Communication Theory (Politeness + Uncertainty Reduction Theory)


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  • Penelope Brown + Stephen Levinson
    Politeness is often a goal because it is a culturally universal value
  • Different cultures have different levels of required politeness and different ways of being polite, but all people have the need to be appreciated and protected, which these researchers call ‘face needs’
  • Positive face is the desire to be appreciated and approved, to be liked and honored.
    Positive politeness is designed to meet these desires.
    Showing concern, complimenting, and using respectful forms of address are examples
  • Negative face is the desire to be free from imposition or intrusion
    Negative politeness is designed to protect the other person when negative face needs are threatened
  • We commit FTAs whenever we behave in a way that potentially could fail to meet positive or negative face needs.
    FTAs are normal but require handling to mitigate problems
    It is important to consider how we deliver the FTA
    Forms of politeness used depend on a variety of factors
  • Request (FTA) combined with a compliment
  • Even less threatening to combine FTA with negative politeness
    Meets negative face needs by acknowledging and apologizing for the imposition
  • Indirect and ambiguous, which enables you to deny having meant the statement as an FTA
  • Amount of work (W) one puts into being polite depends on the social distance (D) between the speaker (S) and the hearer (H) plus the power (P) of the hearer over the speaker plus the risk (R) of hurting the other person
    See eg. (Littlejohn 165)
  • Uncertainty Reduction Theory
    When people meet, their primary concern is to reduce uncertainty about each other and their relationship. As verbal output, nonverbal warmth, self-disclosure, similarity, and shared communication networks increase uncertainty decreases—and vice versa. Information seeking and reciprocity are positively correlated with uncertainty. (Socio-psychological tradition)
  • The beginnings of personal relationship are fraught with uncertainties
    How communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding
  • Drive to reduce uncertainty driven by 3 prior conditions
  • As the ability of persons to predict which alternative or alternatives are likely to occur next decreases, uncertainty increases
    Focuses on predictability vs. uncertainty
    Behavioural: shake hands?
    Cognitive: Qs aimed at discovering who the other person is as a unique individual
    When you first meet a person, your mind conjures varying ideas. Reducing cognitive uncertainty means acquiring information that allows you to discard many of these possibilities
  • Axiom: A self-evident truth that requires no additional proof
    Berger proposes a series of axioms to explain the connection between his central concept of uncertainty and 8 key variables of relationship development
  • Once we grant the validity of the eight axioms, it makes sense to pair two of them together to produce additional insight into relational dynamics.
    The combined axioms yield an inevitable conclusion when inserted in the well-know pattern of deductive logic.
    Through pairing axioms, Berger creates 28 theorems.
    These 28 theorems suggest a comprehensive theory of interpersonal development based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.
  • Berger does this for all possible combinations, thereby generating 28 theoreoms
  • Berger creates comprehensive theory of interpersonal development - based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction
    Select one axiom along the bottom and another down the side. The interaction between the two shows the number of Berger’s theorem and the type of correlation it asserts
    + shows the two interpersonal variables rise or fall together
    - indicates that as one increases, the other decreases
  • Berger concluded that most social interaction is goal-driven: we have reasons for saying what we say.
    Berger claims plans are hierarchically organized with abstract representations at the top of the hierarchy and progressively more concrete representation toward the bottom.
    Switching strategies at the top of the hierarchy causes changes down the hierarchy, altering behavior.
  • Uncertainty is central to all social interaction.
    There is an interaction between uncertainty reduction theory and plan-based message production that suggests various strategies individuals use to cope with uncertainty and hedge against risk when deploying messages.
    “How can a person hedge against embarrassment, anger, rejection and other downside risks associated with deploying a given message?’
  • Plan Complexity - A characteristic of a message plan based on the level of detail it provides and the number of contingencies it covers
  • Hedging—planning ways for both parties to “save face” when at least one of them miscalculated.
  • The prediction that when people are thwarted in their attempts to achieve goals, their first tendency is to alter lower-level elements of their message
    Cognitive Misers
  • Gudykunst applied some of the axioms and theorems of uncertainty reduction theory to intercultural settings.
    AUM Theory - An intercultural theory that claims high levels of uncertainty and anxiety lead to greater misunderstanding when strangers don’t communicate mindfully
  • Anxiety - The feeling of being uneasy, tense, worried, or apprehensive about what might happen
    Uncertainty - Affective (emotion)
    Both must be managed to achieve effective communication
  • 34 axioms cluster under the seven categories on the left side
    When the situational factors are in short supply, anxiety and uncertainty rise.
  • Anxiety and uncertainty aren’t always bad
    A small amount of both makes us more vigilant
    Minimum threshold of apprehension
    Threshold of high anxiety
    Minimum threshold for uncertainty
    If uncertainty crosses the upper threshold
  • We are mindful when we consciously think about our communication and continually work at changing what we do in order to become more effective
  • Berger admits that his original statement contained some propositions of dubious validity.
  • Communication Theory (Politeness + Uncertainty Reduction Theory)

    1. 1. Politeness + Uncertainty Reduction/Managem Tara Wilkinson-McClean Media + Communications Lecturer
    2. 2. Politeness Theory “ In everyday life we design messages that protect face and achieve other goals as well. ”
    3. 3. Politeness Theory - Key Words • Face Needs • Positive Politeness • Negative Politeness • Face-threatening Acts
    4. 4. FACE NEEDS
    6. 6. I’m sorry to bother you, but could you tell me...? NEGATIVE FACE NEGATIVE POLITENESS NEGATIVE POLITENESS
    8. 8. Forms of FTAs • Deliver FTA badly or directly, without polite action • Deliver FTA along with some form of positive politeness • Deliver FTA along with some form of negative politeness • Deliver FTA indirectly, off the record • Not deliver FTA at all
    9. 9. I would like you to reconsider my grade BAD FTA
    10. 10. I would appreciate it if you could look at my grade again. Other students said you are really nice about doing that POSITIVE POLITENESS
    11. 11. I’m really sorry. I know you’re busy, but could I have a moment of your time? I would really appreciate it if you could look at my grade again NEGATIVE POLITENESS
    12. 12. I wonder how I will get to town this evening to pick up my dry cleaning Well, you can’t use my car Oh, I wasn’t asking for it “Off-the-Record” FTA
    13. 13. W x = D(S,H) + P (H,S) = Rx
    14. 14. Uncertainty Reduction Theory Charles Berger
    15. 15. Uncertainty Reduction Theory Central to UCR theory is the assumption that when strangers meet, their primary concern is one of uncertainty reduction or increasing predictability about the behaviour of both themselves and others in the interaction.
    16. 16. Reducing Uncertainty • Anticipation of Future Interaction: We know we will see them again • Incentive Value: They have something we want • Deviance: They act in a weird way
    17. 17. Uncertainty Reduction: To Predict and Explain • Increased knowledge of what kind of person another is, which provides an improved forecast of how a future interaction will turn out Uncert ainty Behavio ural Cognitiv e
    18. 18. An Axiomatic Theory: Certainty about Uncertainty • Axiom 1 - Verbal Communication • Axiom 2 - Nonverbal Warmth • Axiom 3 - Information Seeking • Axiom 4 - Self Disclosure • Axiom 5 - Reciprocity • Axiom 6 - Similarity • Axiom 7 - Liking • Axiom 8 - Shared Networks
    19. 19. Axiom 1 - Verbal Communication As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases, and as a result, verbal communication increases.
    20. 20. Axiom 2 - Nonverbal Warmth As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease. Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal affiliative expressiveness.
    21. 21. Axiom 3 - Information Seeking Information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in informationseeking behavior. As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.
    22. 22. Axiom 4 - Self Disclosure High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content. Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.
    23. 23. Axiom 5 - Reciprocity High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity. Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
    24. 24. Axiom 6 - Similarity Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.
    25. 25. Axiom 7 - Liking Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.
    26. 26. Axiom 8 - Shared Networks Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.
    27. 27. If A = B and B = C then A = C Theorems A Proposition that logically and necessarily follows from two axioms
    28. 28. Theorem Example • If similarity reduces uncertainty (axiom 6) • and reduced uncertainty increases liking (axiom 7) • then similarity and liking are positively related
    29. 29. Theory of Interpersonal Development
    30. 30. Hierarchal Plan Goal-Director Communication
    31. 31. Coping With Uncertain Responses • Seeking Information • Choosing Plan Complexity • Hedging • Hierarchy Hypothesis
    32. 32. Seeking Information Passive Strategy Impression formation by observing a person interacting with others Active Strategy Impression formation by asking a third party about a person Interacti ve Strategy Impression formation through face-to-face discussion with a person
    33. 33. Choosing Plan Complexity Measurin g Complexi ty of Message Plan Level of Details Number of Continge ncy Plans
    34. 34. Hedging Hedging Strategic Ambiguit y Humor
    35. 35. Hierarchy of Hypothesis “When it’s obvious that the person we’re talking to has failed to grasp what we are saying, our inclination is to repeat the same message - but this time louder” - Charles Berger
    36. 36. Anxiety/Uncertainty Management (AUM) Theory William Gudykunst
    37. 37. Differences • UNCERTAINTY REDUCTION THEORY • Uncertainty as the key communication variable • Goal - Closeness or relational satisfaction. • Centers around 7 or 8 axioms • UNCERTAINTY/ANXIETY MANAGEMENT THEORY • Elevated anxiety to an equal status
    38. 38. Anxiety Anxiety Cognitive Uncertai nty Affective
    39. 39. Effective Communication The extent to which a person interpreting a message does so in a way that’s relatively similar to what was intended; minimizing misunderstanding.
    40. 40. Multiple Causes of Anxiety/Uncertainty
    41. 41. Lower and Upper Thresholds for Fear and Doubt Adrenalin runs through our veins and prods us to communicate effectively Paralyzed with fear Not feel bored or over confident about our predictions of stranger’s behaviour We lose curiosity and go on auto pilot. Likely to misinterpret Lose confidence to predict behaviour. Believe communication not worthwhile
    42. 42. Mindfulness The process of thinking in new categories, being open to new information and recognizing multiple perspectives
    43. 43. Critique - Kathy Kellermann Theorem 17 is flawed A.The tight logical structure of the theory doesn't allow us to reject one theorem without questioning the axioms behind it. B.In the case of theorem 17, axioms 3 and 7 must also be suspect.
    44. 44. Kellermann and Rodney Renolds A. Challenge the motivational assumption of axiom 3. B.They also have undermined the claim that motivation to search for information is increased by anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, and deviance.
    45. 45. Michael Sunnafrank A. Challenges Berger’s claim that uncertainty reduction is the key to understanding early encounters. B. He believes that predicted outcome value more accurately explains communication in early encounters. C. Berger insists that you can't predict outcome values until you reduce uncertainty.