Explanation of Communication Theory

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Throughout the semester, we have studied numerous communication theories. Their purpose is to help understand exactly what happens when we interact with others. We might not necessarily agree with all of the theories, but the idea is to develop tools to evaluate situations we may encounter. Often, when the theories are explained in the readings or lecture, it is beneficial to apply the concepts to a "real life" situation. Using this approach, I will use a situation that many of us have faced, or will face, and analyze it according to a particular communication theory.

Explanation of theory

In the late 1970's, W. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen introduced their theory of Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM). Their primary findings indicated that talk creates the social environment in which we participate. Prior to Pearce and Cronen, the common method of observing communication was through a transmissional view. This taught theorists and scholars to focus on the pieces of conversation while ignoring the overall effect of the interaction. CMM theory examines interactions from a participants point of view, and is able to get a feel for the interaction as a whole through this process. Outside observation does lead to learning about the interaction, but participating in the interaction leads to more in depth study of communication patterns.

CMM theory relies on three basic processes in interactions. A participant consciously or unconsciously experiences coherence, coordination, and mystery. Each step further clarifies and explains how we create social realities when we engage in conversation. The first step, coherence, describes how meaning is achieved in conversation. Each time we enter into dialogue, we have expectations for that new situation. We can still recognize, however, that all interactions are unique and we are able to adjust to new experiences. Constitutive rules are another term to identify the "rules" for interactions. We use constitutive rules to interpret behavior and attempt to make sense of what is going on in our conversations.

Pearce and Cronen noted that each story we tell (another way to discuss the concept of coherence) will hold different interpretations depending on several factors including: episode, relationship, self-concept, and culture. Each element helps us to understand and relate what happens in each interaction. An episode is thought of as the specific "rules" or "routine" for each interaction we engage in. The relationship between the persons in conversation also determines how a speech act might be interpreted. A story told to a friend might be completely different that the exact same instance explained to a stranger. Self-concept relies not only on how the people in interaction perceive themselves, but also the type of environment they create for the other participant. Culture also plays a very important part in the stories we tell. Our culture, the culture of others can affect the role of communication interaction.

The second process for persons in conversation is the concept of coordination. This concept recognizes that each person has a set of rules that govern their behavior. These rules influence how individuals accent the qualities we want others to see. Each person operates from their own set of rules, but they can be coordinated to coincide with others. Regulative rules are the guides that we use to guide our actions and aid in coordination. Coordination occurs when in a particular interaction we move from sense making and try to live. This idea was referred to as "stories lived" by Pearce and Cronen and it directly relates to the notion of rules in CMM theory. The appropriate responses and rules for behavior that govern the appropriate response. Coordination especially emphasizes the notion that we all have different beliefs, morals, and ideas concerning "good" and "bad," but just because they are different doesn't mean that a mutual outcome cannot occur....
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