of Preparation (1900 to 1940) much of the groundwork was laid for the discipline that we know today. Scholars emphasized the importance of communication in organizations. The primary focus during this time was on public address, business writing, managerial communication, and persuasion. The Era of Identification and Consolidation (1940-1970) saw the beginnings of business and industrial communication, with certain group and organizational relationships being recognized as important. During the Era of Maturity and Innovation (1970-present), empirical research increased, “accompanied by innovative efforts to develop concepts, theoretical premises, and philosophical critiques” (Redding & Thompkins 7).
As with other specializations over the last century, organizational communication has evolved dramatically as dialogue between business and academic contexts. Redding and Thompkins conclude that “by 1967 or 1968, organizational communication had finally achieved at least a moderate degree of success in two respects: breaking from its ‘business and industrial’ shackles, and gaining a reasonable measure of recognition as an entity worthy of serious academic study” (18).
Organizational Communication Today
In the early stages, organizational communication focused on leaders giving public presentations. More recently, emphasis has focused on all levels of interaction in organizations. Because interpersonal relationships are a large part of organizational communication, a great deal of research focuses on how interpersonal relationships are conducted within the framework of organizational hierarchies.
What we study in organizational communication today has been summarized into eight major areas:
- Communication channels,
- Communication climate,
- Network analysis,
- Superior-subordinate communication,
- the information-processing perspective,
- the rhetorical perspective,
- the cultural perspective, and
- the political perspective (Putnam and Cheney; Kim)
Since the 1980s, organizational communication has expanded to include work on organizational culture, power and conflict management, and organizational rhetoric. If you were to take an organizational communication course at your campus, much of the time would be spent focusing on developing your skills in organizational socialization, interviewing, giving individual and group presentations, creating positive work relationships, performance evaluation, conflict resolution, stress management, decision making, and communicating with external publics.
Studying Organizational Communication
Looking back to Chapter Six, we looked at three primary ways Communication scholars conduct research. When we study organizational communication we can look to quantitative methods to predict behaviors, or qualitative methods to understand behaviors. We can use qualitative methods to study communication in the natural environment of organizations in order to understand organizational cultures and how they function (Putnam & Cheney; Pacanowsky & O’Donnell-Trujillo; Kim).
Critical approaches view organizations as “sites of domination” (Miller 116) where certain individuals are marginalized or disadvantaged by oppressive groups or structures. Quite often, the focus of this line of research involves gender or ethnic identity as they manifest themselves in organizations. The critical researcher uses interpretative research techniques similar to cultural studies. When looking at something such as a company pamphlet or the organization’s employee handbook, a critical researcher will expose political messages that may disadvantage particular groups of people.
A Chronological Look at Understanding Organizational Communication
Now that you have a better understanding of the concept of organizational communication, let’s look at five different perspectives for understanding organizational communication that has developed over time. These perspectives are organizational theories, which influence organizational communication as a result of their conception of how an organization should be managed. As with the rest of this textbook, the beginning perspectives of organizational communication (ie: Classical Management) begin with the industrial revolution and progress to our understanding of organizations in today's information age.
Classical Management Perspective
The original perspective for understanding organizational communication can be described using a machine metaphor. At the beginning of the industrial age, when people thought science could solve almost every problem, American Frederick Taylor, Frenchman Henri Fayol, and German Max Weber tried to apply scientific solutions to organizations. They wanted to determine how organizations and workers could function in an ideal way. Organizations during the industrial revolution wanted to know how they could maximize their profits so the classical management perspective focused on worker productivity.
Case In Point
Owners Richard and Maurice McDonald
After running a restaurant successfully for 11 years, Richard and Maurice McDonald decided to improve it. They wanted to make food faster, sell it cheaper and spend less time worrying about replacing cooks and car hops. The brothers closed the restaurant and redesigned its food-preparation area to work less like a restaurant and more like an automobile assembly line.
Their old drive-in had already made them rich, but the new restaurant - which became McDonald's - made the brothers famous. Restaurateurs traveled from all over the country to copy their system of fast food preparation, which they called the Speedee Service System. Without cars, Carl and Maurice would not have had a drive-in restaurant to tinker with. Without assembly lines, they would not have had a basis for their method of preparing food.
Being a short-order cook took skill and training, and good cooks were in high demand. The Speedee system, however, was completely different. Instead of using a skilled cook to make food quickly, it used lots of unskilled workers, each of whom did one small, specific step in the food-preparation process.
Instead of being designed to facilitate the preparation of a variety of food relatively quickly, the kitchen's purpose was to make a very large amount of a very few items.
When you visit different restaurants belonging to the same fast-food chain, the menu and food are pretty much the same. There's one reason for this uniformity in fast food - it's a product of mass-production. http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/fast-food.htm
The movie The Founder
was released in 2016 starring Michael Keaton. The movie is based on real life events and can give you a clearer insight into how the franchise grew into what it is known today.
The machine metaphor of classical management suggests that three basic aspects should exist in organizations: Specialization, Standardization, and Predictability (Miller). Those who advocated this perspective argued that every employee should have a specialized function, thus, essentially any individual could perform a job if they are properly trained. If one individual fails to do the job, they are easily replaceable with another person since people are seen as simply parts of a machine.
Taylor developed his Theory of Scientific Management from his early days as a foreman in a machine shop. Little did he know how drastically he was going to influence organizations and our notions of working life. Taylor could not understand why organizations and individuals would not want to maximize efficiency. In Copley’s biography about Taylor he reveals a man who was driven by perfection: “The spectacle of a [man] doing less than [his] best was to him morally shocking. He enthusiastically believed that to do anything less than your best is to add to the sum of the world’s unrighteousness” (207). However, workers were not always as enthusiastic about efficiency and quality as Taylor, especially given the significant difference in status and pay between management and labor. For the common laborer during the industrial revolution, this new approach to employment meant possibly losing your job if a “scientific” formula showed that fewer workers could do the same job. If you don’t think this is alive today, think about organizations such as Apple that have employees overseas manufacture iPhones.
Organizational Communication Then
In today’s world, fast food chains are good examples of classical management. Next time you buy that Whopper or Big Mac, you can thank the influence of American businessman Frederick Taylor. Literally using a stopwatch, Taylor’s used his time and motion studies to prove that for every job, there is one best way to perform it in the shortest amount of time. This meant properly selecting, training, and rewarding the appropriate worker with the right task (Taylor, 1947). Peek into the kitchen the next time you order that burger, fries, and coke. It is likely that you will see employees separated by station and task, doing their specific part to fulfill your order. Likewise, the design of hard plastic seats and bright colors in fast food restaurants is done with intention to get customers in and out of the restaurant in an efficient and expedient manner.
During this time, Weber was also developing his ideas about bureaucracy. He was fascinated with what the ideal organization should look like, and believed that effective hierarchies helped organizations operate effectively. Precise rules, a division of labor, centralized authority, and a distinctly defined hierarchy should be driven by rational thought void of emotion and outside influence (Weber). These qualities would allow organizations to operate in a somewhat predictable manner -- employees knew what to expect and who was in charge, and management could make decisions based on familiar, relevant information rather than irrational feelings.
Think about the bureaucracy of your college campus, there are numerous divisions of labor, rules, policies, and procedures. Registering for classes, tracking transcripts, obtaining financial aid, living in campus housing, are all part of the time you spend navigating the bureaucracy on your campus. Imagine a campus without bureaucracy. What if you couldn’t easily access your transcripts? What if no one kept track of your progress through college? How would you know what to do and when you were done? What if there was no process for applying for financial aid? While bureaucracies can be slow, tedious, and often inefficient, they provide structure we have come to rely on to accomplish personal and professional goals.
Fayol’s theory of classical management focused on how management worked, specifically looking at what managers should do to be most effective. For Fayol, organizational members should be clear regarding who is in charge, and everyone should know their role in an organization. He argued that organizations should be grouped in a precise hierarchy that limits the flow of communication to top-down communication.
Theory X is an example of a classical management theory where managers micro-manage employees by using reward-punishment tactics, and limiting employee participation in decision-making (McGregor). This theory sees employees as basically lazy or unmotivated. As a result, managers must closely supervise their workers. Those that do not do their work are disposable parts of the machine. This allows for management to mistreat and abuse their employees, ultimately lowering the very thing they were after, greater productivity.
Organizations using this approach can still be found today. Have you ever had a boss or manager who treated you like an interchangeable part of a machine who had little value? If so, you’ve experienced aspects of the classical management perspective at work. While scientific approaches to organizations were an interesting starting point for determining how to communicate, the classical management approach fell short in many ways. Thus, development and refinement continued to occur regarding ways to understand organizational communication.
Human Relations Perspective
Because classical management was so mechanical and did not treat people as humans, organizational scholars wanted to focus on the human elements of organizations. The human relations approach focuses on how organizational members relate to one another, and how individuals’ needs influence their performance in organizations. In 1924 Elton Mayo and his team of Harvard scientists began a series of studies that were initially interested in how to modify working conditions to increase worker productivity, decrease employee turnover, and change the overall poor organizational effectiveness at the Hawthorne Electric Plant near Chicago (Roethlisberger & Dickson).
Mayo’s team discovered that, no matter what changes they made to the work environment (such as adjusting lighting and temperature levels, work schedules, and worker isolation), worker productivity increased simply due to the fact that researchers were paying attention to them. Simply paying attention to workers and addressing their social needs yielded significant changes in their productivity. This is where the term “The Hawthorne Effect” developed. Mayo’s work provided an impetus for a new way of looking at workers in organizations.
Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that human beings are actually motivated to satisfy their personal needs. His theory is still of interest to us today as we try to comprehend the relevance of human relations in the workplace. Papa, Daniels and Spiker s describe McGregor’s contributions: “As management theorists became familiar with Maslow’s work, they soon realized the possibility of connecting higher-level needs to worker motivation. If organizational goals and individual needs could be integrated so that people would acquire self-esteem and, ultimately, self-actualization through work, then motivation would be self-sustaining” (33). Remember that Theory X managers do not trust their employees because they think workers are inherently unmotivated and lazy. At the other end of the managerial spectrum, Theory Y managers (those that take a human relations perspective to employees) assume that workers are self-motivated, seek responsibility, and want to achieve success. As a result of this changing perspective, managers began to invite feedback and encourage a degree of participation in organizational decision making, thus focusing on human relationships as a way to motivate employee productivity. Today many companies make employees happy by keeping them well rested and supplying them with ways to catch up on sleep even at work.
Human Resources Perspective
The Human Resources perspective picks up where human relations left off. The primary criticism of human relations was that it still focused on productivity, trying to achieve worker productivity simply by making workers happy. The idea that a happy employee would be a productive employee makes initial sense. However, happiness does not mean that we will be productive workers. As a matter of fact, an individual can be happy with a job and not work very hard. Another reason scholars tried to improve the human relations perspective was because manipulative managers misused it by inviting participation from employees on the surface, but not really doing anything with the employees’ contributions. Imagine your boss encouraging everyone to put their ideas into a suggestion box but never looking them. How would you feel?
Human Resources attempts to truly embrace participation by all organizational members, viewing each person as a valuable human resource. Employees are valuable resources that should be fully involved to manifest their abilities and productivity. Using this approach, organizations began to encourage employee participation in decision making.
An example of the human resources perspective is William Ouchi’s Theory Z. Ouchi believed that traditional American organizations should be more like Japanese organizations. Japanese culture values lifetime employment, teamwork, collective responsibility, and a sound mind and body. This contrasts with many American work values such as short-term employment, individualism, and non-participation. Many U.S. companies implemented Japanese organizational concepts such as quality circles (QC), quality of work life (QWL) programs, management by objectives (MBO), and W. E. Deming’s notion of total quality management (TQM). Each of these approaches was designed to flatten hierarchies, increase participation, implement quality control, and utilize teamwork. Human Resources works "by getting organizational participants meaningfully involved in the important decisions that regulate the enterprise” (Brady 15).
The systems perspective for understanding organizations is “concerned with problems of relationships, of structure, and of interdependence rather than with the constant attributes of objects” (Katz & Kahn 18). Collectively, individuals in organizations achieve more than they can independently (Barnard; Katz & Kahn; Redding; von Bertalanffy; Skyttner). An organization is like a living organism and must exist in its external environment in order to survive. Without this interaction an organization remains what we call closed, and withers away (Buckley).
Case In Point
The US News & World Reports
Article, Outsourcing to China Cost U.S. 3.2 Million Jobs Since 2000--New research shows that more than three-quarters of jobs lost were in manufacturing
"Jobs outsourced to China have diminished American employment opportunities and have helped contribute to wage erosion since 2001, when China entered the World Trade Organization, new research shows.
Between 2001 and 2013, the expanded trade deficit with China cost the U.S. 3.2 million jobs, and three quarters of those jobs were in manufacturing, according to a report released Thursday from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank. Those manufacturing jobs lost accounted for about two-thirds of all jobs lost within the industry over the 2001 to 2013 period."
Read the rest of the article HERE
to see the impact of systems theory at the organizational and national levels.
In the 2011 the TV comedy Outsourced approaches outsourcing as a light and laughing matter. But, apart from anger, it seems that laughter is really all people can do when faced with something as serious as having the industry they have worked in and depended on, outsourced to another country. It would not be noticeable if it were just one or two organizations, but when it’s an entire sector of the economy, finding a career relevant to one's years of work experience can be near impossible. In the past it was auto and textile manufacturing that was lost. Recently it has been customer service and call centers. Predicted next to go overseas in waves is software engineering as it is easy to work remotely in this field. Even with the need in this field to keep database servers nearby, companies are ever-searching for ways to cut costs.
Watch the trailer for Outsourced HERE
All organizations have basic properties. Equifinality means that a system (organization) can reach its goals from different paths. Each professor that teaches public speaking, for example, does so in a different way but, the end result is that the students in each of the classes as completed a course in public speaking. Negative entropy is the ability of an organization to overcome the possibility of becoming run down. Companies like Apple do everything they can to stay ahead of their competition and keep their products ahead of the curve. Requisite variety means that organizations must be responsive to their external environment and adjust when needed. Apple is always under pressure to come up with the newest and best technology. When Apple goes a long time without doing so, the public begins to be critical. Homeostasis points to an organization’s need for stability in a turbulent environment. When gas prices go up, for example, organizations impacted by these rising costs take steps to ensure their survival and profitability. Complexity states that the more an organization grows and interacts, the more elaborate it becomes (Katz & Kahn; von Bertalanffy; Miller). Think about how huge companies such as Verizon must have elaborate organizational systems in place to deal with all of its employees and customers in a competitive market place.
If an organization is a system, how do we use the role of communication to analyze interactions among organizational members? Karl Weick’s Theory of Organizing suggests that participants organize through their communication and make sense of unpredictable environments through interactions. Simply put, organizations exist as a result of the interactions of people in those organizations. An organization is more than just a physical building with people inside. Communication is the “process of organizing” implying that communication actually is the organization (Eisenberg & Goodall). Regardless of whether the focus is on the message or the meaning, systems theory stresses the interdependence of integrated people in organizations and the outcomes they produce as a result of their interactions.
Each organization has unique characteristics and cultural differences such as language, traditions, symbols, practices, past-times, and social conveniences that distinguish it from other organizations. Likewise, they are rich with their own histories, stories, customs, and social norms.
Fast food restaurants such as In-and-Out and Chipotle have a culture of serving high quality food at a fast rate, yet they are very different organizations. Chipotle’s company motto is “good food is good business” (Chipotle.com). We can understand organizations by seeing them as unique cultures.
Simply put, the cultural perspective states that organizations maintain: #Shared values and beliefs,
- Common practices, skills, and actions,
- Customarily observed rules,
- Objects and artifacts, and
- Mutually understood meanings.
Shockley-Zalabak contends, “Organizational culture reflects the shared realities and shared practices in the organization and how these realities create and shape organizational events” (63). Not every individual in an organization shares, supports, or engages in organizational values, beliefs, or rules in a similar manner. Instead, organizational culture includes various perspectives in a continually changing, emerging, and complex environment.
Some people try to treat culture as a “thing.” However, organizational cultures emerge through interaction. Members share meaning, construct reality, and make sense of their environment on an ongoing basis. As Morgan states, “There is often more to culture than meets the eye and our understandings are usually much more fragmented and superficial than the reality itself” (151).
Organizational Communication Now
There's no question that Google is a trendsetter. The company made Web search sexy, and lucrative. It established the foundation for an ecosystem that allows any old little Web site to make money off advertising.
With its lava lamps, simple doodle design, pampered employees and millionaires in its rank and file, it has become a cultural icon and an emblem of the gold-rush promise of the Web.
Google was ranked by Fortune magazine as the best place in the U.S. to work, and it has reached another zenith by becoming the most popular Web site. It's even become a verb in the dictionary.
And it may even have started a new trend by creating a job that carries the title "chief culture officer." Stacy Savides Sullivan is that person at Google. Sullivan's mission is simple: retain the company's unique culture and keep the Googlers happy.
Employees of the tech giant consistently report high levels of job satisfaction, are very well-compensated, and work on meaningful projects in a supportive environment.
Historically, they also enjoy some of the best perks we've heard of, from paid maternity and paternity leave to the company's incredibly thoughtful "death benefits" policy. Business Insider spoke to seven Googlers who shared what their favorite perks are in 2017. Here's a closer look.https://www.businessinsider.com/coolest-perks-of-working-at-google-in-2017-2017-7?op=0#perhaps-one-of-googles-most-well-known-perks-employees-can-eat-every-meal-at-work-for-free-and-save-a-ton-of-money-1http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023_3-6179897.html
When we become involved with organizations, we learn from other people in the organization “the correct way to perceive, think, and feel” (Schein 12). There are three interdependent levels that provide insight into how culture works in organizations.
Artifacts are the first type of communicative behavior we encounter in organizations. Artifacts are symbols used by an organization to represent the organization’s culture. You might observe artifacts such as office technology, office architecture and arrangement, lighting, artwork, written documents, personal items on desks, clothing preferences, personal appearance, name tags, security badges, policy handbook, or web sites. You might observe routine behavior such as work processes, patterned communication (greetings), non-verbal characteristics (eye contact and handshakes) rituals, ceremonies, stories, or informal/formal interactions between supervisor and subordinate. All of these are artifacts that tell us something about an organization’s cultural values and practices. What artifacts represent the college or university you are attending right now?
Values are an organization’s preference for how things should happen, or strategies for determining how things should be accomplished correctly. Hackman and Johnson believe that values “serve as the yardstick for judging behavior” (33). Many times there is a disconnect between what an organization says it values, and their actual behavior. Disney espouses family values, for example, yet many of their subsidiary companies produce media that do not hold up these values. A way around this for Disney is to make sure to use other names, such as Touchstone Pictures, so that the Disney name is not attached to anything antithetical to "family values."
Basic assumptions are the core of what individuals believe in organizations. These “unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings” ultimately influence how you experience the world as an organizational member (Schein 24). Unspoken beliefs reveal how we treat other individuals, what we see as good and bad in human nature, how we discover truth, and our place in the environment (Hackman & Johnson; Burtscher). Basic assumptions guide how organizations treat employees and provide services to customers. Imagine that you work overtime almost everyday without pay. Why would you do this? Maybe you hold the basic assumption that people who work hard ultimately get ahead by being given promotions and pay raises. Imagine if you did this for years with no recognition or acknowledgement. What does that say about your basic assumptions in comparison to those of the organization?
Looking at organizations from the cultural perspective began in the 1980s (Putnam & Kim). During this time, several popular books focused on ideal corporate cultures, and the cultural perspective became a hot topic. Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life (Deal & Kennedy) and In Search of Excellence (Peters & Waterman) described cultural elements that mark prosperous organizations. The authors talked with Fortune 500 companies and determined that if an organization demonstrates a bias for action, has a close relationship with customers, has identifiable values, reveres individuals that exemplifies organizational values (heroes), and has a solid communication network, it is a healthy organization.
Culture is complicated and unstable. Each organization has its own unique identity, its own distinct ways of doing things, and its own ways of performing culture (Pacanowsky & O ‘Donnell-Trujillo). The books mentioned above prompted many organizations to try to replicate the companies with “strong” or “excellent” cultures. Ironically, several of the companies identified with strong or excellent cultures have had a difficult time maintaining productivity over the last twenty years.
An important focal point of the cultural perspective is the climate of an organization. Climate is the general workplace atmosphere or mood experienced by organizational members (Tagiuri; Green). Organizational climate is a “subjective reaction to organization members’ perception of communication events” (Shockley-Zalabak 66). Do you like working with the people at your job? Are you satisfied with the general climate of your college campus? Are you appropriately rewarded for the work you do? Do you feel like a valued member of your church or social group? Climate has a direct effect on organizational relationships and members’ satisfaction and morale. Researcher Jack Gibb proposes that the interpersonal communication in organizational relationships, especially between superiors and subordinates, contributes to the overall climate of organizations. Gibb identifies a continuum of climate characteristics ranging from supportive to defensive behaviors that lead to member satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Challenges in Organizational Communication
As you continue your education in college, you’ll continue to understand the need to be prepared for a perpetually evolving, increasingly diverse, and unpredictable global workplace. The key to organizational success, both for you and the organizations with whom you are involved, is effective communication. As you have probably experienced in both your personal relationships and organizational relationships, communication is not always successful. If you have ever worked on a group project for one of your classes, you have likely experienced many of the communicative challenges organizations face in this increasingly fast-paced and global world.
Case In Point
The Ant Colony and Organizational Communication
The YouTube video ‘Inside the Colony
’ shows the system in which ants use to communicate and live. What are some things we can draw from their lives into daily lives using organizational communication? Write bullet points on your ideas and pick the top on to discuss in class.
Ineffective communication can cause many problems that can impact relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and morale as we interact in organizations. Gerald Goldhaber summarizes Osmo Wiio’s “laws” of communication that are good to remember as you interact in increasingly complex organizations. Wiio pessimistically warns that: 1) If communication can fail, it will fail, 2) If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be misunderstood in the manner that does the most damage, 3) The more communication there is, the more tricky it is for the communication to be successful, and 4) There is always someone who thinks they know better what you said than you do.
One of the greatest challenges facing organizations is the practice of ethics. Ethics are a basic code of conduct (morals) that individuals and groups use to assess whether something is right or wrong. How ethical are you as an organizational participant? Do you always make ethical personal and professional decisions? Have you ever withheld a bit of truth to lessen the impact of revealing the whole truth? What if you accidentally overhear that an individual who is up for a promotion has been stealing from the organization? Do you tell your boss? Or, on a greater scale, what if you discover that your organization is withholding vital information from consumers, or violating lawful practices? Do you blow the whistle or stay loyal to your company? When you write your resume, how accurately do you describe your work history? Each of these scenarios deals directly with ethical considerations and ethical communication.
Case In Point
A good example of an ethical dilemma that occurs in the workplace happened to me when one of my co-workers, who is also my good friend, was putting down more hours on her time card than she was actually working. This upset me, because I worked the exact same amount of time as her, yet I was being paid much less. Because our boss was so busy all the time, she never noticed this unfair violation of lawful practices. I had to choose between remaining silent which would prevent my friend from getting in trouble, or speaking out against the injustice in order to sustain a fair workplace.
Many organizations practice a climate of “survival of the fittest” as individuals scramble their way up the ladder of success at any cost. Comedian Jimmy Durante posited this advice: “Be nice to people on your way up because you might meet ‘em on your way down.” Obviously, not every organization has this type of cutthroat culture, but with an inherent hierarchy and imbalance of power, organizations are ripe for unethical behaviors. Because of the competitive nature of many business climates, and the push for profits, organizational and individual ethics are often tested.
Do organizations have a moral responsibility to act ethically outside of their capitalistic and legal obligations? “Since 1985, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms have been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from fraud to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste” (Eisenberg & Goodall 337). The Chevron Corporation, the second largest oil company in the U.S., is just one example of an unethical organization. Tax evasion and several environmental infractions, including dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, are examples of their ethical behavior (Sandhu, 2012). Other unethical practices common in organizations include exploiting workers, tax loopholes, overbilling, and dumping toxins. Despite these unfortunate, immoral practices, all of us have an obligation to communicate ethically in all aspects of our lives, including organizations.
Case In Point
The Case of Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc.
In 2007 several major brands of pet food were recalled due to a contaminant in the food. As a result of the poisoned food, thousands of dogs and cats developed renal failure and many died. Many upset customers asked the pet food companies to take financial responsibility for the costs that were incurred while seeking vital veterinary care for their sick pets. Some companies responded ethically with financial settlements; others failed in their ethical responsibility. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. (the maker of Science Diet) was one such company. In a letter sent to a customer seeking reimbursement for treating their sick cat, Hill’s wrote a one sentence letter stating, “. . . it appears we are unable to settle your claim for Oscar’s future medical expenses.”
Thinking of this incident in ethical terms Kreps’ three principles of ethical communication are of relevance. He states ethical treatment should 1) Tell the truth, 2) Do no harm, and 3) Treat people justly. Has Hills, Inc. engaged in ethical communication? How could they have done so?
Differences in perception and the failure to clarify communication can lead to miscommunication at interpersonal as well as organizational levels. Organizationally, communication failure occurs due to information overload, communication anxiety, unethical communication, bad timing, too little information, message distortion, lack of respect, insufficient information, minimal feedback, ineffective communication, and even disinterest or apathy. To be successful in our organizational environments, we need to be earnest participants, as well as active listeners, to ensure effective communication and mutual satisfaction. Organizations cannot successfully operate without effective communication at every level.
As with many other specializations in the field of Communication, the area of organizational communication is changing faster than organizations, individuals, and scholars can adapt. It is difficult for organizations to anticipate and keep in front of the changes they encounter. What worked during the industrial age may no longer be relevant in the 21st century. In fact, what worked ten years ago likely does not work today. A sense of urgency, a fast pace, inconsistency, information overload, regenerating technology, and constant change characterize the dynamic changes as organizations move from operating in the industrial age to the information age. When this book was first published, for example, iPhones were just coming on the market. We referred to cds, dvds, and palm pilots in the original text. That was only 10 years ago, and now we don't use many of those technologies. Miller identifies four elements of the changing landscape for organizations: 1) Organizations are becoming more global, 2) Images and identity are becoming increasingly important, 3) There is a shift to a more predominant service economy, and 4) The changing workforce is highlighted by the “disposable worker” (Conrad & Poole), downsizing, early retirement, and temporary workers.
As a result, new directions of research are emerging. These changes are forcing those of us in organizational communication to reexamine existing communicative practices relative to the changing dynamics of organizations. For example, can a person lead without any personal, face-to-face contact? How do organizational values impact ethics, and what is the attitude towards ethical communication in this increasingly competitive age? How should work-life issues such as working parents, affirmative action, and drug screening be handled? With increasing diversity in the workplace, what is the role of intercultural communication? In this age of elevated tensions, how do stress and emotions communicatively manifest themselves in the workplace? What is the impact of our social media postings on our work lives?
Organizational Communication Now
Leadership in the Social AgeThis article
is about leadership and their ability to be flexible in work place. “Today’s leaders face challenges related to business disruption, ambiguity, complexity, widely connected constituencies and how to communicate with multiple constituencies simultaneously”. This ties into how work is different now than it was 10 years ago.
1. Leadership is about who, not what.
2. Leadership is personal.
3. Make experiences true learning experiences.
Scholars are continuing to communicatively adapt and respond to the changing landscape in terms of what we teach, research, and practice. Expect to see a variety of approaches and distinctively unique research agendas that will likely highlight the ways in which you will spend your life working in organizations that are different from today.
In this chapter, you learned that an organization is a “consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals” (Robbins 4). Organizations are dynamic and are created through our communication. Organizational communication is the sending and receiving of messages among interrelated individuals within a particular environment or setting to achieve individual and common goals. Organizational communication is highly contextual and culturally dependent.
The study of organizational communication developed as a result of the rapid changes brought on by the industrial revolution in the past 150 years. The more formal study of organizational communication took root in the mid-1900s and has gained increasing attention over the past 60 years. We examined three predominant periods of organizational communication during this time. The Era of Preparation (1900 to 1940) is the era in which practitioners and scholars focused on public address, business writing, managerial communication, and persuasion. The Era of Identification and Consolidation (1940-1970) saw the beginnings of business and industrial communication with certain group and organizational relationships becoming important. During the Era of Maturity and Innovation (1970 –present) organizational communication has worked to rationalize its existence through rigorous research methods and scholarship.
Those in the field of organizational communication study a variety of communication activity in organizational settings. Researchers focus on communication channels, communication climates, network analysis and, superior-subordinate communication. Since the 1980s, this specialization has expanded to include the study of organizational culture, power and conflict management, and organizational rhetoric. Other content areas of focus include communication in groups and teams, leadership, conflict and conflict management, communication networks, decision making and problem solving, ethics, and communication technology. Introductory organizational communication classrooms often focus on skill development in socialization, interviewing, individual and group presentations, work relationships, performance evaluation, conflict resolution, stress management, decision making, or external publics.
Since the start of the industrial revolution, perspectives regarding organizational communication have continued to be developed and refined. The initial organizational communication perspective, founded on scientific principles, is the classical management perspective which focused on specialization, standardization, and predictability in organizations. Following this perspective were the human relations and human resources perspectives which further tried to incorporate human satisfaction, needs, and participation as a means for creating effective organizations and productive employees. The systems perspective allowed researchers to understand organizations as a “whole greater then the sum of their parts.” This perspective focuses on the interactions of the people who form organizations, with the basic assumption that all people in the organization impact organizational outcomes. Finally, the cultural perspective understands organizations as unique cultures with their own sets of artifacts, values, and basic assumptions. As part of the cultural perspective we can examine the climate of an organization to reveal how an organization impacts its members, and how members impact an organization.
The future of organizational communication is complex and rapidly changing. As a result, there are many challenges to organizations. Two of the most compelling challenges are ethics and the rapid changes occurring in organizational life. As competition continues to increase, and greater demands are placed on organizations and individuals, ethics is becoming an essential focus of examination for organizational communication and behavior. Likewise, the rapid advances in technology and globalization are creating increased challenges and demands on organizational members.
- Think of an organization you have worked in. What theoretical perspective did the organization take towards its workers? What was it like working within the boundaries of that perspective?
- What kinds of organizations does the classical management approach work in today? What kinds of organizations does it not work in?
- What needs of Maslow’s do you want your job to help you fulfill? Why?
- How would you describe the “culture” of your campus? What does this tell you about your campus?
- Explain ethical communication in organizations. What are the challenges? What are the benefits?
- Review Osmo Wiio’s Laws of Communication. Give an example of a time when one of these rules has applied to you.
- Basic assumptions
- Classical management perspective
- Competent communicator
- Cultural perspective
- Defensive Climate
- Era of Preparation
- Era of Identification and Consolidation
- Era of Maturity and Innovation
- Ethical communication
- Human relations perspective
- Human resources perspective
- Negative entropy
- Organizational communication
- Requisite variety
- Supportive Climate
- Systems perspective
- Theory of Scientific Management
- Theory X
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Chapter 12 - Intercultural Communication
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
• Identify your own cultural identity.
• Understand how communication, identity, and culture are related.
• Describe research methodologies specific to the study of intercultural communication.
• Identify cultural representations in popular culture artifacts and how empathy can lead to better communication.
What is Intercultural Communication? If you were to ask Russel Arent, author of Bridging the Cultural Gap he would tell you that, “Intercultural Communication is the sending and receiving of messages across languages and cultures. It is also a negotiated understanding of meaning in human experiences across social systems and societies.” This provides not only a concise definition but it also describes the importance that understanding has in intercultural interactions.
In this TedTalkX
, Pellegrino Riccardi, a man who spent 27 years traveling the world to experience different cultures, refers to culture as, “A system of behavior that helps us act in an accepted or familiar way.”
To explain the world’s population to young children, David J. Smith asks children to imagine the world as a small village. In 2016, the world’s population was 7.5 billion (Smith 7). Instead of talking about numbers of this magnitude, he represents the world as 100 people. Using Smith’s model, we can examine what nationalities make up the world’s population, what languages they speak, how old they are, and how wealth and education are globally distributed.
Here are some interesting facts from Smith’s global village, including the most recent update from: 100People.org, a website dedicated to keeping this idea alive! If the world were made up of 100 people:
- 50 would be female
- 50 would be male
- 25 would be children
- 75 would be adults,
- 9 of whom would be 65 and older
There would be:
- 60 Asians
- 16 Africans
- 14 people from the Americas
- 10 Europeans
- 31 Christians
- 23 Muslims
- 16 people who would not be aligned with a religion
- 15 Hindus
- 7 Buddhists
- 8 people who practice other religions
- 12 would speak Chinese
- 6 would speak Spanish
- 5 would speak English
- 4 would speak Hindi
- 3 would speak Arabic
- 3 would speak Bengali
- 3 would speak Portuguese
- 2 would speak Russian
- 2 would speak Japanese
- 60 would speak other languages
86 would be able to read and write; 14 would not
- 7 would have a college degree
- 40 would have an Internet connection
78 people would have a place to shelter them from the wind and the rain, but 22 would not
80 would live in substandard housing
50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation
33 would be without access to a safe water supply
39 would lack access to improved sanitation
24 would not have any electricity
48 would live on less than US$ 2 a day
20 would live on less than US$ 1 a day
If each villager earned a similar annual income, each one would have $10,300 per year. Instead, the richest 10 people in the village earn more than $87,500 a year, the poorest 10 villagers earn less than $2 a day, while the remaining 80 earn somewhere in between. As the average annual cost of food and shelter in the village is more than $5,000, many people go without these basic necessities (Smith 22).
Moreover, the people with less money are also less likely to have electricity and education. Besides simple cultural differences such as language or food preferences, cultural identity impacts individuals’ accessibility to certain resources such as shelter, electricity, running water, health care, education, and political and legal systems.
If we return to the United States from our look at the global village (Moore):
- 25 percent of black youth ages 16-19 and 11 percent of 20-24 year olds are neither in school nor working. Compare this to 11 and 6 percent of their white peers. (E-16. Unemployment)
- Black infants have double the infant mortality rate than white infants in the US. (CDC)
- Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of white since 1954 (E-16. Unemployment.)
- Women hold 102 seats in Congress (Women in Congress.)
- 475 of the top 500 companies are run by men (Fortune.)
- Women’s earnings average 81 cents for every $1 earned by men (Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
- The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts to death both the mentally retarded and children. The other five countries in the world that execute their children are Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Think about culture and communication as a reciprocal process: culture affects communication and communication affects culture. Both work together to shape how we identify as belonging to one culture or another, how we feel about belonging to a particular cultural group, how we communicate with other cultural groups, and how that group is regarded in the larger social system. As you will see, this is often a reflection of the language used to refer to a particular group of people, or the relative value placed on their communication practices. In the U.S., political and economic power is not equally distributed among cultures. We can see this power imbalance reflected in various linguistic practices such as the dominance of English, terms used to refer to different groups of people, and lack of bilingual signs or documents.
What Do We Mean by Culture?
"When you begin to understand the biology of human variation, you have to ask yourself if race is a good way to describe that."
--Janis Hutchinson, Biological Anthropologist
Before going any further, let us spend some time discussing what we mean by culture. When you began reading this chapter what did you think we meant by the word culture? Your answer probably had something to do with people from different countries or of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. You are right—to a certain degree. Culture does include race, nationality, and ethnicity, but goes beyond those identity markers as well. The following are various aspects of our individual identity that we use to create membership with others to form a shared cultural identity: race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ability, disability, religion, and social class. In addition to explaining the above identities, we will also discuss ethnocentrism, privilege, advantage, disadvantage, power, whiteness, co-culture, and political correctness as these terms are relevant to understanding the interplay between communication and culture.
When we talk about culture we are referring to belief systems, values, and behaviors that support a particular ideology or social arrangement. Culture guides language use, appropriate forms of dress, and views of the world. The concept is broad and encompasses many areas of our lives such as the role of the family, individual, educational systems, employment, and gender.
Race is often difficult to talk about, not because of the inherent complexity of the term itself, but because of the role that race plays in society. Race is what we call a loaded word because it can bring up strong emotions and connotations. Understandings of race fall into two camps: a biological versus a sociopolitical construction of what it means to belong to a particular racial group. A biological construction of race claims that “pure” races existed and could be distinguished by such physical features as eye color and shape, skin color, and hair. Moreover, these differences could be traced back to genetic differences. This theory has been debunked by numerous scientists and been replaced with the understanding that there are greater genetic differences within racial groups, not between them. In addition, there is no scientific connection with racial identity and cultural traits or behaviors.
Instead of biology, we draw on a sociopolitical understanding of what it means to be of a particular race. This simply means that it is not a person’s DNA that places them into a particular racial grouping, but all of the other factors that create social relations—politics, geography, or migration. We can also examine the reality that the meanings of race have changed across time and space. As dramatized in the 2002 film, “Gangs of New York,” the Irish were once considered a minority with little social or political status. Now, being Irish in America is considered part of the general majority group, white or Caucasian. Noting the change from the biological to the sociopolitical understanding, we refer to race as “a largely social—yet powerful— construction of human difference that has been used to classify human beings into separate value-based categories” (Orbe and Harris 9).
For additional information check out this website
. The website “look[s] through the eyes of history, science, and lived experience, the RACE Project explains differences among people and reveals the reality – and unreality – of race.”
Related to race are three other distinct concepts: racial prejudice, racial discrimination, and racism. Racial prejudice refers to the practice of holding false or negative beliefs of one racial group for the purpose of making another racial group (usually one’s own) appear superior or normative. Racial discrimination is the outward manifestation of racial prejudice: it is when people act upon their negative beliefs about other races when communicating or setting policy. Note, it is possible to be prejudiced without acting upon those beliefs and that all races can discriminate against other races. The final concept, racism, combines racial prejudice with social power. Racism is institutional, rather than individual, meaning it occurs in large institutional contexts such as the representations of particular groups within media or the fact that racial minorities do not have equal access to educational or legal opportunities (Orbe and Harris 10). Racism often involves the unequal accessibility to resources and power.
Two other concepts that are often confused with race are ethnicity and nationality. Ethnicity refers to a person’s or people’s heritage and history, and involves shared cultural traditions and beliefs. A person may identify as Asian-American racially while their ethnicity is Chinese. Nationality refers to a people’s nation-state of residence or where they hold citizenship. Most often, nationality is derived from the country where one was born, but on occasion people give up their citizenship by birth and migrate to a new country where they claim national identity. For example, an individual could have been born and raised in another country but once they migrate to the United States and have American citizenship, their nationality becomes American.
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Are you male, female, gender-fluid, or gender non-conforming? Do you identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or asexual? One’s gender and sexual orientation are two additional ways to think about culture. Gender is discussed in more detail in Chapter 13, but for now think of it as the recognition that one is male, female, or androgynous. Gender is part of culture in that every society has particular gender roles and expectations for males and females. For example, in the United States, it is considered normal for the female gender to wear makeup, while it is often considered inappropriate for a male to do so. However, in some Native American tribes it was customary for the males to adorn themselves with paint for hunting and ceremonial rituals. Notice too, the connotative differences between "make up" and "paint."
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for sexual or romantic relationships; one may prefer a partner of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. Sexual orientation influences one’s worldview or politics because while all societies include members who identify as gay or lesbian, these members do not always receive the same social or health benefits as heterosexual couples. However, this is changing. As of 2015, the Supreme Court of the Unites States made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. On top of these specific benefits, those with a nondominant sexual orientation might still have to contend on a daily basis that some people think they are deviant or somehow less than heterosexual people and couples. This may result in strained family relationships or discrimination in the workplace.
The Role of Money
You are probably familiar with the concept of class—what do the labels working class, middle-class, and upper-class bring to mind? Money? Economic standing is only one variable that influences class or socioeconomic standing. As the label suggests, one’s socioeconomic status is influenced by monetary and social factors. In essence, socioeconomic standing is “your understanding of the world and where you fit in; it’s composed of ideas, behaviors, attitudes, values, and language; class is how you think, feel, act, look, dress, talk, move, walk” (Langston 101). In some middle class families, for example, children are expected to go to college just as their parents and grandparents had done. It may also be expected for the children to attend reasonably priced state colleges and universities as opposed to Ivy League Universities, which may be the norm in many upper-class families.
By now you are probably able to think of some other identity markers that shape a person’s culture or worldview. How about spirituality or religion, profession, hobbies, political persuasion, age, abilities? These too are aspects of cultural identity. Spend some time thinking about how these aspects would influence a person’s culture as we have done above.
We may often feel restrained by the constant need to work. We live in a money-centric society where every move we make involves thinking about the monetary gains or losses it will produce. Read Bruce E. Levine’s article on this phenomena.How America's Obsession With Money Deadens Us
After reading the article, do you believe that we have become more money-centric? Why?
Individuals cannot look simply at race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ability, disability, religion, and social class in isolation. Instead, we must look at identity as a combination of these. Cultural identities have many parts that all factor into an individual's identity. Intersectionality is the theory that shows how multiple systems of power and oppression operate on individuals in various degrees that directly corresponds to their identity (Crenshaw, 1989). Intersectionality was a theory articulated by Kimberle Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate, in the late 1980’s. A United States citizen and a Burmese citizen both growing up in modern times will not have equal opportunities. One might think that the US citizen will have more opportunities based on national privilege. But if the Burmese citizen is from a higher socioeconomic class than the American, the Burmese individual may have more opportunities. Other factors such as race, sexuality and ability also play into how many and which opportunities will be available.
Another example from Kimberle Crenshaw from her 1989 journal article Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics states: “Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.”
Intersectionality is important for intercultural communication because individuals must realize not only the duality but the depth of identities. This theory is useful for critical analysis because it illuminates the different ways systems of oppression overlap and how systems of privilege and oppression can manifest simultaneously on an individual (Allen, 2010). It is easy for people to assume because they are one thing that is it their whole identity, just like not every feminist’s agenda is the same and not every Syrian’s views are the same. Intersectionality is a key to intercultural communication because it reminds individuals that systems of power although do not operate uniformly and effect how people will receive and transmit messages.
Facilitating Discussions about Intercultural Communication Issues
Perhaps you may have noticed the theme of inequality as we have discussed topics such as unequal access to resources and benefits, racial discrimination, and racism. You may have also thought, “oh, my, this is going to be a touchy chapter to read and discuss in class” or “this is interesting and relevant, but I feel uncomfortable talking about this as I don’t want to offend anyone.” These are very common and understandable reactions and ones we hear when we teach this subject matter. Hopefully, your instructor has set up a safe, open, and respectful classroom environment to facilitate such discussions. The fact that you are self-reflective of your feelings and how to express them to others is a great start! We too want you to be able to discuss this material both in and out of your class in a productive and self-reflective manner. To facilitate that goal we have included some additional concepts— privilege, ethnocentrism, whiteness, and political correctness—that are useful when considering your own cultural identity, your place in society, and your communication with others.
As it was so eloquently put by Carey W. James, ”I haven’t given up the quest, typically if idealistically American, for an open, nonascriptive basis of community life: one in which neighbors help one another out--you know, lend out the lawnmower, come to the funeral, take part in the town meeting-but do not ask one another too many questions about their private lives and pretty much ignore the color of skin, the shapes of noses and eyes, or the distribution of X/Y chromosomes.” This scholar is one of many people in the fight for political correctness to prevail.
Hopefully, you have been thinking about your own cultural identity as you have been reading this chapter. If so, then you have been thinking about labels that define you culturally. Maybe you have defined yourself as female, Latina, and heterosexual. Or maybe you have labeled yourself as gay, white, working-class, and male. When we give ourselves labels such as these, often we ask ourselves, “Where do I fit in?” This is a good question to ask and demonstrates a recognition of the fact that you belong to more than one culture and that your cultures intersect in various ways. The most significant manifestation of these intersections is power—-the ability to influence others and control our lives. From the statistics given earlier in the chapter and from your own experiences, you should realize that some groups have more power than others. These people are what we refer to as the dominant group: white, male, Christian, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, and heterosexual. People whose cultural identities do not conform to this model are the nondominant groups and have less sociopolitical and economic power.
Peggy McIntosh uses the term privilege to refer to the power of dominant groups. She defines privilege as an invisible knapsack of advantages that some people carry around. They are invisible because they are often not recognized, seen as normative (i.e., “that’s just the way things are”), seen as universal (i.e., “everyone has them”), or used unconsciously. Below is a list of some of the privileges McIntosh identifies. Can you think of others?
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color, who constitute the world's majority, without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge" I will be facing a person of my race.
19. If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.
25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color that more or less match my skin.
McIntosh admits, “My perception is that colleges and universities are the main institutions that are raising awareness of the relationship between privilege and oppression, but that this awareness is needed throughout all public and private sectors of the United States; the ability to see privilege should be in the minds of all citizens” (195). As you think about privilege and the resulting advantages that some groups have over others, you should also keep in mind two facts. One, privilege is a relative concept that varies according to context. In some situations we may be more privileged than others, and in order to access some of that privilege one may decide to highlight or conceal parts of their identity. For example, unless a person tells you, you have no way of knowing their sexual orientation. Thus, a gay man might decide to “pass” as straight at a family reunion to avoid conflict from a heterosexist family. The fact that he can choose to pass as a straight man is also a form of privilege. A black woman cannot decide to pass as a white woman, for example. Two, we may have aspects of our identities that are simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged. The gay, white, working-class, male above is advantaged by the fact that he has light skin and is male, and is disadvantaged by the fact that he is gay and working-class.
One of the first steps to communicating sensitively and productively about cultural identity is to be able to name and recognize one’s identity and the relative privilege that it affords. Similarly important, is a recognition that one’s cultural standpoint is not everyone’s standpoint. Our views of the world, what we consider right and wrong, normal or weird, are largely influenced by our cultural position or standpoint: the intersections of all aspects of our identity. One common mistake that people from all cultures are guilty of is ethnocentrism'
—placing one’s own culture and the corresponding beliefs, values, and behaviors in the center.
When we do this we view our position as normal and right, and evaluate all other cultural systems against our own. If you want to learn more about ethnocentrism, view this slide show
Ethnocentrism shows up in small and large ways: the WWII Nazi’s elevation of the Aryan race and the corresponding killing of Jews, Gypsies, gays and lesbians, and other non-Aryan groups is one of the most horrific ethnocentric acts in history. However, ethnocentrism shows up in small and seemingly unconscious ways as well. In American culture, if you decided to serve dog meat as an appetizers at your cocktail party you would probably disgust your guests and the police might even arrest you because the consumption of dog meat is not culturally acceptable. However, in China “it is neither rare nor unusual” to consume dog meat (Wingfield-Hayes). In the Czech Republic, the traditional Christmas dinner is carp and potato salad. Imagine how your U.S. family might react if you told them you were serving carp and potato salad for Christmas. In the Czech Republic, it is a beautiful tradition, but in America, it might not receive a warm welcome. Our cultural background influences every aspect of our lives from the food we consume to classroom curriculum.
Ethnocentrism may show up in Literature classes, for example, as cultural bias dictates which “great works” students are going to read and study. More often than not, these works represent the given culture (i.e., reading French authors in France and Korean authors in Korea). This ethnocentric bias has received some challenge in United States’ schools, as teachers make efforts to create a multicultural classroom by incorporating books, short stories, and traditions from non-dominant groups. In the field of geography there has been an ongoing debate about the use of a Mercater map versus a Peter’s Projection map. The arguments reveal cultural biases toward the Northern, industrialized nations. To see this bias, follow this link.
Case In Point
The Greenland Problem
The Mercator projection creates increasing distortions of size as you move away from the equator. As you get closer to the poles the distortion becomes severe. Cartographers refer to the inability to compare size on a Mercator projection as "the Greenland Problem." Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, yet Africa's land mass is actually fourteen times larger. Because the Mercator distorts size so much at the poles it is common to crop Antarctica off the map. This practice results in the Northern Hemisphere appearing much larger than it really is. Typically, the cropping technique results in a map showing the equator about 60% of the way down the map, diminishing the size and importance of the developing countries.
Greenland is 0.8 million sq. miles and Africa is 11.6 million sq. miles, yet the often look roughly the same size on maps.
This was convenient, psychologically and practically, through the eras of colonial domination when most of the world powers were European. It suited them to maintain an image of the world with Europe at the center and looking much larger than it really was. Was this conscious or deliberate? Probably not, as most map users probably never realized the Eurocentric bias inherent in their world view. When there are so many other projections to choose from, why is it that today the Mercator projection is still such a widely recognized image used to represent the globe? The answer may be simply convention or habit. The inertia of habit is a powerful force.
If you are White, how would you describe your culture? When we ask this question to our students we find that White students are often uncomfortable with the question, feel guilty about self-identifying as White, or claim that White people do not have a culture. Gordon Alley-Young says, “The invisibility of whiteness and white privilege for many people is what makes it difficult to name and thus to disrupt” (312). These sentiments have lead an increasing amount of scholars in a variety of disciplines such as Sociology, Women’s Studies, Anthropology, English, as well as Communication, to study the concept of Whiteness. Orbe and Harris explain why exploring this concept is important: “[i]t helps us all view communication as a racialized process [which] sharpens our awareness of how racial categorization is used to reinforce old hierarchies in which some races are more superior than others [and that] whiteness studies also assign each person a role in race relations” (89).
The above discussion about privilege and Whiteness is not meant to suggest that people with sociopolitical privilege should feel ashamed or guilty. This is often a trap that people fall into which can shut down important thinking and conversations about intercultural communication. We want everyone to realize that they have a racial identity and thus are an important part of improving race relations. Race relations is not just a subject that concerns minorities—it concerns everyone as we all play a part and benefit whether consciously or unconsciously. The recent Black Lives Matter movement, in response to multiple shootings of unarmed black men, points to the ongoing tensions surrounding race and privilege. Black Lives Matter has faced backlash such as “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” because many people did not understand the full implication of Black Lives Matter. This was misconstrued as a sort of Black power movement and compared to white supremacy movements. This is because Black Lives Matter is only an excerpt from the phrase “Black Lives Matter as much as others.” Colin Kaepernick gave strength to this movement by kneeling to get attention for violent discrimination against African Americans .
Case In Point
Since his first kneel, Colin Kaepernick has faced backlash from the NFL, fans, “patriots,” and even Donald Trump. He has been told that he will never play in the NFL again and fans have taken to burning his jersey. However, taking a knee has also become a large protest for the unfair treatment of African Americans by police. A peaceful nonverbal communication that says more than most can comprehend.
Another claim or label that may be used to discount such difficult discussions is Political Correctness, or “PC” as it has been dubbed in the popular press. In short, political correctness refers to “the elimination of speech that often works to exclude, oppress, demean, or harass certain groups” (Orbe and Harris 58, Remar). Opponents of multiculturalism and diversity studies try and dismiss such topics as “that’s just PC.” The current state of politics has brought a great deal of tension to political correctness, with many politicians arguing that we need to get rid of political correctness. The controversy largely focuses around competing interpretations of the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to equal access to education. No matter what your position on this issue, we want to simply recognize two facts. One, that much of the PC debate and fury is largely misrepresented and hyped in the mainstream media by the use of extreme examples and a slippery-slope argument. Rush Limbaugh, for example, became famous for claiming that an awareness and sensitivity of language choice would lead to the “thought Police” or “PC police.” Two, that words and labels have great power to create perceptions, realities and identities. Toward that aim, we will discuss the power of language in greater detail in the following section.
The term PC has certain connotations and is often mocked and dreaded by many because people feel like they’re having their language policed. Below is an article in the Huffington Post about Byron Clark creator of software-as-social-commentary and his attempt to change people's perspectives on the concept of political correctness. He developed an extension that changes the term "politically correct" to "treating people with respect" to demonstrate the difference in approaches to this term. See more here
Knowing Where We Belong
At this point, you are probably aware of the cultural groups to which you belong (i.e., “I am a Latino, middle-class, (almost) college-educated male”). Do you remember the process of coming to awareness of your cultural identity—when did you know you were white and what that meant? Was it during childhood, as a teenager, or reading this chapter? Has your understanding, or acceptance, of your racial heritage changed during the course of your lifetime? For most people it does. Just as Piaget organized the growth of children according to various stages of development, cultural scholars have similarly organized racial awareness along models and stages. Before explaining the various models, let us make a couple general comments about models. One, a model is not the thing it represents. Is the model car you played with as a child the same as the actual automobile? What were the differences? Size, time, maneuverability, details? These same kinds of differences exist between theoretical models such as the model of racial identity development, and the actual personal process. But just as the car model gives a fairly accurate picture of the actual automobile so do the racial identity models. Two, these models are general and not meant to fit perfectly to every individual’s experience. With that said, let us examine the process of coming to an understanding of our racial identity.
To better understand this complex process, and in recognition of the above discussion regarding the distinctions in experiences for various cultural groups, we will present four racial identity models—-Minority, Majority, Bi-racial, and Global Nomads.
Minority Identity Development
Because people who identify as members of a minority group in the United States tend to stand out or get noticed as “other” or “different,” they also tend to become aware of their identity sooner than individuals who are part of the majority group. Since White is still considered normative in the United States, White people may take their identity, and the corresponding privilege, for granted. While we are using the following four stages of development to refer to racial and ethnic identity development, they may also be useful when considering other minority aspects of our identity such as gender, class, or sexual orientation (Ponterotto, Utsey and Pendersen). Moreover, there is no set age or time period that a person reaches or spends in a particular stage, and not everyone will reach the final stage.
- Stage 1: Unexamined Identity. As the name of this stage suggests, the person in stage one of Phinney’s model has little or no concern with ethnicity. They may be too young to pay attention to such matters or just not see the relationship between racial identity and their own life. One may accept the values and beliefs of the majority culture even if they work against their own cultural group.
- Stage 2: Conformity. In stage two the individual moves from a passive acceptance of the dominant culture’s value system to a more active one. They consciously make choices to assimilate or fit in with the dominant culture even if this means putting down or denying their own heritage. They may remain at this stage until a precipitating event forces them to question their belief system.
- Stage 3: Resistance and Separation. The move from stage two to stage three can be a difficult process as it necessitates a certain level of critical thinking and self-reflection. If you have ever tried to wrestle with aspects of your own belief system then you can imagine the struggle. The move may be triggered by a national event such as the case of “Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on August 9, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, MO (Buchanan). Learn more about the case here. It may be fostered on a more individual scale such as enrolling in a Women’s Studies class and learning about the specifics of women’s history in America. Martin Luther King Jr. moved to this stage around age six after the mother of King’s White neighborhood friends told them that he could not play with her children anymore because he was Black. A person in this stage may simply reject all of their previously held beliefs and positive feelings about the dominant culture with those of their own group, or they may learn how to critically examine and hold beliefs from a variety of cultural perspectives, which leads to stage four.
- Stage 4: Integration. The final stage is one where the individual reaches an achieved identity. They learn to value diversity; seeing race, gender, class, and ethnic relations as a complex process instead of an either/or dichotomy. Their aim is to end oppression against all groups, not just their own.
Majority Identity Development
The following model was developed by Rita Hardiman in 1994 and contains some similarities with Phinney’s minority identity development model.
- Stage 1: Unexamined Identity. This stage is the same for both minority and majority individuals. While children may notice that some of their playmates have different colored skin, they do not fear or feel superior to them.
- Stage 2: Acceptance. The move to stage two signals a passive or active acceptance of the dominant ideology—either way the individual does not recognize that he or she has been socialized into accepting it as normative. When a White person goes the route of passive acceptance they have no conscious awareness of being White although they may hold some subtly racist assumptions such as “[p]eople of color are culturally different, whereas Whites are individuals with no group identity, culture, or shared experience of racial privilege.” Or, White art forms are “classical” whereas works of art by people of color are considered “ethnic art,” “folk art,” or “crafts” (Martin and Nakayama 132). People in this stage may minimize contact with minorities or act in a “let me help you” fashion toward them. If a White person in this stage follows the active acceptance path then they are conscious of their White identity and may act in ways that highlight this identity. Refusing to eat food from other cultures or watch foreign films are examples of the active acceptance path of this stage.
- Stage 3: Resistance. Just as the move from stage two to stage three in the minority development model required a great deal of critical thought, so does this juncture. Here, members of the majority group cease blaming the members of minority groups for their conditions and see socioeconomic realities as a result of an unjust and biased sociopolitical system. There is an overall move from seeing one’s station in life as a purely individual event or responsibility to a more systemic issue. People may feel guilty about being White and ashamed of historical actions taken by some White people. They may try to associate with only people of color, or they may attempt to exorcise aspects of White privilege from their daily lives.
- Stage 4: Redefinition. In this stage, people attempt to redefine what it means to be White without the racist baggage. They are able to move beyond White guilt and recognize that White people and people of all cultures contain both racist and nonracist elements and that there are many historical and cultural events of which White people can be proud.
- Stage 5: Integration. In the last phase individuals are able to accept their Whiteness or other majority aspects of their identity and integrate it into other parts of their lives. There is a simultaneous self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
Bi- or Multiracial Identity Development
Originally, scholars thought that bi-racial individuals followed the development model of minority individuals, but given that we now know that race and the meanings about race are socially constructed, we began to realize that a person of mixed racial ancestry is likely to be viewed differently (from both the dominant culture and the individual’s own culture) than a minority individual. Thus, bi-racial identities are likely to experience a social reality unique to their experience. The following five-stage model is derived from the work of W.S. Carlos Poston.
- Stage 1: Personal Identity. Poston’s first stage is much like the unexamined identity stage in the previous two models. Again, children are not aware of race as a value-based social category and derive their personal identity from individual personality features instead of cultural ones.
- Stage 2: Group Categorization. In the move from stage one to two, the person goes from no racial or cultural awareness to having to choose between one or the other. In a family where the father is Black and the mother is Japanese, the child may be asked by members of both families to decide if he or she is Black or Japanese. Choosing both is not an option in this stage.
- Stage 3: Enmeshment/Denial. Following the choice made in stage two, individuals attempt to immerse themselves in one culture while denying ties to the other. This process may result in guilt or feelings of distance from the parent and family whose culture was rejected in stage two. If these feelings are resolved then the child moves to the next stage. If not, they remain here.
- Stage 4: Appreciation. When feelings of guilt and anger are resolved the person can work to appreciate all of the cultures that shape their identity. While there is an attempt to learn about the diversity of their heritage, they will still identify primarily with the culture chosen in stage two.
- Stage 5: Integration. In the fifth and final stage the once fragmented parts of the person’s identity are brought together to create a unique whole. There is integration of cultures throughout all facets of the person’s life—dress, food, holidays, spirituality, language, and communication.
People who move around a lot may develop a multicultural identity as a result of their extensive international travel. International teachers, business people, and military personnel are examples of global nomads (Martin and Nakayama 138). One of the earlier theories to describe this model of development was called the U-curve theory because the stages were thought to follow the pattern of the letter U. This model has since been revised in the form of a W, or a series of ups and downs; this pattern is thought to better represent the up and down nature of this process.
- Stage 1: Anticipation and Excitement. If you have ever planned for an international trip, what were some of the things you did to prepare? Did you do something like buy a guide book to learn some of the native customs, figure out the local diet to see if you would need to make any special accommodations, learn the language, or at least some handy phrases perhaps? All of these acts characterize stage one in which people are filled with positive feelings about their upcoming journey and try to ready themselves.
- Stage 2: Culture Shock. Once the excitement has worn off or you are confronted with an unexpected or unpleasant event, you may experience culture shock. This is the move from the top of the U or W to the bottom. Culture shock can result from physical, psychological, or emotional causes often correlating with an unpleasant and unfamiliar event. When individuals have spent most of their lives in a certain country, they will most likely experience culture shock when they travel overseas. The differences in cultural language, customs, and even food may be overwhelming to someone that has never experienced them before.
Case In Point
Digital nomads travel the world while you rot in your office.
Todd Wasserman explains the benefits of the increased presence that digital technologies have in our lives. People have realized that they can do their work from anywhere that provides wifi, thus creating a new population of individuals that opt to travel the world while doing the same work that they could have been doing in a home office. To find out more, click here
Stage 3: Adaptation. The final stage at the top of the U and W is a feeling of comfortableness: being somewhat familiar with the new cultural patterns and beliefs. After spending more time in a new country and learning its cultural patterns and beliefs, individuals may feel more welcomed into the society by accepting and adapting to these cultural differences.
After exploring the identity development models for minority, majority, bi-racial individuals, and global nomads, we hope you have some understanding that a person’s identity development is a process, occurs in stages, and is specific to the individual and cultural groups. We also hope you noticed that identity development is a social process—it occurs within our relationships with other people and the larger society. Not surprisingly, language is a key factor in shaping our own self-perception as well as the attitudes and beliefs we hold about other cultural groups. In the next section, we will explore the role that language plays in intercultural communication.
There are a variety of global nomads. There are digital and physical nomads, as well as willing and unwilling nomades. Each of these experiences can also be applied to the model but understand that the excitement phase for someone could be positive or negative. Nevertheless, the goal is always to adapt to your situation.
As a consequence of war outbreaks and volatile political climates, individuals are unwillingly thrust into different cultures. Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution, they are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedoms are at risk (UNHCR). As of 2017 there are nearly 20 million refugees worldwide (UNHCR). It is important to have effective intercultural communication in refugee situations because, often the agencies and camps that are resources, are staffed by outsiders. This difference of culture, between refugees and staff, can cause unforeseen obstacles.
An example would be if an agency, trying to provide food for refugees, offered pork to a Muslim community. On one hand, these people need help, but religiously it would be a “haram”. If the refugees do not or cannot explain why they do not want to eat pork, the staffers may feel resentment or think they do not need food.
Food is not the only difference that can be a problem for global nomads. Living or sleeping arrangements may also be different and may depend on gender, age, and family structure. Cultural identity, as seen above, is complex and ingrained in individuals, so it is very difficult for people to adapt their identity and practices.
Language Shapes Cultural Perception
Saying that language plays a vital role in intercultural communication and relationships probably seems obvious to you at this point. But do you know how and why? Let us now turn to a more detailed explanation of the power of language. Specifically, we will discuss ascription and avowal, the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, labels and stereotypes, and reclaiming.
As you have been reflecting on your own identity, do you think it matches up with how others see you? The way people present themselves is referred to as the avowal process. The opposite of that is ascription, how others see us, or the qualities or attributes that are ascribed to us. Part of your avowed identity is probably that of a college student and you hope that others see you this way too. Perhaps one of your hobbies is fashion and you enjoy paying attention to your clothes. You may then see yourself as fashionable and stylish. But do others? Might some of your classmates think you trendy, superficial, or fiscally irresponsible? The qualities that others may ascribe to you based on your fashion sense may in turn affect how you see yourself. This is yet another way that identity is shaped through communication in a social context.
In Part I of this book, you were introduced to the idea that language shapes reality; the vocabulary we use to discuss an idea or person influences how we think about our subject. Likewise, if we have no words for a phenomenon then we are discouraged from talking about it or bringing it into our reality. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf believed that the structure of language was a necessary component for producing thought. You have probably heard that Eskimos have numerous words for snow. How many do you have? Snow. Ice. If you ski or snowboard then you probably have a few more. Powder. Moguls. Depending on the extent of your snow vocabulary you can look at the frozen water and perceive it in numerous ways. But if your vocabulary is limited then so is the way you can think and talk about snow. If you have studied languages such as Spanish or French then you are familiar with the concepts of a formal and informal “you.” Depending on the relationship between you and your audience you will use a different word for “you” and consequently conjugate your verbs accordingly. If you are talking with a child, for example, you would use the informal version, but if you were speaking with someone of higher social status such as your Professor you would use the formal “you.” As you speak and write, this language structure demands that you be consciously aware of social relations. This awareness then becomes part of your social reality.
If you have ever been on the receiving end of a stereotype or derogatory label in reference to your culture, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other aspect of your identity, then you are acutely aware of the power of language. You know that such language is not a neutral conveyor of ideas, but is designed to alter and shape the way the audience thinks about a particular person or group. Think about the list of terms that historically have been used to refer to persons of African descent—African, Colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American, African American, and the harshest, the N-word. When you read each term, what are the different images or connotations connected with them? Do they bring up different historical periods, varying degrees of sociopolitical power, a variety of relationships to the dominant group? The range of emotions and images that each of these terms produces is further testament to the subjectivity of language as well as its temporal nature.
A more recent linguistic strategy among historically oppressed groups is called reclaiming
. When a group reclaims a word they are attempting to take back the negative connotation from the dominant group
. If the dominant group has used a word or phrase as an insult then the oppressed group reclaims it for their own, positive meaning. Can you think of some examples? How about “bitch,” “queer,” “nigga,” or “cunt”? Hopefully, you are thinking, “hey, those words may still be insulting to some people; they’re not necessarily positive.” True. Part of the process of reclaiming is that only certain people can use them in a reclaimed fashion, most simply, the members of the oppressed groups at which the term was designed to hurt. If a woman is walking down the street and a man yells out, “Hey Bitch, watch where you’re going!” that is not reclaiming, as the term is used as an insult. However, the magazine, BITCH: A Feminist Response to Popular Culture, is reclaiming this term. Here is a YouTube Video where the Bitch Media’s co-founder Andi Zeisler talk about the word. Also, visit the website www.bitchmedia.org to learn more. Can all words be reclaimed? Here is one perspective about the word “slut” from Feministing, “an online community run by and for young feminists” (www.feministing.com). A Few Words About Reclaiming ‘Slut’
In the International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication (June 27th 2017), Benjamin Broom states that, “In intercultural situations, empathy is more complex and more difficult, but it is a key competency for effective intercultural communication.” The author goes on to describe how empathy is an opportunity to try to imagine the life of another person. That being said, trying to understand the struggles of another is a first step to positive intercultural communication. Statement shirts or clothing such as, “I Can’t Breathe” are attempting to convey a sense of empathy with the plight of African-American males in US society. Seeing another person wearing this shirt might be confusing if one does not ask about it in hope of understanding. Being sensitive to the potential underlying meaning of these kinds of cultural reference can lead to empathy.
How Scholars Study Intercultural Communication: Theoretical Approaches and Concepts
By now you should be familiar with the three general research approaches—social science, interpretive, and critical. Thus, this chapter will highlight a few specific approaches within these three general categories that have particular relevance to the study of intercultural communication.
Describe and predict behavior. These are the goals of the social scientist. One particular theory useful for this kind of research is Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) that was developed by colleagues of Giles. This model focuses on the ways in which individuals adjust their communication with others. When you tell the story of a college party to a friend or to a parent do you tell it the same way? Do you leave out or highlight certain details? The kinds of decisions you make when telling a story reflect the ways in which you accommodate your communication to your specific audience. In general, there are two types of accommodation: convergence and divergence. When we converge our communication we make it more like the person or persons with whom we are speaking. We attempt to show our similarity with them through our speech patterns. When we diverge, we attempt to create distance between our audience and ourselves. Here, we want to stress our difference from others or our uniqueness. Using social scientific approaches as applied to communication accommodation theory, researchers may attempt to define, describe and predict what sorts of verbal and nonverbal acts can produce the desired convergent or divergent effects.
Like the social scientists, interpretive scholars want to describe behavior, but because of the importance of the individual context, they do not assume accurate and generalizable predictions can be made. As they are particularly relevant to intercultural communication research, we will discuss the following two methodologies in this section—ethnography and co-cultural research.
Since interpretivists believe in the subjective experience of each cultural group, they study intercultural communication as used in particular speech communities. A speech community, according to Hymes is a “community sharing rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech, and rules for the interpretation of at least one linguistic variety” (54). This method is also referred to ethnography. A prolific ethnographer, Gerry Philipsen has identified four assumptions of this method:
- Members of speech communities create meanings.
- Each distinct culture possesses a unique speech code.
- The rules for interpreting actions and meanings are limited to a given culture and cannot be universally applied.
- Within each speech community there are specific procedures and sources for assigning meaning.
Using ethnography guided by these four assumptions, researchers are able to understand culture, its participants, and its communication on its own terms.
Originating in the legal arena, Critical Race Theory explores the role of race in questions of justice, equal access, and opportunity. Borrowing from the work of Matsuda et.al, Orbe and Harris summarize six key assumptions helpful for understanding critical race theory (125-6).
- Critical race theory recognizes that racism is an integral part of the United States.
- Critical race theory rejects dominant legal and social claims of neutrality, objectivity, and color blindness.
- Critical race theory rejects a purely historical approach for studying race for a contextual/historical one to study interracial communication.
- Critical race theory recognizes the importance of perspectives that arise from co-cultural standpoints.
- Critical race theory is interdisciplinary and borrows from Marxism, feminism, critical/cultural studies, and postmodernism.
- Critical race theory is actively focused on the elimination of the interlocking nature of oppression based on race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.
As this methodology is inherently complex and multifaceted, it lends itself to producing a rich understanding of interracial and intercultural communication.
Intercultural Communication and You
The best way to experience intercultural communication is to immerse yourself into a culture. While you are in college take advantage of the study abroad programs your school has to offer. Here is a list of websites that offer students information on studying abroad.http://www.ciee.org/study-abroad/http://www.studyabroad.com
It may be difficult to adjust to a new culture but here are some tips from the Huffington Post to make your study abroad trip run smoothly: 13 Mistakes Study Abroad Students Make
Afrocentricity is a critical cultural methodology that focuses on the interests of African Americans. The foremost scholar in this field is Molefi Kete Asante who demonstrates that this methodology functions as an interdisciplinary approach to questions of race relations (Asante). Instead of assuming an Eurocentric frame as normative for understanding the world and its people, this perspective embraces “African ways of knowing and interpreting the world” (Orbe and Harris 156). Similarly, there are also Asiacentric frameworks for understanding intercultural communication.
Important Concepts for Understanding Intercultural Communication
If you decide to take a class on intercultural communication you will learn a great deal about the similarities and differences across cultural groups. Since this chapter is meant to give you an overview or taste of this exciting field of study we will discuss four important concepts for understanding communication practices among cultures.
High and Low Context
Think about someone you are very close to—a best friend, romantic partner, or sibling. Have there been times when you began a sentence and the other person knew exactly what you were going to say before you said it? For example, in a situation between two sisters, one sister might exclaim, “Get off!” (which is short for “get off my wavelength”). This phenomenon of being on someone’s wavelength is similar to what Hall describes as high context. In high context communication the meaning is in the people, or more specifically, the relationship between the people as opposed to just the words. Low context communication occurs when we have to rely on the translation of the words to decipher a person’s meaning. The American legal system, for example, relies on low context communication.
While some cultures are low or high context, in general terms, there can also be individual or contextual differences within cultures. In the example above between the two sisters, they are using high context communication, however, America is considered a low context culture. Countries such as Germany and Sweden are also low context while Japan and China are high context.
Other variations in communication can be described using Gudykunst and Ting-Toomey’s four communication styles. Thinking about these descriptors as a continuum rather than polar opposites is helpful because it allows us to imagine more communicative options for speakers. They are not fixed into one style or another but instead, people can make choices about where to be on the continuum according to the context in which they find themselves.
This first continuum has to do with the explicitness of one’s talk, or how much of one's thoughts are communicated directly through words and how much is indirect. Direct speech is very explicit while indirect speech is more obscure. If I say, “Close the window,” my meaning is quite clear. However, if I were to ask, “Is anyone else cold in here?” or, “Geez, this room is cold,” I might be signaling indirectly that I want someone to close the window. As the United States is typically a direct culture, these latter statements might generate comments like, “Why didn’t you just ask someone to shut the window?” or “Shut it yourself.” Why might someone make a choice to use a direct or indirect form of communication? What are some of the advantages or disadvantages of each style? Think about the context for a moment. If you as a student were in a meeting with the President of your university and you were to tell her to “Shut the window,” what do you think would happen? Can you even imagine saying that? An indirect approach in this context may appear more polite, appropriate, and effective.
Remember the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? As Goldilocks tasted the porridge, she exclaimed, “this is too hot, this one is too cold, but this one is just right.” This next continuum of communication styles, succinct/exact vs. elaborate, can be thought of this way as well. The elaborate style uses more words, phrases, or metaphors to express an idea than the other two styles. It may be described as descriptive, poetic or too wordy depending on your view. Commenting on a flower garden an American (Exact/Succinct) speaker may say, “Wow, look at all the color variations. That’s beautiful.” An Egyptian (Elaborate) speaker may go into much more detail about the specific varieties and colors of the blossoms, “This garden invokes so many memories for me. The deep purple irises remind me of my maternal grandmother as those are her favorite flowers. Those pink roses are similar to the ones I sent to my first love.” The succinct style in contrast values simplicity and silence. As many mothers usually tell their children, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Cultures such as Buddhism and the Amish value this form. The exact style is the one for Goldilocks as it falls between the other two and would be in their words, “just right.” It is not overly descriptive or too vague to be of use.
Remember when we were talking about the French and Spanish languages and the fact that they have a formal and informal “you” depending on the relationship between the speaker and the audience? This example also helps explain the third communication style: the personal and contextual. The contextual style is one where there are structural linguistic devices used to mark the relationship between the speaker and the listener. If this sounds a bit unfamiliar, that is because the English language has no such linguistic distinctions; it is an example of the personal style that enhances the sense of “I.” While the English language does allow us to show respect for our audience such as the choice to eliminate slang or the use of titles such as Sir, Madame, President, Congressperson, or Professor, they do not inherently change the structure of the language.
The final continuum, instrumental/affective, refers to who holds the responsibility for effectively conveying a message: the speaker or the audience? The instrumental style is goal- or sender-orientated, meaning it is the burden of the speaker to make themselves understood. The affective style is more receiver-orientated thus, places more responsibility on the listener. Here, the listener should pay attention to verbal, nonverbal, and relationship clues in an attempt to understand the message. Asian cultures such as China and Japan and many Native American tribes are affective cultures. The United States is more instrumental. Think about sitting in your college classroom listening to your professor lecture. If you do not understand the material where does the responsibility reside? Usually it is given to the professor as in statements such as “My Math Professor isn’t very well organized.” Or “By the end of the Econ. lecture all that was on the board were lines, circles, and a bunch of numbers. I didn’t know what was important and what wasn’t.” These statements suggest that it is up to the professor to communicate the material to the students. As the authors were raised in the American educational system they too were used to this perspective and often look at their teaching methods when students fail to understand the material. A professor was teaching in China and when her students encountered particular difficulty with a certain concept she would often ask the students, “What do you need—more examples? Shall we review again? Are the terms confusing?” Her students, raised in a more affective environment responded, “No, it’s not you. It is our job as your students to try harder. We did not study enough and will read the chapter again so we will understand.” The students accepted the responsibility as listeners to work to understand the speaker.
Collectivist versus Individualistic
In addition to the four speaking styles that characterize cultures so do value systems. Of particular importance to intercultural communication is whether the culture has a collectivistic or individualistic orientation. When a person or culture has a collective orientation
they place the needs and interests of the group above individual desires or motivations
. In contrast, the self or one’s own personal goals motivate those cultures
with individualistic orientations
. Thus, each person is viewed as responsible for their own success or failure in life. From years of research, Geert Hofstede organized 52 countries in terms of their orientation to individualism. Look Here
to see the results.
When looking at Hofstede’s research and that of others on individualism and collectivism, important to remember is that no culture is purely one or the other. Think of these qualities as points along a continuum rather than fixed positions. Individuals and co-cultures may exhibit differences in individualism/collectivism from the dominant culture and certain contexts may highlight one or the other. Changing is difficult. In some of your classes, for example, does the Professor require a group project as part of the final grade? How do students respond to such an assignment? In our experience we find that some students enjoy and benefit from the collective and collaborative process and seem to learn better in such an environment. These students have more of a collective orientation. Other students, usually the majority, are resistant to such assignments citing reasons such as “it’s difficult to coordinate schedules with four other people” or “I don’t want my grade resting on someone else’s performance.” These statements reflect an individual orientation.
Would you consider yourself an ally? When it comes to power struggles or lack of communication do you feel the need to speak up for those who have been marginalized? If so, you might say that you stand in solidarity. Communication Scholar Lilie Chouliaraki believes that in this day and age we have produced the “Ironic Spectator,” which is the term for those who sit by and watch others suffer while maybe “Liking” their post on Facebook in an attempt to show their solidarity. Solidarity is identifying and acting on issues you see in your environment that do not directly affect you (Ong 2013). People in positions of power can be an ally for marginalized people as a movement does not move without power. It is important to be a good ally and not seek to resolve the problem by yourself. Instead make sure to support the people being directly affected and amplify their voice instead of raising yours, you may not have the same perspective.
Where Intercultural Communication Occurs
Thus far, we have shared with you a bit about what intercultural communication is, some important concepts, and how scholars study this phenomenon. Now we want to spend the final part of the chapter looking at a major context for intercultural communication—-the media. There are other contexts as well, such as interpersonal relationships and organizations, but we will leave these to your own investigation or in a class devoted to intercultural communication.
Looking at texts or media artifacts (these are specific television shows, films, books, magazines, musical artists, etc.) is both a fun and important area of study for intercultural communication. Since most people spend much of their free time taking in some form of media, such as going to the movies with friends or watching YouTube, media messages have a great deal of influence and impact over its audience. As you also remember, the media is also the location and source for much of the critical cultural research.
Specifically, what critical theorists tend to look at are the artifacts of popular, or pop culture? At the time this book first came out, bands such as Creed and Wilco; the television programs Friends, West Wing, and Sex and the City; and the films Bowling for Columbine and The Two Towers were all pop culture artifacts. Now, popular bands, television shows, and movies are very different. Popular culture is defined as “those systems or artifacts that most people share and that most people know about” (Brummett 21). So, while you may not listen to or watch the examples listed, chances are that you are at least aware of them and have a basic idea of the plot or content. Popular culture is distinct from high culture, which includes events such as the ballet or opera, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the L’ouvre, or listening to classical music at the symphony. These activities, unlike the artifacts mentioned earlier all require something to have access. Namely money. Attending the ballet or opera takes considerably more money than purchasing songs on iTunes.
The fact that most of us participate to some degree in consuming popular culture is one reason to study its messages. Another is that it is an area of struggle for representation—specifically about cultural identity issues. Representation refers to the portrayal, depiction, or characterization of particular cultural groups. A related term is that of symbolic annihilation which refers to the fact that “women and minorities are underrepresented in media content and that when they are represented they are marginalized, trivialized, or victimized” (Valdiva 243). By looking at the numbers and characterizations of ethnic minorities in television and film we can see the dominant culture’s attitudes about them. This is because the dominant culture is the group in control of media outlets and represents groups in particular ways.
Let us walk through an analysis of a scene in the 2001 film, Spiderman
, to illustrate these concepts. The female character, Mary Jane, is walking home from work one dark and rainy night. She is wearing a raincoat which is soon removed, leaving so her pink shirt and clothes to be drenched and cling to her. (Prior to this scene she has been portrayed as the “girl next door” with little or no sexuality.) Her path home takes her through an alleyway where she is quickly surrounded by a group of violent men. One of the men pulls a knife and there is the threat of rape or other violent attack. She fails when she attempts to fight back. But as is the case with superheroes, Spiderman arrives just in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress. After he saves her, she and Spiderman, who is hanging upside down from a building, share their first kiss.
So, what is going on in this scene? Can you identify examples of representation or symbolic annihilation? There are issues concerning both gender and race in this scene. First, she is portrayed as weak, unable to take care of herself, and in need of a man to save her. This is characteristic of images of women in film. Second, in terms of culture, the “good guys” or “innocent victims” are middle class and the potential attackers are portrayed as stereotypical lower class males. This too represents a stereotyped portrayal of young men in the inner city as criminals or gang members. Finally, and perhaps the most dangerous message in this scene, is the equation of female sexuality, violence, and romance. As her pink shirt clings to her, her breasts are revealed in a sexual manner, next she is almost attacked, and then she is sweetly and romantically kissing Spiderman. Thus, this short scene illustrates how images (we did not even discuss the dialogue) work to unfairly and inaccurately portray groups of people.
By looking to the media, scholars can discover what images of various cultural groups are prevalent in a society and the stories that are told about various cultures. As active citizens, we can make choices about what media images we decide to consume, accept, or reject. As knowledgeable communicators we can critique the images we see rather than accept constructed and artificial media images as normative or “just the way things are.” As you learned in the first section of the book, language, symbols, and images are not neutral, but are subjective interpretations of a person’s or group of people’s interpretation of reality.
After reading this chapter, you should have a greater understanding of how culture influences communication. We began with an overview and description of the various aspects of personal identity and how they work together to determine a person’s and co-cultures relative power and privilege. Next, we traced the process of coming to an understanding of one’s individual identity through the use of the identity models for minorities, Bi-racial individuals, Majority members, and those whom identify as global nomads. Turning to specific communication styles we discussed the differences between high and low context cultures and the continuums of direct/indirect, elaborate/exact/succinct, personal/contextual, and instrumental/affective styles. Finally, we examined a particular site for intercultural communication—the media. We hope this chapter has increased your knowledge base as well as your enthusiasm and interest in this exciting area of the Communication discipline. Moreover, we encourage you to think about the importance of culture when studying the other sub-disciplines of communication such as gender, organizational, interpersonal, rhetorical theory, rhetorical criticism, and health communication.
- What are some ways that you see to support Hofstede’s claim that the U.S. is the most individualistic society? Are there ways in which we display attributes of collectivism?
- Describe a situation in which you attempted to diverge or converge you communication with others? What did you do? What were you attempting to accomplish by doing so? What was the result?
- What are some examples of representation and symbolic annihilation can you locate and analyze in contemporary texts of popular culture?
- Why do you think communication scholars are beginning to use the term “co-culture” versus the more traditional term “subculture”?
- How does intersectionality change your view of personal identity?
- When have you become aware of your privilege? Have you seen privilege play a role in any situations in your life? How would your life be different if you did not have this privilege?
- Critical race theory
- Communication Styles
- High and low context
- Popular Culture
- Symbolic Annihilation
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Chapter 13 - Gender Communication
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
• Understand the difference between sex and gender.
• Identify the multiplicity of feminisms.
• Discuss prominent theories used in the study of gender and communication.
• Identify the major theorists in gender and communication research.
• Identify the various methods used to study gender communication.
• Describe masculine and feminine speaking styles.
• Recognize the impact of gender on nonverbal communication.
• Know the problems with and the future directions of this area of communication studies.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “like a girl” with a positive overtone? We have been taught that performing "like a girl" is the equivalent of performing poorly. The company Always decided to examine the phrase "like a girl
" and how children of different ages would respond! The results were not what you would expect! The phrase “Like a Girl” might have originally held a negative connotation but this idiom is due for a revolution! The way we refer to “girls” communicates gender expectations.
We use a variety of channels of communication (language, books, tv, clothing, etc.) to teach children what it means to be a “girl” and a “boy." We often limit these identities to separate categories that we are not supposed to mix. We are taught that men are supposed to be more athletic than women and play in different leagues. In almost every professional sport, such as football, baseball, and basketball the men’s league is seen as more competitive and more popular.
So what happens when a girl is able to throw a 70 mile per hour fastball and win The World Series for her team? Mo’ne Davis was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series in August 2014, showing everyone what it means to throw like a girl. Davis is being recognized because of her rare talent, but also because of her gender (Wallace). With Davis as a role model, we may see many more examples of transformations of traditional gender roles. For more information on Mo’ne, check out this link
This example highlights one of the key characteristics of gender—-that it is fluid. Gender roles of a given culture are always changing.
Like in sports, people of all genders are taking on new roles in all different ways. This picture depicts females on the field during a competitive game of lacrosse at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, a sport traditionally played by men.
In this chapter, we will look at the ways in which gender has been constructed in American life, and ways in which we communicate about the ideas of gender.
The Study of Gender Communication
Gender communication is a specialization of the Communication field that focuses on the ways we, as gendered beings, communicate. Gender research might look at roles for people of different genders in academia, sports, media, or politics. Research in this area, for example, could examine the similarities and differences in the conversations that take place in the comment section of a Youtube video created by Bethany Mota verses one created by Philip DeFranco. Researchers could also look at how people of different genders have been represented throughout history. Gender communication is also a field that strives to change the way we talk about people, in order to make a more empathetic and safe space for our entire community. The word “queer,” for example, used to be a slur for people who were homosexual. Now we see the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual) community has reclaimed the word queer to mean any person who is not straight. It is now a self-proclamation and one that can be empowering for many people.
In this chapter, we want to make a distinction between sex and gender before providing an overview of this specialization’s areas of research, main theories and theorists, and highlights from research findings about feminine and masculine communication styles. While we are taking a communication lens to the study of gender, we need to acknowledge the contributions made by other academic disciplines such as women’s studies, linguistics, and psychology (Stephen, 2000).
As with other specializations in communication, definitions of gender abound (Gilbert; Howard & Hollander; Lorber; Vannoy). Ivy and Backlund define gender communication
as, “communication about and between men and women”
(4). Central to this definition are the terms about and between, and men and women. About
addresses the attention this specialization pays to how the sexes are “discussed, referred to, or depicted, both verbally and nonverbally.” Between
addresses how members of each sex communicate interpersonally with others of the same, as well as the opposite, sex (Ivy & Backlund 4). We find this problematic because it limits the discussion about gender to only men and women. For our purposes, we will be adapting the Ivy and Backlund definition and instead using the definition of gender communication
: communication about and between people of all genders
. This new definition is more inclusive of the large number of gender identities that are present in our communities, such as gender queer, transgender, and a-gender. We will discuss and define some of these identities later in the chapter. For a more in-depth exploration of these identities, check out this article
from the Huffington Post
Wendy Martyna the author of “What Does “He” Mean?” discusses how the pronoun “He” has been used to reference men, as well as people in general. Although men are not the only people on Earth, the generic terms widely used to describe people are often, “Men” or “He.” Such as, “All 'men' are created equal.” Martyna explains that the original argument for this usage was clarity. She set out to prove this argument as false by asking college students to fill in blanks with proper pronouns like, “When an engineer makes an error in calculation ____” or, “When a babysitter accepts an assignment ___.” Her thinking was that if “He” is truly generic than it would make sense that those surveyed would use, “he” in every blank. What followed was as expected, “While a hypothetical police officer was ‘he,’ a hypothetical babysitter was ‘she.’"
In American society, we often use the gendered terms "women" and "men" instead of "male" and "female." What’s the difference between these two sets of terms? One pair refers to the biological categories of male and female. The other pair, "men" and "women," refers to what are now generally regarded as socially constructed concepts that convey the cultural ideals or values of masculinity and femininity. For our purposes, gender is, “the social construction of masculinity or femininity as it aligns with designated sex at birth in a specific culture and time period. Gender identity claims individuality that may or may not be expressed outwardly, and may or may not correspond to one’s sexual anatomy” (Pettitt). This definition is important because it discusses the separation between sex and gender as well as the idea that gender is socially constructed.
This basic difference is important, but most important is that you know that one of these two sets of terms has a fixed meaning and the other set maintains a fluid or dynamic meaning. Because they refer to biological distinctions, the terms male and female are essentially fixed. That is, their meanings are generally unchanging (as concepts if not in reality, since we do live in an age when it’s medically possible to change sexes). Conversely, because they are social constructions, the meanings of the gendered terms masculine and feminine are dynamic or fluid. Why? Because their meanings are open to interpretation: Different people give them different meanings. Sometimes, even the same person might interpret these terms differently over time. A teenage girl, for example, may portray her femininity by wearing make-up. Eventually, she may decide to forego this traditional display of femininity because her sense of herself as a woman may no longer need the validation that a socially prescribed behavior, such as wearing make-up, provides. We use the terms "fluid" and "dynamic" to describe the social construction of gender because they will change based on the time, place, and culture in which a person lives. Did you know that high heels were first invented for men to make them look taller? These days, if a man wears high heels, he would be described as “feminine.” This is an example of how our ideas of gender can change over time.
The Interplay of Sex and Gender
A quick review of some biological basics will lay a good foundation for a more detailed discussion of the interplay between sex and gender in communication studies.
As you may recall from a biology or health class, a fetus’s sex is determined at conception by the chromosomal composition of the fertilized egg. The most common chromosome patterns are XX (female) and XY (male). After about seven weeks of gestation, a fetus begins to receive the hormones that cause sex organs to develop. Fetuses with a Y chromosome receive androgens that produce male sex organs (prostate) and external genitalia (penis and testes). Fetuses without androgens develop female sex organs (ovaries and uterus) and external genitalia (clitoris and vagina). In cases where hormones are not produced along the two most common patterns, a fetus may develop biological characteristics of each sex. These people are considered intersexuals.
Case In Point
According to the Intersex Society of North America
“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.
Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.
Which variations of sexual anatomy count as intersex? In practice, different people have different answers to that question. That’s not surprising, because intersex isn’t a discreet or natural category.
What does this mean? Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation. To better explain this, we can liken the sex spectrum to the color spectrum. There’s no question that in nature there are different wavelengths that translate into colors most of us see as red, blue, orange, yellow. But the decision to distinguish, say, between orange and red-orange is made only when we need it—like when we’re asking for a particular paint color. Sometimes social necessity leads us to make color distinctions that otherwise would seem incorrect or irrational, as, for instance, when we call certain people “black” or “white” when they’re not especially black or white as we would otherwise use the terms.
In the same way, nature presents us with sex anatomy spectrums. Breasts, penises, clitorises, scrotums, labia, gonads—all of these vary in size and shape and morphology. So-called “sex” chromosomes can vary quite a bit, too. But in human cultures, sex categories get simplified into male, female, and sometimes intersex, in order to simplify social interactions, express what we know and feel, and maintain order.
So nature doesn’t decide where the category of “male” ends and the category of “intersex” begins, or where the category of “intersex” ends and the category of “female” begins. Humans decide. Humans (today, typically doctors) decide how small a penis has to be, or how unusual a combination of parts has to be, before it counts as intersex. Humans decide whether a person with XXY chromosomes or XY chromosomes and androgen insensitivity will count as intersex.
In our work, we find that doctors’ opinions about what should count as “intersex” vary substantially. Some think you have to have “ambiguous genitalia” to count as intersex, even if your inside is mostly of one sex and your outside is mostly of another. Some think your brain has to be exposed to an unusual mix of hormones prenatally to count as intersex—so that even if you’re born with atypical genitalia, you’re not intersex unless your brain experienced atypical development. And some think you have to have both ovarian and testicular tissue to count as intersex.
Rather than trying to play a semantic game that never ends, we at ISNA take a pragmatic approach to the question of who counts as intersex. We work to build a world free of shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for anyone born with what someone believes to be non-standard sexual anatomy. By the way, because some forms of intersex signal underlying metabolic concerns, a person who thinks she or he might be intersex should seek a diagnosis and find out if she or he needs professional healthcare.
As you know, hormones continue to affect us after birth—throughout our entire lives, in fact. Hormones control when and how much women menstruate, how much body and facial hair we grow, and the amount of muscle mass we are capable of developing. Although the influence of hormones on our development and existence is very real, there is no strong, conclusive evidence that they alone determine gender behavior. The degree to which personality is influenced by the interplay of biological, cultural, and social factors is one of the primary focal points of gender studies.
Compared with sex, which biology establishes, gender doesn’t have such a clear source of influence. Gender is socially constructed because it refers to what it means to be a woman (feminine) or a man (masculine). The fact that females can be masculine or perform masculinity, and males can perform femininity proves that gender is not tied to sex. Traditionally, masculine and feminine characteristics have been taught as complete opposites when in reality there are many similarities. Gender has previously been thought of as a spectrum, as a line; this implies the drastic separation of genders. A better way to think about gender is a circle, where all genders can exist in relation to each other.
The more archaic term for this expression of gender is known as androgyny, the term we use to identify gendered behavior that lies between feminine and masculine—-the look of indeterminate gender. Gender can be seen as existing in a fluid circle because feminine males and masculine females are not only possible, but common, and the varying degrees of masculinity and femininity we see (and embody ourselves) are often separate from sexual orientation or preference. The circle chart illustrates how all genders exist on a sort of plane. They are not arranged in a straight line, with female on one end, and male on the other. There are no set borders to any one gender, and there is open space for people to define themselves however they decide.
The Social Construction of Gender
In this section, we discuss how gender is dynamic, social, symbolic, and cultural. Gender is dynamic, not just because it exists on a plane, but because its meanings change over time within different cultural contexts. In 1907, for example, women in the United States did not have the legal right to vote, let alone the option of holding public office. Although a few worked outside the home, middle class white women were expected to marry and raise children. A woman who worked, did not marry, and had no children was considered unusual, if not an outright failure. Now, of course, women have the right to vote and are considered an important voting block. There are many women who are members of local and state governing bodies as well as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, even though they aren’t representative in government of their 51 percent of the population. Similarly, men were also prescribed to fill a role by society one hundred years ago: wage earner. Men were discouraged from being too involved in the raising of children, let alone being stay-at-home dads. Increasingly, men are accepted as suitable child-care providers and have the option to stay home and raise children.
As a social construct, gender is learned, symbolic, and dynamic. We say that gender is learned because we are not born knowing how to act masculine or feminine, as a man or a woman, or even as a boy or a girl. Just as we rely on others to teach us basic social conventions, we also rely on others to teach us how to look and act like our gender. Whether that process of learning begins with our being dressed in clothes traditionally associated with our sex (blue for males and pink for females), or being discouraged from playing with a toy not associated with our sex (dolls for boys, guns for girls), the learning of our genders begins at some point. Once it’s begun (usually within our families), society reinforces the gender behaviors we learn. Despite some parents’ best efforts to not impose gender expectations on their children, we all know what is expected of our individual gender.
Although there is an endless supply of forces imposing influence on our gender development, our parents are generally believed to be the strongest. They provide the earliest foundation upon which gender socialization is created. A child's gender development is thought to be affected by their parents in four ways. First, parents provide their children with gender-stereotyped day to day activities, toys, or chores, all of which shape the gendered attributes of the child. Second, interactions between parents and children tend to differ between daughters and sons. Generally, a boy will receive more engaging, hands-on styles of play while a girl will be approached in a more conversational manner. Third, parents provide the first impression of what gender roles are for their child. For example, if a child grows up in a setting where their father is always doing yard work and playing sports while their mother is always cooking and cleaning, they will think these are the standard gender roles of men and women. Finally, verbal messages conveyed directly to the child support or discourage certain gender ideals. When parents say things like “boys don’t cry,” or “girls don’t hit,” they are reaffirming stereotypical gendered roles within our society. Furthermore, parents can verbally influence their child's gender socialization without speaking to them directly, in instances such as criticizing the behavior of another person.
Gender is symbolic because it is learned and expressed through language and behavior. Language is central to the way we learn and performe gender through communicative acts because language is social and symbolic. Remember what we learned in chapter two, that language is symbolic because the word “man” isn’t a real man. It is a symbol that identifies the physical entity that is a human male. So, when a mother says to her children, “Be a good girl and help me bake cookies,” or “Boys don’t cry” children are learning through symbols (language) how to “be” their gender. The toys we are given, the colors our rooms are painted, and the after-school activities in which we are encouraged to participate are all symbolic ways we internalize, and ultimately act out, our gender identity.
Case In PointGillette Advertisement - Toxic Masculinity
For the 2019 Superbowl, Gillette released an ad challenging toxic masculinity in the #metoo era. The ad challenged men to do better than traditional stereotypes and to rethink the performance of masculinity that harms others. Interestingly, rather than overwhelming support, Gillette received considerable backlash to this ad. On YouTube, for instance, the ad received (at the date of this writing) 145k Upvotes, and 454k Downvotes. Obviously, there is a still a long way to go in challenging socially constructed gender norms in our culture.
To learn more, CLICK HERE
Finally, gender communication is cultural. Meanings for masculinity and femininity, and ways of communicating those identities, are largely determined by culture. A culture is made up of belief systems, values, and behaviors that support a particular ideology or social system. How we communicate our gender is influenced by the values and beliefs of our particular culture. What is considered appropriate gender behavior in one culture may be looked down upon in another. In America, women often wear shorts and tank tops to keep cool in the summer. Think back to summer vacations to popular American tourist destinations where casual dress is the norm. If you were to travel to Rome, Italy to visit the Vatican, this style of dress is not allowed. There, women are expected to dress in more formal attire, to reveal less skin, and to cover their hair as a display of respect. Not only does culture influence how we communicate gender identities, it also influences the interpretation, understanding, or judgment of the gender displays of others (Kyratzis & Guo; Ramsey). Additionally, popular media, such as commercials and catalogs can dictate how culture communicates gender roles.
Feminism versus Feminisms