Communication Accommodation Theory

Communication Accommodation Theory

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3746-5.ch005
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Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) allows us to manage our personal and social identities. According to the theory, people adjust speech, vocal patterns, and gestures to help promote mutual understanding in communication (Gallois & Giles, 2015). CAT helps us examine how to emphasize or minimize the differences between ourselves and others during verbal and non-verbal interactions. Language, context, identity, and intergroup and interpersonal factors are used in this theory to make interaction adjustments. Interpersonal control, interpretability, discourse management, and emotional expression are CAT strategies. There are also several supporting approaches that can help manage communication and adjust to receiver reaction including organizational dynamics, active listening, developing the leader within, style diversity, and ongoing self-assessment. The chapter concludes with information on building individual and team trust.
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Communication Accommodation Theory (Cat)

Leadership is responsible for adjusting approaches to group communication. This allows accommodation and flexibility that lead to effective information exchange and increased understanding. Great leaders are flexible communicators, listening and learning on the fly to adjust to each participant’s emotions, risk, and feedback to get the most out of the interaction. They tailor their approach to the group atmosphere and take note of challenges based on the location or time of the interaction. These actions must be taken with care, because communication adjustments gone wrong can lead to problematic, adversarial, or dissatisfying experiences.

CAT promotes success in making these adjustments as we consider the many ways personal and social identity come into play (Giles, 2008). According to the theory, people accommodate communication partners by making changes to their gestures, vocal patterns, and speech when dealing with social encounters, interactions, or negotiations (Gallois and Giles, 2015). We all minimize or emphasize differences with interaction partners and CAT assists with these verbal and non-verbal challenges. CAT also deals with language, context, identity, interpersonal, and intergroup issues in communication.

Divergence and convergence are key factors in CAT. Divergence is when people stress and manage speech and non-verbal differences between themselves and others. Convergence, on the other hand, refers to individual strategies employed to adapt to another person’s communication behavior.

In group settings, CAT is used to ensure a collective comprehension. Facilitators of group interactions should be flexible and willing to change the terms or phrases used. They may also need to change the tempo of the presentation, employ repetition to drive home a point, or change the rate of their speech.

A range of CAT strategies is available for team building from interpersonal control to interpretability to discourse management to emotional expression. For instance, one way to enhance communication abilities is through interpersonal control, which determines how much the sender controls the receiver or how one person in an interaction controls the other. Sender and receiver roles change during communication activities and interpersonal control is a way of managing or regulating another's thoughts, feelings, or actions (Stets, 1991).

The next communication enhancement is interpretability, a strategy that can be used to give the receiver additional help in understanding the message (Jones, Woodhouse et al., 2007). Communicators work with the group using visual cues, emotions, and other characteristics of the receiver to ensure that the message is delivered and that feedback can begin.

With discourse management, we organize the information in the best way for our audience, making sure to repair any difficulties or breaks in the communication. Work to find common ground where group communication will be most effective.

Finally, emotional expression is just what it sounds like. It is how people express, regulate, experience, and influence emotions. This requires understanding and then managing our emotions and the emotions of others during a communicative interaction. Emotional expressions are observable and they take the form of verbal and non-verbal behaviors, including audible sounds, facial movements, and obvious emotional reactions such as laughing, crying, smiling, or scowling.

Table 1 and Table 2 examine CAT strategies as they relate to receiver activity levels that are relevant for group communication. The information is helpful in identifying effective and ineffective activities.

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