Applying communication theory for professional life
Elain D. Zelley
Chapter 1 Introduction to communication theory
Communication = the process by which people interactively create, sustain and manage meaning.
There are 3 types of theories:
- Commonsense theory
o Created by an individual‟s own personal experience.
o Useful to us and are often a basis for our decisions about how to communicate.
- Working theory
o Generalizations made in particular professions about the best techniques for doing
- Scholarly theory
o The theory has undergone systematic research
o Provides more thorough accurate and abstract explanations for communication.
o They are often more complex and difficult to understand
Inductive theory development ( grounded theory) – research comes before theory. Study on a
particular topic and based on the results of the research, develop a theory.
Deductive theory development – a hypothesis, or a working theory must be developed before any research is conducted.
Research – the methodical gathering of data as well as the careful reporting of the results of the data analysis.
Primary research – research reported by the person who conducted it. Often published in academic journals.
Secondary research – research reported by someone other than the person who conducted it. This is published in newspapers or textbooks.
There are different research methods in communication. Below you can see the different ones.
Experimentation is ultimately concerned with causation and control. An experiment is the only research method that allows researches to conclude that one thing causes another. There are 2 possible settings for an experiment, a laboratory experiment or a field experiment.
Laboratory experiment – takes place in a controlled setting, so that the researcher might better control his or her efforts at manipulations.
Field experiments – take place in participants‟ natural surroundings.
There are always 2 variables within a research.
Variable ; any concepts that has 2 or more values, such as gender.
Independent variable ; presumed cause
Dependent variable ; presumed effect
If you are interested in knowing whether bright colors in advertisements cause increased sales, your independent variable is the color and the dependent variable is the amount of sales dollars.
The most common means of studying communication is through the use of surveys. Market research and other surveys are an example of this. In general, there are 2 types of surveys.
Interviews – participants respond orally.
Questionnaires – respond in writing.
- Open ended questions ; answer in their own words
- Closed ended questions
Sampling – small number of people in the population of interest. If the sample is well selected, the results of the survey are likely also to hold true for the entire group. Random samples ; every member of the target group has an equal chance of being selected. Non random samples ; volunteers.
Random samples are more likely to use, because they give a more representative view of the situation.
Is used to uncover the content, nature or structure of messages.
There are 3 distinct forms that textual analyses take in the communication discipline:
- Rhetorical criticism ; a systematic method for describing, analyzing, interpreting and
evaluating the persuasive force of messages.
- Content analysis ; indentify, classify and analyze the occurrence of particular types of
messages. Developed to study mass mediated messages.
- Interaction analysis ( conversation analysis) ; focus on interpersonal or group communication
interactions that have been recorded, with a specific emphasis on the nature or structure of
Used by scholars of communication. The researcher must place him or herself into a particular culture or context to understand the communication rules and meanings for that culture or context.
Complete participants ; researcher is fully involved in the social setting and the participants do not know that someone is studying them.
Participant – observer ; researcher becomes fully involved with the culture or contexts, but she or he has admitted his or her research agenda before entering the environment. Are more frequently chosen.
Complete observers ; do not interact with the members of the culture or context.
Research method What it reveals What it conceals
Experiment Cause and effect Whether the cause-effect
relationship holds true in less
Survey Respondents‟ thoughts, feelings Cannot establish causality,
and intentions cannot determine what people
Textual analysis The content, nature and The effect of the message on
structure of messages the receiver
Ethnography Rules and meanings of May provide a highly subjective
communication in a culture or ( and therefore biased) view of
context the culture and context
Subjectivity ; one‟s own interpretation ois of interest.
Objectivity ; a central feature of social science.
Quantitative methods ; rely on numbers of statistics as the source of data
Qualitative methods ; reject the limitations on individual interpretation that control requires.
Evaluating the usefulness of the theory.
There are some criteria for evaluating theory, which are shown below.
Area of evaluation What to look for
Accuracy Has the research supported that the theory
works the way it says it does. Look at the
research studies that have sued the theory.
Practicality Have real-world applications been found for the
Simplicity Is the theory formulated as simply as possible.
Consistency Internal ; ideas of the theory are logically built
on one another
External ; refers to the theory‟s consistency
with other widely held theories.
Acuity To what extent does the theory make clear an
otherwise complex experience?
Chapter 2 Explaining theories of intrapersonal communication
Intrapersonal communication = communication with oneself. Individuals analyze others‟ behavior, attitudes and messages to assign meaning to a given event. There are 4 theories that examine the intrapersonal aspects of communication.
1. Message design logics
Your belief about communication that, in turn, links thoughts to the construction of messages. People who have different views about the nature and function of communication will have different views about the nature and function of communication that will construct different types of messages.
There are 3 message design logics:
- Expressive message design logic ; a sender-focused pattern. A person using this pattern is
concerned primarily with self-expression. If it is in their head, it‟s out their mouth.
- Conventional message design logic ; communication as a game that is played cooperatively
these individuals view communication contexts, roles and relationships as having particular
guidelines for behavior. They are concerned about saying and doing the right thing in any
- Rhetorical message design logic ;as the means to create situations and negotiate multiple
goals. This theory is noted for flexibility as well as for in depth of communications skills. Pay
close attention to other peoples‟ communication in an effort to figure out others‟ points of
When 2 parties use the same MDL, these individuals recognize that the problems are communication problems. When 2 parties use different MLDL, they often do not realize they have communication problems, they blame it on mistaken beliefs or undesirable personality characteristics.
2. Attribution theory
Explains the cognitive process one uses when trying to make causal explanations for behavior.
1. Attribution as naïve psychology
The assumptions individuals make regarding the causes of behavior as well as the judgments made about who is responsible for that behavior. When you see a person act, you immediately make judgments about the causal nature of the conduct.
Dispositional factors ; refer to internal or personal features, such as one‟s personality, character or biological traits. These factors are relatively stable and unique to each individual.
Situational factors ; external dynamics that are relatively uncontrollable and determined by the environment or circumstance at hand. These factors vary to much a greater extent than do internal factors.
2. Correspondent inference theory
Correspondent inferences ; judgments of intention. Did the person intentionally act in a certain way, knowing the effects the behavior would have?
There are several factors that one can consider when determining the purpose of another‟s behavior:
- Choice ; whether the actor had any alternatives
- Assumed social desirability ; behaves in a manner contrary to social conventions, you are
more likely to infer that the behavior reflects the person‟s true character.
- Social role ; public position.
- Prior expectations ; previous encounters with an actor or the knowledge about the person‟s
- Hedonic relevance ; the degree to which you believe an actor‟s behavior directly affects you,
also shapes your assessment of the actor‟s intentions.
- Personalism ; the belief that an actor specifically and intentionally behaves in ways to hurt or
3. Covariation model
Explains the causal nature of the complete attribution process. Individuals judge the causality of another‟s behavior by examining 4 factors: consensus, consistency, distinctiveness and controllability.
When the first three are combined, a perceiver can judge whether the actions were internally controlled ( disposition) or externally controlled ( situational)
Consensus ; would other people react similarly if placed in the same situation. Example ; one
person out of a whole meeting is angry about something, while others are quite satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. That means a low consensus. But when all members of the meeting are smiling and satisfied, that means a high consensus.
Consistency ; whether the person in questions engages in similar behaviors over time. If a person always seems to be angry and rude to colleagues, then you would say that her ill-tempered behavior after the sales meeting is highly consistent with her previous behavior.
Distinctiveness ; whether the person acts differently in one situation than in others. This increase with other‟s conformity and number of observances over the time.
Interior locus of control ; the actor could have controlled the behavior.
Exterior locus of control ; the behavior appears to have been unavoidable.
3. Uncertainty reduction theory
Social life is filled with ambiguities. This theory seeks to explain and predict when, why and how individuals use communication to minimize their doubts when interacting with others. There are several ways to guide the uncertainty reduction framework.
1. Reducing uncertainty
- Anticipation of future interaction ; you are more motivated to reduce uncertainty about
someone who you are likely to see again.
- Incentive value ; you are prompted to learn more about someone when the individual in
question has the potential to provide you with rewards. What can this person do for you or to
- Deviance ; if a person is odd, bizarre or unusual in some way that counters your
expectations, this theory suggests that individuals will be more likely to reduce their
uncertainty about this person.
Types of uncertainty
- Behavioral uncertainty ; your insecurity about which actions are appropriate in given
- Cognitive uncertainty ; when individuals question how they should act in a given situation,
what to think and so on.
Uncertainty reduction strategies:
- Passive strategy ; individuals observe their surroundings an gather clues about which
behaviors are appropriate as well as which attitudes and beliefs others hold.
- Active strategy ; seeking information from the third party. You go to someone else who may
know more about the person or situation in question.
- Interactive strategy ; when you go straight to the source in question and ask for as much
information as possible.
Example ; December holiday season approaches, you begin to wonder whether you should give a gift to your boss. You could wait and see if others give gifts (passive) or you could ask several peers what they do for their supervisors (active) or you could directly ask you r boss what the company culture is and what he or she expects (interactive).
4. Expectancy violation theory
Explains the various meanings that people attribute to the violation, of their personal space.
Humans have competing needs for personal space and for affiliation.
Reciprocate ; moving closer or turning toward the individual when he or she is violating your personal space.
Compensate ; doing the opposite of your partner‟s behavior.
Core concepts of expectancy violations theory
Expectancy ; what individual anticipates will happen in a given situation. Context, relationship and communicator‟s characteristics are important in this expectancy.
Violation valence ; positive or negative evaluation you make about a behavior that you did not anticipate.
Communicator reward valence = an evaluation you make about the person who committed the violation. Does this person have the ability to reward ( or punish) you in the future.
Look at figure 2.1 on page 43 for the picture.
Chapter 3 Explaining theories of interpersonal communication
Interpersonal communication knows different interpretations about what the exact meaning of the word combination is:
- According to Miller (1978), IPC occurs between 2 individuals when they are close in proximity,
able to provide immediate feedback an utilize multiple senses.
- According to Peters (1974), IPC includes communication that is personal and occurring
between people who are more than acquaintances.
The main explanation in the book is: PC includes those messages that occur between 2, interdependent persons. IPC messages are offered to initiate, define, maintain or further a relationship. IPC is more than just saying a polite hello to the salesclerk in our favorite department store and then scurrying away never to be seen again. There are 4 theories that are critical to current understandings of interpersonal communication and the relationships that develop from these communications.
1. Systems perspective
System theories are used to explain nearly all communication contexts. A focus on the interdependence that develops whenever people interact with each other.
Assumptions of the systems perspective
Communication is the means by which systems are created and sustained. Provide moth macro and micro approaches to studying the communication that takes place in relationships.
Micro approach ; how individuals and interpersonal relationships between individuals may influence the group as a whole
Macro approach ; a recognition of how a larger social institution (company) might influence smaller groups of people such a s work groups or families.
System = a group of individuals who interrelate to form a whole. Examples are a family, work group or sports team.
Subsystem = a smaller part of the group as a whole, such as partners in a family.
Supra system = the larger system within which the system operates, such as the national football league for an individual football team.
Nonsummativity = the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Some sports teams have a few superstars, but when they work together, they win a lot of games. The point of nonsummativity is that the whole is qualitatively and quantatively different from the individual components.
Positive synergy = the system as a whole might work together to create more than what might be accomplished by those individuals alone.
Negative synergy = the group achieves less than the individual parts would suggest.
Interdependence = all system members are dependent on all other system members. This is the major reason of nonsummativity.
Homeostatis = the natural balance or equilibrium within a group. It is the tendency for a given system to maintain stability in the face of change. Stability can be either functional or dysfunctional for the system.
The system theory recognizes that when a system experiences a novel situation, whether positive or negative, its members will somehow adjust to maintain stability, whether that stability is positive or negative.
Equifinality = there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal.
System approaches focus on the communication that takes place among groups of interacting individuals. It focuses on patterns of communication that exist to sustain homeostatis and achieve systemic goals. The approach also recognizes the influences of larger suprasystems as well as subsystems. As a theoretical approach, it is typically perceived as a description of interpersonal communication, rather than as providing specific testable principles.
There are 5 axioms of communicating:
- The impossibility of not communicating ; it will affect your relationship
- Content and relationship levels ; how you say what you say
- The problem of punctuation ; forget about assigning blame
- Digital and analogical communication ; analogy comm. Can express powerful feelings directly
- Complementary and symmetrical communication ; power in the relationship.
2. Politeness theory
The politeness theory explains how and why individuals try to promote, protect or save face, especially when embarrassing or shameful situations arise unexpectedly. This theory clarifies how we manage our own and others‟ identities through interaction, in particular, through the use of politeness
Assumptions of the politeness theory
- Face ; refers to the desired self-image that you wish to present to others.
o Positive face ; a person‟s need to be liked, appreciated and admired by select
o Negative face ; a person‟s desire to act rely, within constraints from others.
o It is difficult to achieve positive and negative face simultaneously.
- Human beings are rational and goal oriented, at least with respect to achieving face needs.
o Face management works the best when everyone involved helps to maintain the face
- Maintains that some behaviors are fundamentally face threatening.
o Face threatening acts (FTA‟s) include common behaviors such as apologies,
compliments, criticisms, requests and threats.
There are several strategies:
1. Preserving face
Preventive facework ; communications that a person can use to help oneself or another avert face threatening acts.
Corrective facework ; consist of messages that an individual can use to restore one‟s own face or to
help another restore face after an FTA has occurred. Use of strategies such as avoidance, humor.
Individuals can choose one of 5 suprastrategies when communication in a manner that could potentially threaten the face of another.
- Avoidance ; chooses not to communicate in a way that would create embarrassment or a
loss of face for another.
- Goes off record ; subtly hints or indirectly mentions the face-threatening topic.
- Negative politeness ; when a speaker makes an effort to recognize the other‟s negative face
need, you appeal to the receiver‟s negative face needs through apologies and self-effacement
to make yourself appear vulnerable to the other.
- Positive politeness ; the speaker emphasizes the receiver‟s need fo positive face, the need to
- Bald on record ; the communicator makes no attempt to protect the other‟s face and simply
commits the face threatening act.
There are several factors which influence the politeness theory, such as prestige, power and risk.
3. Social exchange theory
A broad approach used to explain and predict relationship maintenance. SET clarifies when and why individuals continue and develop some personal relationships while ending others. The theory takes into account how satisfied you will be with the relationship that you choose to maintain.
Assumptions of the social exchange theory
- Personal relationships are a function of comparing benefitgs gained vs. costs to attain those
- Minimax principle ; people want to make the most of benefits while lessening the costs.
- Humans are selfish.
Core components of the socials exchange theory
1. Social relationships bring both rewards and costs.
The outcome of a relationship = rewards – costs
2. Comparison level ; represents what rewards a person expects to receive in a particular
relationship. Predicting one‟s satisfaction with a relationship is based on a positive outcome
value that also meets or exceeds one‟s expectations.
3. Comparison level of alternatives -> determining one‟s satisfaction with a relationship is still
not enough to predict whether the relationship will continue or end. Only when you perceive
that the alternatives are greater than our outcome and greater than our comparison level will
you end a relationship.
4. Dialectical perspective
Relationships are dynamic, it is impossible for a relationship to maintain a certain level of satisfaction or reach a constant statis quo.
There are 4 primary assumptions which guide to a dialectical approach:
- Praxis ; relationship trajectories are neither linear, nor repetitive. A dialectical perspective
assumes that relationships can become more intimate or less intimate over time.
- Change ; the only guarantee in a relationship is that it will change
- Contradictions ; within every relationship, both partners have essential, yet opposing needs.
- Totality ; interdependence between relationship partners. Without interdependence, a
relationship cannot exist.
There are 3 tensions thought to exists between relationship partners:
- Autonomy – connections ; the tension between the desire to feel connected to one‟s partner
vs. the desire to maintain a sense of independence.
- Openness – closedness ; the pull between wanting to open up and self-disclose while also
wanting to maintain one‟s privacy.
- Predictability – novelty ; the tension between wanting stability or steadiness while also
wanting opportunities for spontaneity.
There are 3 central tensions to exist between the relational partners as a unit and their social world:
- Inclusion – seclusion ; the tension partners experience when they want to spend time with
friends family vs. wanting time to spend alone together as a couple.
- Revelation – concealment ; the tension between relationship partners who want to reveal
aspects of their relationship to the outside world while also wanting to keep some aspects of
their relationship private.
- Conventionality – uniqueness ; the tension partners feel between wanting to behave in ways
that are considered normative or traditional vs. wanting to emphasize their relationship‟s
uniqueness by doing something differently.
Internal dialectics Corresponding external dialectics
Autonomy – connection Inclusion – seclusion
Openness – closedness Revelation – concealment
Predictability – novelty Conventionality – uniqueness
To manage or sustain a relationship, these tensions must be managed. There are 4 primary strategies used to handle the internal and external tensions:
1. Selection ; involves choosing for favor one pole or need at the expense of the other.
2. Cyclic alternation ; fulfill one pole or need now and will shift to fulfill the other pole at a later
time, creating back-and-forth.
3. Segmentation ; certain issues coincide with one pole or need, and other issues are
appropriate for the opposite pole.
4. Integration ; incorporating aspects of both poles so as to create a more fulfilling experience.
Chapter 4 Explaining theories of culture
Culture = one‟s identification with and acceptance into a group that shares symbols, meanings, experiences and behavior.
cross cultural communication = the comparison of 2 or more cultural communities, comparing conflict styles of US managers with those of Korean managers.
Intercultural communication = the actual interaction between members of different cultures, for instance, examining what happens when a German executive reprimands a Chinese subordinate.
There are 4 theories which examine broadly defined notions of culture and emphasize how culture shapes and is shaped by communication.
1. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
His analysis concluded that there are 5 dimensions that can be used to differentiate and rate various cultures.
1. Individualism - collectivism
How people define themselves and their relationships with others. There are 4 characteristics of cultures that fall on the individualism side:
- The belief that the individual is the most important entity in any social setting. Focus is on the
self before all other relationships.
- Independence is more important than dependence.
- Individualistic cultures reward individual achievement
- These cultures value the uniqueness of each individual.
- Low context communication style ; values the direct and explicit expression of ideas.
Collectivism is the opposite of what is just mentioned above.
2. Uncertainty avoidance
Refers to the extent to which people within a culture are made nervous by situation which they perceive as unstructured, unclear or unpredictable.
High uncertainty avoidance ; maintain strict codes for behavior, and are quite punctual.
Low uncertainty avoidance cultures ; more inclined to take risk, innovate and value thinking outside of the box.
3. Power distance
Quite clear to me
4. Masculinity – femininity
Masculine cultures are those that use the reality of biological sex in the creation of distinct roles for men and women. The USA is a masculine culture. There is still a significant wage difference between the both sexes.
5. Long term vs. short term orientation
Long term orientation ; associated with thrift, savings and the willingness to subordinate oné self to achieve a goal.
Short term orientation ; a desire for immediate gratification.
2. Communication accommodation theory
This theory can explain many of the changes in your speech and language use. This theory provides and informative platform from which to understand cultural differences and similarities with regard to speech and language.
In groups = social affiliations to which an individual feels that he or she belongs. Out groups = those social affiliations to which a person feels that he or she does not belong.
When a person wants to be viewed as part of an in-group, this theory predicts that this person will accommodate by convergence.
Convergence = you will alter your speech an behavior so that it matches that of your conversational partner.
When individuals don‟t want to be associated with a certain group or do find a person interpersonally unattractive, you want to differentiate yourself from a particular crowd. This is divergence.
Divergence = you will seek to make your speech different. A kindergarten teacher may use a more stern tone when disciplining the class for misbehavior.
Below you can see some consequences of accommodation.
Positive effects Negative effects
Convergence - Increased attraction - Incorrect stereotypes of
- Social approval out-group
- Increased persuasion - Loss of personal identity
Divergence - Protects cultural identity - Perceived lack of effort
- Asserts power differences - Increased psychological
3. Face-negotiation theory
Face-negotiation theory begins with an understanding of face.
Face = the desired self-image that an individual wants to present to others.
Positive face – your need to be liked, appreciated and admired.
Negative face – your desire to act freely, without constraints or imposition from other.
Face concern = awareness of others‟ face needs
Face concern dilemma = how do you address your own face needs when they may compromise your partner‟s face needs.