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)
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
I would like
I would appreciate it if you
could look at my grade
again. Other students said
you are really nice about
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
I wonder how I
will get to town
this evening to
pick up my dry
Oh, I wasn’t
asking for it
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.
• 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
Uncertainty Reduction: To Predict and
• Increased knowledge of what kind of person another is, which provides an
improved forecast of how a future interaction will turn out
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.
Axiom 2 - Nonverbal Warmth
As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will
decrease. Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal
Axiom 3 - Information Seeking
Information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in informationseeking behavior. As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior
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
Axiom 5 - Reciprocity
High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity. Low levels of
uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
Axiom 6 - Similarity
Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce
increases in uncertainty.
Axiom 7 - Liking
Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in
uncertainty produce increases in liking.
Axiom 8 - Shared Networks
Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared
networks increases uncertainty.
If A = B
and B = C
then A =
A Proposition that logically and necessarily follows from two axioms
• If similarity reduces uncertainty (axiom 6)
• and reduced uncertainty increases liking (axiom 7)
• then similarity and liking are positively related
Coping With Uncertain Responses
• Seeking Information
• Choosing Plan Complexity
• Hierarchy Hypothesis
Impression formation by
observing a person
interacting with others
Impression formation by
asking a third party about a
discussion with a person
Choosing Plan Complexity
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
• 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
Lower and Upper Thresholds for Fear and
prods us to
Not feel bored
go on auto
pilot. Likely to
The process of
thinking in new
open to new
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.
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.
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