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COMMUNICATION THEORY

 

Objective: This activity is designed to help you brainstorm a topic for your final project. You should be able to use material from your response to help you research relevant communication theories.

Background: Please begin this exercise by reading the following information carefully.

In general, we use theories as a way to approach knowledge, test it, and find out more about it. Your final project in this class will require you to apply communication theory to identifying, describing, analyzing, and resolving a real-world communication problem that you are experiencing or have experienced in the context of the workplace.* For this discussion, you will begin the process of developing your final project by collaborating with your classmates on brainstorming communication problems in your workplace that a communication theory could explain and resolve.

Visualize your workplace for a few moments. Are their conflicts? Are there cliques? Do some managers engage in power trips? How does everyone get along? A workplace is the sum of many different formal and informal relationships that influence and define its communication channels. In most work settings, people are identified by titles and roles: accounting supervisor, intern, customer service representative, and so on. These roles combine to create formal communication—interaction that follows officially established channels.

There are three types of formal communication within all but the smallest organizations (Adler & Elmhorst, 2002; Sanchez, 1999). In upward communication, subordinates communicate with their bosses. Topics for upward communication include progress reports, problems, and suggestions for improvement. In downward communication, managers address messages to subordinates, such as instructions and feedback. Horizontal communication occurs between people who do not have direct supervisor-subordinate relationships. These types of messages include task coordination, information sharing, and conflict resolution.

Informal communication in organizations grows out of friendships, shared personal or career interests, and proximity.  The messages shared through these networks of relationships within an organization can confirm, contradict, expand upon, or help an employee circumvent information relayed through the formal communication channels. Workers must navigate between formal and informal communication within a relationship. For example, your boss might drop by your desk to share some office gossip with you—and a few minutes later take you aside to talk about a project underway. Modern employers are seeking job candidates who demonstrate communication competence, the knowledge of effective and appropriate communication patterns (Spitzberg, 2000) and the ability to use and adapt that knowledge in various contexts (Cooley & Roach, 1984).

To understand the dimensions of communication competence, consider how you might handle everyday communication challenges, such as declining an invitation or getting a co-worker to clean his dirty dishes in the break room. Effective communication will get the results you desire. Appropriate communication, on the other hand, would do so in a way that, in most cases, enhances the relationship in which it occurs (Wiemann et al., 1997). Imagine what happens when one of these criteria is satisfied but not the other. Effectiveness without appropriateness might satisfy your goals, but leave others unhappy. Conversely, appropriateness without effectiveness might leave others content but you frustrated. The competent communicator has a large repertoire of communicative skills, is empathetic and adaptable, cares about and is committed to the relationship, can see situations from multiple perspectives, can read the room, and is self-aware.

Activity:

Theories can be approached in a variety of ways, depending upon what is being studied. Write a detailed response to the following questions. Your objective here is to gain a hands-on understanding of theory building by applying this week’s concepts to brainstorming a workplace* communication problem with your classmates that you can investigate for your final project.

(*Remember, if you are not employed or cannot discuss your workplace, brainstorm communication problems that you have experienced in another organizational setting, such as in school or as part of a church or community group.)

  1. Think about the communication phenomena that scholars study. Which aspects of communication intrigued you the most in this week’s readings—verbal or nonverbal behaviors? Oral or written messages? Interpersonal, small group, or organizational dynamics? Face-to-face or mediated contexts?
  2. Then, reflect on the informal and formal communication channels in your workplace. What types of breakdowns have you experienced or observed in the flow of that communication which affected your work?
  3. Finally, to begin learning about how communication competence can help you or your co-workers to effectively and appropriately handle challenging workplace* communication situations, answer the following
    1. Describe your workplace* communication problem with your classmates. What happened? How did it affect you or the workplace?
    2. What is the communication phenomenon involved in your workplace problem that you would like to investigate?
    3. What is the communication theory goal that you would like to pursue in investigating this phenomenon? Remember, communication theories seek to describe or understand, explain, predict, or control a communication behavior. A theory goal can be expressed as simply as one of the following:

My theory goal is to [describe/understand, explain, or predict] __________.

My goal is to persuade co-workers to do or think __________ .

My goal is to change people’s attitudes toward __________.

Make sure to connect your ideas to the course content that you were asked to read by using American Psychological Association-style references. If you are unfamiliar with that reference style, you can find examples at the following link: http://sites.umgc.edu/library/libhow/apa_examples.cfm

 

References

Adler, R. B., and Elmhorst, J. M. (2002). Communicating at work: Principles and practices for business and the professions (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cooley, R. E., and Roach, D. A. (1984). “A Conceptual Framework.” In R. N. Bostrom (Ed.), Competence in communication: A multidisciplinary approach (pp. 11-32). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Sanchez, P. (1999, August-September). How to craft successful employee communication in the information age. Communication World, 16(7), 9-15.

Spitzberg, B. H. (2000). What is good communication? Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 29, 103-119.

Wiemann, J. M., Takai, J., Ota, H., and Wiemann, M. (1997). A relational model of communication competence. In B. Kovac (Ed.), Emerging theories of human communication (pp. 25-44). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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