Grunig\'s Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Models of Public Relations
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An academic paper on Grunig\'s Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Models of Public Relations: Contrasting Features and Ethical Dimensions

An academic paper on Grunig\'s Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Models of Public Relations: Contrasting Features and Ethical Dimensions

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Grunig\'s Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Models of Public Relations Grunig\'s Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Models of Public Relations Document Transcript

  • 86 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION, VOL 32, NO 2, JUNE 1989 J. Grunig’s Asymmetrical and Symmetrical Models of Public Relations: Contrasting Features and Ethical Dimensions LINDA CHILDERS Abstract-Issues surrounding the ethics and social responsibility of PRESUPPOSITIONS AND RESEARCH TRADITIONSpublic relations are addressed here through a discussion of J.Grunig’s distinction between asymmetrical and symmetrical organiza- Up to this point, the terms presuppositions and researchtional communication. His development of a research tradition for tradition have been employed to introduce the discussionpublic relations is examined with particular attention given to con- of public relations frameworks. The use of these conceptsceptualizing organizations as political systems and exploring the con-trasting presuppositions of asymmetrical and symmetrical models of here borrows from the work of science philosopher Larrycommunication. Symmetrical presuppositions are presented as an Laudan, who included these terms in his explanation ofethical and effective framework for public relations theory. how scientific knowledge progresses. [3] Grunig has conceptualized presuppositions as the assump-INTRODUCTION tions we make about the world and the values attached to N May 1987, James E. Grunig delivered a paper to the those assumptions:k o n f e r e n c e on Communication Theory and Public Presuppositions define the problems researchers attempt toRelations at Illinois State University in which he compared solve, the theoretical traditions that are used in their re-and contrasted what he termed asymmetrical and symmetri- search, and the extent to which the world outside a re-cal presuppositions as frameworks for public relations the- search community accepts the theories that result from re-ory. [ 11 He contended that asymmetrical presuppositions search. [ l ]about the nature and purpose of public relations havesteered research and theory in a direction that is both inef- These presuppositions are the subjective aspect of sciencefective and ethically questionable. As an alternative to an that make scientists see the world and any phenomena be-asymmetrical conceptualization of public relations, Grunig ing studied in a way that meshes comfortably with a scien-delineated an exciting and innovative program for public tist’s own cognitions, attitudes, and beliefs. In short, pre-relations theory based on symmetrical presuppositions. An suppositions are like a particular pair of glasses we use toexploration of the contrasting features and ethical dimen- view our world.sions of Grunig’s asymmetrical and symmetrical frame-works is the focus of this discussion. Laudan includes presuppositions in his notion of a research tradition. He explained that, while specific theories withinAccording to J. Grunig, Dozier, Ehling, L. Grunig, Rep- a research tradition can be tested, a research tradition andper, and White, public relations has historically been built its presuppositions are ‘‘neither explanatory, nor predici-on a worldview entailing a set of asymmetrical presupposi- tive, nor directly testable.” [3] Instead, a research tradi-tions that have rendered the practice less effective than it tioncould be, given rise to unrealistic expectations for organi-zational communication, and limited the value of the func- is a set of assumptions: assumptions about the basic kindstion. [2] With a different worldview in mind, Grunig has of entities in the world, assumptions about how those entit-developed a research tradition for public relations theory ies interact, assumptions about the proper methods to useinvolving symmetrical presuppositions. The adoption of for constructing and testing theories about those entries.this worldview may allow organizations to conduct theircommunication programs in an ethical and more effective A research tradition provides “us with the crucial tools wemanner. Organizational communication based on symmetri- need for solving problems” and “goes so far as to definecal presuppositions suggests that public relations can be a partially what the problems are, and what importance‘‘highly valued and effective force for resolving social should be attached to them.” [3] Thus, the research tradi-conflict and improving the societies in which we live.” [ l ] tion tells us what we should study and constrains us from studying phenomena not defined within or relevant to the Linda Childers is a doctoral candidate at the University of Mary- research tradition. By providing guidelines for solving theland, where she is a research assistant on a 5-year project for the Interna- problems within it, a research tradition suggests its owntional Association of Business Communicators entitled “In Search ofExcellence in Public Relations and Communications Management.” She improvement and provides vital clues for theory construc-received an M.A. in 1986 from the University of Florida. tion. [3] 0361-1434/89/06OO-0086$01.OO 0 1989 IEEE
  • CHILDERS: J. GRUNIG‘S MODELS 87In essence, Grunig has been the architect of a research tra- synchronize the behavior of publics with its own behavior.dition for public relations that supplants the prevailing con- Diachronic communication, according to him, is symmetrical;ceptualizations of what public relations can and should do. an organization and publics attempt to reach a state of affairsThis research tradition has developed from decades of that is acceptable to all.scholarly activity in public relations and other fields ofcommunication, organizational sociology, social psychol- Grunig later realized that his conceptualizations were tooogy, cognitive psychology, and the philosophy of science. simple to explain the public relations behaviors and organi- zational structures that exist in the real world. In particular,Within Grunig’s emerging tradition, persuasion is rejected he suggested that there seem to be four rather than twoas the ultimate goal of communication. In effect, the models of public relations in practice, and single organiza-plethora of research and theory about communication and tions appear to practice combinations of the four models. [5]persuasion is deemed irrelevant. Instead, a symmetricalframework boasts accuracy, understanding, and agreement According to Grunig, public relations behavior seems toas effects of successful communication. I [4] This revolu- vary along two independent dimensions-one-way versustionizing worldview even goes so far as to tell us what the- two-way and asymmetrical versus symmetrical. Therefore,oretical knowledge is important to public relations scholars four models arise that represent combinations of the two di-and practitioners. For example, theories that address effec- mensions:tive negotiation principles are appropriate within the sym- Press agentry/publicity (a one-way asymmetricalmetrical framework while theories about coercion are not. model). This model was typified by the wizardry of P. T. Barnum in the middle of the 19th century. [5]Grunig’s efforts to sculpt a unique framework for under-standing public relations are giving rise to a deep theory Within this model, little or no regard for the truth is theabout the communication behavior of organizations. Trac- prevailing norm. Commonly referred to as “flacks” oring the research that developed this theory allows us to see “mouthpieces,” practitioners of press agentry espousethe marked distinction between organizational communica- their organization’s or client’s cause with the ends ade-tion stemming from an asymmetrical worldview and that quately justifying whatever means. The intent of publicflowing from a symmetrical worldview and, most impor- relations programs grounded in press agentrylpublicitytant, the ethical questions that arise around this distinction. is persuasion andlor manipulation. Public information (a one-way symmetrical model).If, as Laudan suggested, science is not wholly objective, This model arose in the beginning of the 20th centurybut rather guided by pervasive traditions, the pervasive tra- from Ivy Lee’s belief that public relations people weredition in public relations has included the presupposition “journalists in residence” who should provide truthfulthat the purpose of public relations is to bring the public’s and accurate information about their client organiza-point of view in line with that of the organization. [ l ] tion. [5]Grunig stated that this purpose involves manipulating “thebehavior of publics for the assumed, if not actual, benefit Grunig later reconceptualized this model as asymmet-of the manipulated publics as well as the organization.” rical. According to him, practitioners following the [ I ] According to him, the worldview that includes this pre- public information model have the effect of manipulat-supposition and the alternative worldview are described by ing publics even though that might not be their intent.four models of public relations that he introduced in 111Grunig and Hunt. [5] Two-way asymmetrical. This model had its intellec-MODELS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS tual roots in the work of the Committee on Public In-In his 1976 monograph [6], Grunig conceptualized two kinds formation, headed by George Creel, during Worldof public relations behavior and asked the question, “Why do War I. Edward Bernays, who worked in a supportingsome practitioners engage in informative, two-way communi- role on thc Creel Committee, later supplied most ofcation and others in one-way, manipulative communication?” the social science theory for the asymmetrical model.He then categorized these two kinds of public relations using 151Thayer’s concepts of synchronic and diachronic communica- Bernays believed that if public opinion could be engi-tion. [7] Grunig explained that synchronic communication isasymmetrical in that the organization uses public relations to neered for evil purposes (for example, Nazis’ use of propaganda to gain support for their goals), then pub- ’ Accuracy is defined by these researchers as a communication effect lic opinion could be engineered for the good of soci-in which one person has successfully reconstructed the other person’scognitive structure. Understanding occurs when two people have con- ety. The ethical problem that arises with regard to thisstructed a common cognitive structure. Agreement is a communication suggestion centers around the problem of who is toeffect in which two people make the same evaluation based upon either a decide what is good for society. Within the two-wayreferent criterion (an attitude developed to resolve one situation that isapplied in new situations) or a situational variable (an evaluation used in asymmetrical model, organizations believe that they cana single situation). decide and then sell this decision to their publics.
  • 88 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION, VOL. 32, NO. 2, JUNE 1989 Two-way symmetrical. The roots of this model can- derstand determinants of organizational structure and func- not be as easily traced to the ideas of a single practi- tioning. However, Robbins reported that, at best, these tioner. Both Bernays and Lee had said that public re- four factors explain only 50 to 60 percent of the variability lations should represent the client to the organization in structure. [lo] He theorized that the missing link lies as well as the organization to the client. Public rela- somewhere outside in the “twilight zone” of organiza- tions textbooks, especially those written by educators tional politics, power, and coalition formation. in the 1950s and later, have also called for the prac- tice of the symmetrical model. [5] The power-control perspective, Robbins explained, states that at any given time, an organization’s structure is the This model implies that open discourse and fair com- result of a power struggle by internal constituencies who petition among interdependent groups (for example, are seeking to further their interests. For Bacharach and an organization and an activist group that is opposing Lawler, “organizations are emergent activities; that is, it) result in practices and policies that most fairly re- they are the result of the conscious political decisions of flect what is good for society. The dynamic interac- particular actors and interest groups. ” [ 1I] Pfeffer asserted tion among competing groups suggests a poiitical sys- that “organizations are political systems, coalitions of tem nested somewhere between the cynicism of elitist interest, and rationality is defined only with respect to theory and the optimism of pluralism. The role of the unitary and consistent orderings of preferences.” [ 121 Fur- public relations practitioner within this political sys- ther, he argued that the power-control view of organiza- tem involves problem-solving through communication tional behavior proposes that these coalitions wrestle in a programs designed to facilitate negotiation and com- power struggle to control the organization, and this power promise between an organization or client and other struggle arises because there is dissension concerning pref- organized interests. erences or in definition of the situation.After further research involving Grunig and Hunt’s public If these researchers are correct in suggesting that therelations models, J. Grunig and L. Grunig realized that power-control perspective is crucial to understanding orga-this typology works better as a normative (prescriptive) nizations, the distribution of power in organizations mightrather than a positive (descriptive) theory of how public be an important determinant of the structure and function-relations is practiced. [8] More specifically, their latest re- ing of the public relations department. Exploring this pos-search has shown that organizations use the models in two sibility, L. Grunig presented a comparative analysis of 87ways. First, the models function as situational strategies public relations practitioners in the Washington, DC, areafor different publics and public relations problems-not as based on in-depth personal interviews. [ 131 She determinedsingle organizing frameworks. Second, the presuppositions that power comes to public relations practitioners as aof the models function as part of an organization’s ideol- result of the value which the dominant coalition, or theogy. [ l ] This ideology is the tone that top management sets group of key decision-makers, attaches to the public rela-for the organization and is perpetuated by adherence to a tions function, the expertise of practitioners (leading to in-particular worldview. creased autonomy), and routinization and sophistication of technology in the public relations department. Evidence ofEvidence of top management’s worldview can be found in power included involvement with the organization’s domi-any or all of the factors that reflect organizational culture, nant coalition, autonomy from the typical clearance proc-such as the nature and purpose of the public relations func- ess for news releases, support for and understanding of thetion within the organization. The relationship between the public relations function by top management, and discre-values of top management, or its ideology, and its defini- tion for budgetary decisions. Practitioners in L. Grunig’stion of public relations for the organization is an important study reported a limited degree of organizational powerone. An understanding of this relationship can best be that varied with the structure of the organization.achieved by conceptualizing organizations as systems ofpolitics. J. Grunig and L. Grunig have continued to develop the as- sertion that organizational politics play an important role inPUBLIC RELATIONS AND ORGANIZATIONAL determining the public relations behavior of organizations.POWER [8] They included top management support and understand- ing as well as representation in the dominant coalition asOrganizational scholars have turned to organizational strat- independent variables in their systems model of public re-egy, size, technology, and environment* in trying to un- lations. Specifically, they argued that public relations does not exist in isolation in organizations. Unless those with Schneider [9] provided an in-depth exploration of the relationshipbetween organizational environment and communication behavior. She power in the organization understand and support the pub-hypothesized that an organization’s environmental niche (based on Hage lic relations function, practitioners are not likely to prac-and Hull’s typology of organizations-traditional/craft, mechanical, or- tice sophisticated techniques of public relations.ganic, mixed/mechanical-organic) would predict communication behav-ior. She discovered, however, only a weak relationship between an orga-nization’s environmental niche and its communication practices. Concurrent with research on the relationship between orga-
  • CHILDERS: 1. GRUNIG’S MODELS 89nizational power and public relations, Pollack looked in measure of professional growth. ” [ 151 Involvement indepth at top management support of public relations in sci- management decision-making is fundamental to the veryentific organizations. [14] In addition to this variable, she definition of public relations, they argued:examined involvement of the public relations director inmajor decisions, whether public relations decisions are Isolation of public relations from decision-making limitsmade by the public relations director or top management, the practice to a low-level support function. If practitionersinfluence of the public relations department in organiza- are relegated the role o f explaining and justifying others’tional decision-making, authority level of the public rela- decisions made independent of the public relations implica-tions department, percentage of recommendations made by tion, then professional status is unlikely. [I51the public relations department that were implemented bythe organization in the last three years, and how important In trying to understand why organizations practice publicthe dominant coalition believes public relations is to orga- relations in a less effective manner than they could, ornizational success. more specifically, why they relegate the public relations department to a mere “selling the organization” role, thePollack discovered that her variables provided further un- presuppositions of J. Grunig and Hunt’s communicationderstanding of the relationship between power-related vari- models provide the explanation. Grunig and L. Grunig’sables and the model of public relations practiced by an or- research has shown that the dominant coalition of an orga-ganization. Specifically, factor analysis of the variables nization identifies strategic publics in the environment asproduced two highly correlated factors. One described the the target for public relations. Top management then turnsextent to which public relations is represented in the domi- the problem over to the public relations director and dic-nant coalition; the second described the autonomy of the tates to the director which communication model would bepublic relations department. The factors proved to be im- an appropriate strategy. Thus, the members of the domi-portant determinants of the model of public relations prac- nant coalition decide how public relations will be practicedticed, especially the “representation in the dominant coali- in their organization. [ 8 ] In making this decision, thetion” factor. [ 8 ] worldview to which top management subscribes and its as- sociated presuppositions become an important predictor ofTwo interpretations of Pollack’s findings were then pro- the model of public relations the dominant coalitionvided by J. Grunig and L. Grunig. Either public relations chooses.departments represented in the dominant coalition are ableto practice a two-way model of public relations, or public PRESUPPOSITIONS OF COMMUNICATION MODELSrelations practitioners with the knowledge or experience topractice a two-way model are more likely to be represented Grunig et al. explained that presuppositions about publicin the dominant coalition. They reasoned that the second relations begin with its role in society. [ 2 ] One worldviewexplanation is more accurate for several reasons. First, the they identified is the pragmatic social role. Within thispercentage of practitioners in the public relations depart- worldview, public relations is believed to have no socialment with a bachelor’s degree was correlated positively function other than to help clients. This role describes pub-with the likelihood of representation in the dominant coali- lic relations as a useful practice, something that adds valuetion (r = 0.15). Next, the more years in public relations to clients by assisting them in meeting organizational ob-that the director had, the greater the likelihood of repre- jectives through the implementation of communication pro-sentation in the dominant coalition (r = 0 . 2 5 ) . Public rela- grams. According to Grunig et al., practitioners who holdtions directors with a science background were more likely a pragmatic view of public relations usually see no needto be a part of the dominant coalition (r = 0.25). J. for codes of conduct or ethical standards; these standardsGrunig and L. Grunig concluded that “more knowledge- may interfere with getting results for clients.able, experienced practitioners and more sophisticated de-partments are more likely to be represented in the domi- Some social scientists take another view of public rela-nant coalition.” [8] tions, according to Grunig et al. These scholars see public relations, like society itself, as a neutral practice that is toGrunig and Hunt argued that practitioners should be part be observed as an object of study. Grunig et al. labeledof the organization’s dominant coalition-participating in this position as one involving a neutral social role. Re-or influencing decisions, and thus practicing symmetrical searchers taking this position merely seek to discover howor adaptive public relations. [5] For Grunig and Hunt, practitioners view their social role and what their motiva-there is little justification for public relations in an organi- tions are.zation unless practitioners are included in the dominant co-alition. Still other practitioners and scholars see public relations as a set of behaviors influenced by worldview, Grunig et al.Broom and Dozier stated that involvement of practitioners explained. They noted that two contrasting presuppositionsin organizational decision-making is ‘‘perhaps more impor- view public relations as an instrument for maintaining ortant to the profession of public relations than any other gaining power. The conservative social role implies that
  • 90 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION, VOL. 32, NO. 2, JUNE 1989public relations maintains a system of privilege by defend- metrical view:ing the interests of the economically powerful. Alterna- Internal orientation: Members of the organizationtively, the radical social role contends that public relations look out from the organization and do not see the or-leads to social improvement, reform, and change. ganization as outsiders see it.Further developing the conservative and radical role of Closed system: Information flows out from the orga-public relations, Grunig et al. pointed out that the presup- nization and not into it. [ I ]positions of these roles are asymmetrical. Inherent in theseroles is the assumption that organizational communication Organizations that have no means for assessing thecan have powerful effects on society: information needs of the public reflect the asymmetri- cal notion of a closed system. An effective program of These roles see public relations as a tool used in a war communication research should be established that al- among opposing social groups. They assume that organiza- lows practitioners to function as boundary-spanners, tions and opposing groups use communication to persuade directing and monitoring information to as well as or manipulate publics, governments, or organizations for from the organization. the benefit of the organization sponsoring the communica- tion program and not for the benefit of the other group or Dozier provided an informative discussion of environ- of both. In the language of game theory, public relations mental scanning, a technique whereby practitioners based on asymmetrical presuppositions is a zero-sum game: establish inflowing communication by gathering “in- one organization, group, or public gains and the othei formation about publics, about reactions of publics loses. [2] toward the organization, and about public opinion to-Further developing specific aspects of the asymmetrical ward issues important to the organization”. [ 161 Im-mindset Grunig explained that portantly, he found a strong positive relationship be- tween practitioners’ conducting of scanning and their when an organization, its dominant coalition, or its public participation in management decision-making . relations practitioners hold an asymmetrical worldview, they presuppose that the organization knows best. Further- Efficiency: Efficiency and control of costs are more more, they assume that the public would benefit by cooper- important than innovation. ating with the organization. They assume that if dissident publics had “the big picture” or understood the organiza- Elitism: Leaders of the organization know best. They tion, these publics would willingly “cooperate” with the have more knowledge than members of publics. Wis- organization. [l] dom is not the product of a “free marketplace of ideas.” [l]Thus, the task of public relations is to bring the positionsof various publics in line with the organization’s position In her research involving the U . S . Nuclear Regulatoryso these publics will be cooperative. Commission (NRC), Childers [ 181 repeatedly ran into reflections of elitism among members of the organiza-Grunig contended that this “selling the organization” ap- tion. For example, she questioned the assistant to theproach may sound reasonable until one considers some of director at the Office of Congressional Affairs aboutthe things organizations have tried to sell. Just to name a the role activism and public disapproval play in thefew, he listed pollution, toxic waste, drinking, smoking, Commission’s decision-making efforts. He explainedguns, overthrow of governments, dangerous products, low- that in the end, public opposition does not matter.ered salary and benefits, discrimination against women and That is, the public has input at hearings, but all finalminorities, job layoffs, dangerous manufacturing plants, decisions are up to the NRC, instillig the Commissionrisky transportation of products, higher prices, monopoly with “a tremendous amount of power” and “a lot ofpower, poor product quality, political favoritism, insider authority.”trading, use of poisonous chemicals, exposure to carcino-gens, nuclear weapons, and even warfare. With this list in Conservatism: Change is undesirable. Outside efforts to change the organization should be resisted; pressuremind, Grunig asserted that organizations working with a selling perspective are operating on ethically questionable for change should be considered subversive.grounds. He pointed out, though, that organizations them- Tradition: Tradition provides an organization with selves often fail to recognize that their practices are detri- stability and helps it to maintain its culture. mental to certain publics. Nevertheless, Grunig maintainedthat the long-term effects of asymmetrical communication In his discussion of how individuals within organizations might gar- ner power for themselves, Conrad revealed what might be an explanationprograms frustrate an organization’s socially responsible for the positive relationship between practitioners’ participation in scan- approach to public relations despite the good intentions an ning and inclusion in management decision-making. [I71 He asserted that organization might have. possessing valuable information is one of the most important sources of power in an organization. Thus, it follows that practitioners armed with knowledge that is important to the dominant coalition are more likely toGrunig outlined other presuppositions as part of an asym- be included in top management’s decision-making.
  • CHILDERS: J . GRUNIG’S MODELS 91 Central authority: Power should be concentrated in developed four additional presuppositions that are impor- the hands of a few top managers. Employees should tant in establishing a public relations program based on have little autonomy. Organizations should be man- symmetrical communication: aged as autocracies. [I] Holism: Systems consist of subsystems and are parts Inherent in the asymmetrical notion of central author- of suprasystems. The whole is greater than the sum of ity is the belief that coordination and control are ac- its parts, and each part of a system affects every other complished best through the exercise of authority, an part. 111 assumption of the structuralist approach to organiza- tions. [19] However, a stream of research by J. Grunig has shown that a high level of centralization Examples of the benefit of working with a presupposi- often frustrates employee satisfaction within some or- tion of holism were provided by Wulff and Fiske. [24] ganizations. 111 a collection of case studies in applied anthropology, Wulff and Fiske addressed how a sensitivity to holismThe alternative to the asymmetrical worldview is a world- made the difference bewteen effective and ineffectiveview based on symmetrical presuppositions. Grunig et al. decision-making and policy implementation.[2] made the case for symmetrical presuppositions as aframework for public relations theory because they argued Interdependence: Although organizations havethat boundaries that separate them from their environment, systems in the environment cross that boundary and public relations should be practiced to serve the public in- “interpenetrate” [25] the system. [ 11 terest, to develop mutual understanding between organiza- tions and their publics, and to contribute to informed de- bate about issues in society. Given the interdependency of environmental systems and organizations, a symmetrical framework for orga-A worldview entailing symmetrical presuppositions is one nizational communication would include recognizingthat Grunig et al. called the idealistic view. They ex- the demands and/or needs of environmental systemsplained that this worldview sees public relations as a non- and structuring the communication department to meetzero-sum game in which competing organizations or those demands and needs.5groups both can gain if they play the game right. Publicrelations is the tool that allows organizations and compet- Open system: The organization is open to interpene-ing groups in a pluralistic system to manage their interde- trating systems and freely exchanges information withpendence and resolve conflict for the benefit of all. [2] these systems. Moving equilibrium: Systems strive toward an equi-Grunig drew upon several theorists’ concepts identical or librium with other systems, although they seldom ac-similar to symmetrical communication in his formulation tually achieve it. The desired equilibrium state con-of the two-way symmetrical model. [ l ] Carter’s theory of stantly moves as the environment changes. Systemscommunication and affective relations [20] into which were may attempt to establish equilibrium by controllingincorporated Newcomb’s concept of coorientation4 [2 11 as other systems, by adapting themselves to other sys-well as Chaffee and McLeod’s research on coorientation tems, or by making mutual, cooperative adjustments.[22], provided a basis for Grunig’s views. Watzlawick, In the symmetrical approach to public relations, coop-Beavin, and Jackson made a distinction between asymmet- erative and mutual adjustment are preferred to controlrical and symmetrical communication in their theory of in- * and adaptation. [l]terpersonal communication that Grunig has recognized andemployed. [23] Further, he adopted Thayer’s distinction In addition to these systems presuppositions, J.between synchronic and diachronic communication elabo- Grunig included several presuppositions in the two-rated in Thayer’s systems theory of communication. [7] way symmetrical approach that are relevant to a dis-These symmetrical theories of communication led Grunig cussion of an improved organizational communicationto develop the following presupposition: Bolman and Deal [ 191 explained that among organizational theorists, Communication leads t o understanding. The major this matching of organizational structure with environmental demands is purpose of communication is to facilitate understanding referred to as a “contingency” approach. They pointed out that Law- among people and other such systems as organizations, rence and Lorsch [26] and Galbraith [27] focused on the idea that turbu- publics, or societies. Persuasion of one person or system lence and uncertainty among an organization’s environmental systems by another is less desirable. [ l ] necessitates an organizational structure that is complex, differentiated, and flexible if the organization is to effectively manage its interdepen- dence with its environment. Tom Peters, author of the best-selling books,From a systems theory approach to organizations, Grunig In Search of Excellence and Thriving on Chaos, has repeatedly empha- According to J. Grunig, coorientation occurs when two or more peo- sized the importance of flexibility on the part of organizations if they areple simultaneously orient to a situation or object rather than a single per- going to remain responsive to environmental demands in the 1980s andson orienting to a situation or object. [ I ] 1990s.
  • IEEE TRANSACTIONS O N PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION, VOL. 32, NO. 2, JUNE 1989 system: nitive effects through symmetrical communication pro- grams maximizes the chances for long-term behavioral Autonomy: People are more innovative, constructive, changes. Publics who are treated as equals of an organiza- and self-fulfilled when they have the autonomy to in- tion and whose ideas are communicated to the organiza- fluence their own behavior, rather than having it con- tion-as well as the ideas of the organization being com- municated to the publics-more often support or fail to trolled by others. Autonomy maximizes employee sat- oppose an organization than do publics whose behavior the isfaction inside the organization and cooperation organization tries to change directly in the short term. [2] outside the organization. Innovation: New ideas and flexible thinking should L. Grunig argued for the potential effectiveness of a two- be stressed rather than tradition and efficiency. way symmetrical approach after examining how organiza- Decentralization of management: Management tions deal with activist groups. [29] She found that none of should be collective; managers should coordinate the organizations she looked at had tried two-way symmet- rather than dictate. Decentralization increases auton- rical communication. The asymmetrical models that the omy, employee satisfaction, and innovation. organizations employed failed to resolve conflict and often Responsibility: People and organizations must be resulted in litigation or continued conflict. concerned with the consequences of their behaviors on others and attempt to eliminate adverse consequences. Turk [30] found that, of the state agencies she studied in Conflict resolution: Conflict should be resolved Louisiana, only one used the two-way symmetrical model. through negotiation, communication, and compromise The programs of the other agencies, based on asymmetri- and not through force, manipulation, coercion, or vio- cal models, were ineffective. She concluded that state lence. agencies that rely upon public information officers [PIOs] Interest-group liberalism: Classic liberalism, which to ‘get the word out’ to win support for agency policies typically champions big government, can be as close- and programs may be overrating the ability of PIOs to in- minded as classic conservatism, which typically cham- fluence the agency picture portrayed by the news media for pions big business. Interest-group liberalism, how- consumption by those who get their information about state ever, views the political system as a mechanism for government from media. open competition among interest or issue groups. In- terest-group liberalism looks to citizen groups to “champion interests of ordinary people against unre- CONCLUSION sponsive government and corporate structure. [28]” 111 The important implication of L. Grunig’s and Turk’s work is that the two-way symmetrical model of public relations may provide what is not only an ethical and socially re-EFFECTIVENESS O F ASYMMETRICAL AND sponsible approach to public relations, but also an effectiveSYMMETRICAL MODELS one. And importantly, its quest for accommodation be- tween organizations and the public, as opposed to domina-Grunig et al. [2] argued that, philosophically, symmetrical tion of one by the other, suggests that all parties, in apublic relations is more ethical and socially responsible sense, can win. Even if the two-way symmetrical approachthan asymmetrical public relations because it manages con- fails with some publics, such as single-issue groups thatflict rather than wages war. But they asserted that symmet- resist any invitation for communication, it still deservesrical communication programs are also pragmatically exploration for all communication programs.more successful than asymmetrical programs and contrib-ute more to organizational effectiveness. They pointed out The two-way symmetrical model suggests a research tradi-that the assumed powerful effects of asymmetrical com- tion in public relations that is stimulating at the very least.munication seldom occur, and thus, asymmetrical public The prospect of having a public relations framework withrelations programs usually fail. Symmetrical presupposi- unique implications for the field suggests opportunity thattions, however, suggest more realistic programs and ef- cannot be ignored. In his delineation of this framework,fects. Thus, these programs often succeed and make the Grunig has pointed out a challenging direction for organi-organizations that sponsor them more effective. That is, zational communication with positive implications for the social responsibility and effectiveness of the public rela- tions function. Practitioners of symmetrical public relations choose short- term cognitive effects rather than long-term behavioral ef- fects. The choice of cognitive effects (changes in the way REFERENCES people think about and understand issues) makes it more feasible for practitioners to measure and evaluate the ef- 1. Grunig, J. E., “Symmetrical Presuppositions as a Framework for fects of communication programs in the short term when Public Relations Theory,” presented at the Conference on Com- evaluation makes it possible for them to make midcourse munication Theory and Public Relations, Illinois State University, changes in the programs. 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