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Annals of the International Communication Association
ISSN: 2380-8985 (Print) 2380-8977 (Online) Journal homepage:
Beyond the Snapshot: Setting a Research Agenda
in Organizational Communication
Sue Dewine & Tom Daniels
To cite this article: Sue Dewine & Tom Daniels (1993) Beyond the Snapshot: Setting a Research
Agenda in Organizational Communication, Annals of the International Communication Association,
16:1, 331-346, DOI: 10.1080/23808985.1993.11678857
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Published online: 18 May 2016.
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Date: 25 October 2017, At: 14:59
Commentary on Allen, Gotcher, and Seibert
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Beyond the Snapshot:
Setting a Research Agenda in
Organizational Communication
Ohio University
ORE than 20 years ago, George Kelly (1970) chided the social and
behavioral sciences for subscribing to what he described as "the
epistemological assumption of accumulative jragmentalism, which
is that truth is collected piece by piece" (p. 2). Scholarship in organizational
communication assuredly has not been an exception in its implicit acceptance
of this assumption (Dennis, Goldhaber, & Yates, 1978). Hence the effort of
Allen, Gotcher, and Seibert to review refereed journal articles in the decade
of the 1980s, while prodigious in scope, has the feel of a sightseeing tour
rather than the synthesis that the authors had hoped to produce.
Allen et a1. 's review does indicate some maturing and refinement in the
field during the past decade, but it also compels us to recognize that at least
one thing has not changed over the years-efforts to synthesize the field
result in little more than lists of topics and subtopics under which individual
studies may be grouped. Although such reviews do classify the scholarly
activity of the field, they are tediously constructed and more tediously read
because the field itself still lacks any research agenda that can unify scholars
in the systematic study of relevant phenomena.
Our purposes in this reaction to Allen et a1. 's chapter are (a) to interpret what
they have accomplished in their review; (b) to note, where possible, some
important landmarks that do appear in the decade of research; and (c) to attempt
to chart something of an agenda for future scholarship. We also will refer in our
discussion to another recent review of organizational communication scholarship presented by Wert-Gray, Center, Brashers, and Meyers (1991).
Correspondence and requests for reprints: Sue DeWine, Lasher Hall, School of Interpersonal
Conununication, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701.
Communication Yearbook 16, pp. 331-346
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In order to assess properly the contributions to our understanding of the
field made by Allen et aI., we are obliged to review the method by which they
selected and classified articles and to compare their approach with that of
Wert-Gray et al. Allen et at. extended their analysis across various disciplines
to include 68 journals, whereas Wert-Gray et a1. restricted theirs to 15 major
communication journals. The criteria used by Allen et a1. for selecting the 68
journals seem very general. In contrast, Wert-Gray et al. included only
journals listed in the MatIon Index to Journals in Speech Communication
Through 1985. Not surprisingly, Allen et a1. located more than 800 relevant
articles, whereas Wert-Gray et al. found 289. Wert-Gray et a1. attempted only
to identify research topics, whereas Allen et al. attempted state-of-the-art
assessments within each of their identified research categories.
Allen et al. failed to identify and include some important works (e.g., Smith
& Eisenberg's 1987 study of conflict at Disneyland, Fairhurst & Chandler's
1989 work on leader-member exchange, and a series of studies by Lamude
and colleagues on compliance-gaining in superior-subordinate relationships),
but it does not appear that the omission of a few scattered journal articles
would alter seriously the result of their analysis. A serious limitation does
arise, however, from their decision to focus solely on journals, for this clearly
led them to exclude some critical lines of 1980s scholarship that appeared
only in edited books. Most notably absent are the entire line of research in
Jablin's assimilation theory of organizational communication, Communication Yearbook state-of-the-art reviews and articles, and the handbooks by
Jablin, Putnam, Roberts, and Porter (1987) and Goldhaber and Barnett (1988).
A second difficulty occurs in the system of topical categories and in
assignments of studies to these categories. Wert-Gray et at began with an a
priori set of 13 topics. Allen et a1. derived 19 topics a posteriori from the
studies themselves. On face, it would seem that Allen et a1. achieved a broader
review, and they have indeed identified some significant areas of inquiry that
were not revealed in the Wert-Gray et at study (e.g., studies on networks,
organization-environment interface, technology, ethics, structure, and crosscultural issues). But Allen et al. also have not identified some important
topical areas that were included by Wert-Gray et a1. (e.g., socialization and
Finally, Allen et al. report intercoder reliability estimates ranging from .70
to .89-much lower than the average of .97 attained by Wert-Gray et a1. in
their classification decisions. The difficulty in the lower reliabilities for Allen
et al. is reflected at many points in their review with studies that could have
been, or in some instances should have been, assigned to other categories.
Studies do have a way of crossing arbitrarily defined topical boundaries, but
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Commentary on Allen, Gotcher, and Seibert
Allen et al. have imposed upon themselves the obligation of precise classifications by claiming to rank order the topics according to the number of
studies appearing in each area. This counting system and rank ordering lead
to a potentially misdirected impression of the relative attention that has been
given to each topic during the past decade.
These are the primary strengths and limitations of the Allen et a1. review,
especially when it is considered in comparison with the other recent review
by Wert-Gray et a1. In light of these strengths and limitations, what does the
Allen et al. review contribute to our understanding of organizational communication scholarship?
In this section, we comment briefly on each of the topic areas that Allen et
a1. include in their review. Our comments are concerned with the scope of the
review and the usefulness of the authors' conclusions.
Communication Skills
Allen et al. note that researchers have been concerned with communication
skills such as influencing, listening, self-presentation, provision of feedback,
and interviewing, but they provide virtually no information about the findings
and general conclusions that can be drawn from such studies. They do
comment, however, on Bingham and Burleson's (1989) finding that strategies
for deflecting sexual harassment generally are perceived as ineffective, and
call for more research on the subject. They also call for more study of methods
to improve listening skills and adoption of a situational-relational perspective
in compliance-gaining research, but they do not draw any propositions as
such from the lines of research that they cite in these areas.
Theoretical Advances
Allen et a1. note in this section that various scholars have attempted in the
past decade either to describe or to invoke paradigms and metaphors for the
direction of organizational communication scholarship. The discussion here
is accurate, but is limited by its restriction to refereed journal articles because
some of the most compelling statements on scholarly paradigms and perspectives have appeared in other published forms (e.g., Krone, Jablin, & Putnam,
1987; Tompkins & Redding, 1988). The reference in this section to Eisenberg's
(1990) comment on our need to attend to diversity is noteworthy, but diversity
in the workplace is only one of several interacting forces that are beginning
a radical transformation of American economic organizations. These dramatic changes must have a place in our agenda for future research.
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Symbols and Culture
Allen et al. are quite correct in their assessments of the growth and popularity
of studies in organizational culture and symbolism (Le., interpretive and critical
studies of organizational communication), but they appear to confuse subject
with method in their review. For example, they discuss studies that treat metaphor as their subject. In fact, these studies more properly focus on discourse,
with metaphor analysis as a tool for understanding that discourse. This confusion
of subject leads Allen et al. to the questionable conclusion that interpretive
studies tend to address only one symbolic area at a time. A very good example
of the difficulty with this conclusion is provided by an article that was omitted
from the review, namely, Smith and Eisenberg's (1987) study of conflict at
Disneyland. Smith and Eisenberg feature the analysis of metaphor as the centerpiece of their study, but they use the analysis to reveal a foundation in language
for an array of conflicts between labor and management in the company. All such
studies are concerned with discourse or text, but the reasons for analysis of texts
have to do with sense-making, co-optation, conflict, and so on. Still, Allen et al.
are justified in their call for richer interpretive work that will provide "more than
'snapshots' of culture."
Information Flow, Networks, Structure, and Technology
Although Allen et a1. discuss information flow, networks, structure, and
technology as separate categories of research, we have consolidated them here
because the scholarship reviewed on these subjects includes many studies that
cut across more than one classification. For example, in the section on information flow, Allen et al. discuss studies of the effects of structural elements on flow,
but structural influences on decision making are included under the topic of
structure. Similarly, the section on networks includes studies of the networktechnology relationship, whereas the technology section includes studies of
technological effects on interpersonal interaction. Allen et al. should not be
faulted here, for these are difficult lines to draw. The important thing is that the
relevant scholarship is covered. Their discussion of the relevant lines of research
is restricted mainly to statements of the subjects investigated rather than what
we have learned from the scholarship. The network section is something of an
exception because Allen et a1. do contend that the research has been more
measurement (and method) centered than theory centered, and they provide good
examples of the kinds of studies that contribute to network theory.
Power and Influence
In their review of scholarship on power and influence, Allen et al. primarily
call attention to the perspectives from which studies have been conducted, in
particular, an interdependency perspective and a social construction perspective. The discussion is accurate insofar as it is developed, but it does seem to
Commentary on Allen. Gotcher. and Seibert
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us that Allen et aI. have not fully elaborated the shift in perspective that has
occurred in recent years. They describe the shift as a move from French and
RavenYs (1959) model to a social construction model, but it may be more
accurate to say that a traditional resource conception of power has been
superseded by a critical perspective of power (e.g., Daniels & Spiker, 1991).
They do correctly note, however, the rising interest in a political approach to
organizational communication, and their call for continued examination of
political behavior in the workplace is well taken.
Decision Making and Problem Solving
The review of organizational communication scholarship on decision making is particularly well constructed. Allen et a1. describe the context of the
research, the prevailing outcomes and process approaches to the subject,
research topics under each approach, and, most important some generalizations and interpretations of the body of literature in this area. They note a
shift in the scholarship from outcomes to process, offer evidence to mitigate
the criticism that communication scholars do not provide sound prescriptions
in this area, and question the assumed link between participatory decision
making and organizational effectiveness. Their views on some of these
matters can be argued but they have done a good job of articulating a
synthesis of the decision-making/problem-solving scholarship.
Organization-Environment Interface
Allen et a1. begin this section with an astute but often neglected notion that
public relations and boundary-spanning foci in the study of external communication really are not quite the same thing. In the former category much of
the work takes the form of case studies with an interest in how organizations
disseminate information, though some of the scholars cited by Allen et a1.
(e.g., Grunig, 1982) clearly are concerned as well with the manner in which
organizations process information from the environment. Research on the
organizational role of the boundary spanner, as Allen et aI. note, involves a
different set of issues that have received relatively little attention in public
communication research. Their suggestions for work in this area do seem to
provide the beginnings of an agenda for scholarship.
Communication and Management Style
This section of the review is restricted mainly to topical identification of
variable relationships that have been considered and detailed listing of the
relevant studies. under each topic. Some of the work here is not clearly
distinguished from the earlier discussion of skills, and the interpretation is
restricted to yet another invocation of the call for attention to contextual,
situational or idiosyncratic influences on style.
Language and Message Content
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Allen et al. seem to have confused unnecessarily their discussion of
language and message content research with their earlier review of work on
symbols and culture, and they even note here that "related research" is
reviewed under the earlier heading. Indeed, it seems most of the work
discussed in this section merely adds to the topical list already addressed
under symbols and culture. There are, however, some variable-analytic studies of message content that clearly have a different set of concerns and could
be discussed in more detail under thi sheading.
Uncertainty and Information Adequacy
The review of scholarship on information adequacy appears to be comprehensive, but the discussion once again is focused more on the development
of research topics than on general and recurrent conclusions in the research.
Allen et al. do note one general conclusion in the finding of several studies
that "more information is not always better" (p. 283), but they do little to
interpret the general body of research in this area. They do point to some
limitations that could be addressed with additional scholarship, but it seems
from the dates of studies in the review that interest in the area is waning.
Allen et a1. found relatively few articles on ethics. In their words, "the lack
of such discussion is troubling" (p. 286). They also note the absence of the
subject in the two major handbooks (Goldhaber & Barnett, 1988; Jablin et
al., 1987), although the subject certainly does receive attention in the major
undergraduate organizational communication textbooks (e.g., Daniels & Spiker,
1991; Goldhaber, 1990; Kreps, 1990). Even the referenced articles appear
from this review to be far more often concerned with the proposal of ethical
codes, models, or theories than with studies of the degree to which organizational behaviors and communication reflect ethical expectations. Allen et al.
call for more work on the ethical implications of communicative practices,
but how researchers are to go about this is not clear from their review. The
provision of ethical criticism is a task more often consigned to rhetoricians
than to social scientists, and it may be that the research, if done at all, will
be restricted to juxtaposition of behavioral descriptions against agreed-upon
ethical codes to at least delineate the gap between the two.
Allen et al. note that climate research continues to be plagued with problems in definition and operationalization of the construct, yet they contend
that "the time has come for theoretical and model-building efforts" (p. 289).
How future efforts will succeed where past ones have failed is a question for
Commentary on Allen, Gotcher, and Seibert
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speculation, but AlIen et a1. do make it clear that climate is treated primarily
as a psychological construct with multivariate makeup. In this respect, climate appears to be the variable-analytic scholar's equivalent of culture, but
distinguishing between "climate" and "culture" also has become a troublesome task. The interactionist approach to climate as described by Allen et a1.
seems similar to symbolic treatments of culture, and there is a functionalist,
variable-analytic school of thought in the study of culture (Smircich, 1981)
that casts novel variables into climatelike models.
Cross-Cultural Research
Although cross-cultural communication is among the least studied subjects
in organizational contexts, it is clear from Allen et al. 's review that scholars
are beginning to recognize the increasing importance of this area, particularly
as the work force becomes more diverse. Curiously, Allen et al. do not
categorize studies on topics arising from gender and racial issues. There are
assuredly quite a few gender studies in organizational communication, but
not in the journals covered by AlIen et a1. Not surprisingly, they refer to only
a few such studies in other sections of their review. We personalIy are
unaware of any research on interracial issues in organizational communication, with the exception of cross-cultural studies that involve Asians and
whites. The exclusion of such topics from the 1980s agenda is significant,
since the case for the importance of cross-cultural research can be extended
easily to gender and racial concerns.
Groups and Organizational Effectiveness
Although much of the research on decision making and problem solving
actually occurs with groups, the group studies reviewed in this category of Allen
et al.'s chapter are concerned with leadership and with the role of groups in social
construction of reality. It appears that a good bit of relevant leadership research
may not have been included in this review (e.g., Fairhurst & Chandler, 1989;
Hirokawa & Pace, 1983), but the central themes are adequately described.
It is interesting to see attention to the role of groups in reality construction, since
interpretive theory seems to hinge on this concept. The impact of group processes
involves more than just establishing and enforcing normative expectations. It
extends to fmming members' understandings ofthe structure, power, politics, tasks,
decision premises, valued outcomes, and so on. The call to continue this line of
work with naturally occurring groups seems quite appropriate.
The inclusion of an outcomes category in the scholarship seems almost
superfluous, despite Downs, Clampitt, and Pfeiffer's (1988) call for outcomesoriented scholarship. For Allen et al. to say that only 66 studies have
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addressed outcomes is not quite appropriate, for the literature reflects hundreds of studies of communicative correlates with outcomes such as satisfaction, quality of decisions, and commitment. Allen et a1. admittedly are more
concerned here with tangibles such as productivity and performance, but
studies on stress and burnout are not far removed from the kinds of outcomes
that generally are addressed in organizational communication scholarship,
especially in variable-analytic scholarship. If linkages can be established
with productivity and performance, it would be something of an advance in
the state of the art, but demonstrations of such linkages are not necessary to
legitimate the study of organizational communication.
The Allen et al. review stops short of developing a research agenda for a
more unified body of organizational communication research. We attempt to
establish such an agenda here, by first establishing three overriding principles
and then identifying potential research areas in eight of the most promising
topical areas.
Research Design
First, the focus of organizational communication research must be communicati ve messages. It is appropriate to study how communication behaviors
affect other variables, but noncommunication variables cannot be the only
focus and still claim an attachment to the field of organizational communication. Job satisfaction is a noncommunication variable, and when we correlate that with job commitment, for example, we have discovered nothing
about the communication process.
Second, the criterion for selection of topics to investigate should be that
the research helps solve human interaction problems or dilemmas. Applied
research in its best form helps us handle everyday encounters with baffling
contexts and confusing messages. Organizational communication researchers
have an obligation to contribute significantly to human existence and should
not shrink from that task.
Third, in our opinion, sophisticated statistical analysis has gone beyond
human understanding. This is not to say we want to abandon empirical
research-we were both trained as empirical researchers and still conduct
much of our research using those methods. We recognize the value of
multivariate statistics and the ability to study multiple dependent variables,
but we also feel that multivariate techniques are used frequently to please
editors and add little to our attempts to understand the communication
process. Deetz (1992) suggests that such research helps maintain the imbalance in organizational control. He notes:
Commentary on Allen. Gotcher, and Seibert
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Most research conducted with categorization, linear models, and generalization
as guiding elements has little potential for anything else but furthering control.
Little of the research on corporations has aimed at fostering disciplinary resistance or wider interest representation, even when its focus is on "participation"
and "democracy." (pp. 347-348)
We believe some sophisticated statistical methods lead to such abuses.
Multivariate statistics do recognize the complexity of the communication
process, but the answers we derive are often more complex and less understandable than the process under study. To help unify our discipline and make
our results more understandable, we suggest the following guides for organizational communication research.
To begin, researchers should use the least complicated statistic for each
research study. If multivariate statistics are felt necessary, the results must
answer two basic questions: So what? and How will these conclusions change
or confirm the way in which we interact on a daily basis?
Next, we must significantly increase the number of studies that triangulate
empirical and interpretive research methods. Let's stop talking about why this
blended approach is valuable and actually do more of it. "Interpretive theorizing appears to be far more attractive than interpretive methods" (DeWine,
1988, p. 347). Too much of the triangulated research is awkward (Faules,
1982) and too much writing calls for it without providing any clear evidence
that it can be done (Deetz, 1982; Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo, 1982;
Putnam & Pacanowsky, 1983; Smircich, 1983). There are some shining
exceptions where the researcher has done a fine job of integration, but they
are too few (Nicotera, 1990).
Finally, we need to reaffirm that organizational communication is about
communication in real organizations-not college sophomores who may be
reporting on their summer jobs or work-study assignments. The field of
interpersonal communication may be allowed a bit more flexibility, and
although we personally are not interested in finding out how sophomores
enter into and terminate their relationships with girlfriends and boyfriends,
there may be some areas of study for which "warm bodies" are sufficient. For
organizational communication research, however, we cannot conceive of
worthwhile conclusions being drawn from college sophomores and applied
to individuals who depend on the organization for their survival and status.
Organizational politics is not a topic anyone understands well while in the
nonthreatening, protective environment of the university, and yet organizational members must deal with politics every day on the job.
Developing Research Plots
Like the plot of a play, the Allen et al. review and our critique of it suggest
numerous areas ripe for exploration. An examination of these areas reveals a
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field in need of focus and direction. In particular, we will set a research
agenda for interpersonal relations in organizations, theoretical development,
communication skills, groups, power and politics, diversity, change, organizational culture, and family and work life.
With 233 articles reviewed for the interpersonal communication section, it
becomes the largest single area researched in the field of organizational
communication. These articles focus on interpersonal relationships in organizational contexts. The largest subsection reviewed is feedback and its impact
on behavior in a variety of contexts. What is most needed is meta-analysis of
this large body of research before we plunge into even more diverse topics.
For example, Wilkins and Andersen (1991) conducted a meta-analysis that
found no differences between males and females in work stress. That type of
research needs to be conducted across all of the areas mentioned here. While
gender differences have been carefully analyzed, little research has been
conducted in cross-cultural or racial differences. We call for future research
to identify "inequity indicators" and techniques leading to increased fairness
in the workplace. With the predicted diversity in the work force by the year
2000, organizations need to prepare for a very different worker in the future.
The next largest area reviewed by Allen et al. is that of communication
skills. They draw no conclusions from the research except to call for more
research, yet there appears to be ample justification for developing clear lines
of research in compliance-gaining and compliance-resistance. Much of the
research reviewed by Allen et a1. focuses on selection of influence tactics
across a wide variety of settings (Le., organizational level, choice by superior
and subordinate of tactics, relational power and influence strategies, job
experience, and competence). This area of communication skills research has
depended on survey instruments that, for the most part (DeWine, Nicotera,
& Parry, 1991), ask respondents to predict the types of techniques they would
use under various conditions. Researchers need to ask coworkers, subordinates, and superiors about the types of influence strategies they have used
and their perceptions of the impacts of those techniques, and then compare
those strategies with outcome variables such as promotions, performance
appraisals, and success rates of proposals. Studies looking at skills and
outcomes such as promotability and performance need to be encouraged
(Papa & Tracy, 1988; Shockley-Zalabak, Staley, & Morley, 1988; Sypher &
Sypher, 1983; Sypher & Zorn, 1986).
Although Allen et al. uncovered five research articles on listening, it is still
a forgotten area of research. It is ironic that we have declared 50% of the
communication process "defunct. n Of the five articles mentioned (Hunt &
CuselIa, 1983; Lewis & Reinsch, 1988; Papa & Glenn, 1988; Reinsch &
Lewis, 1984; Sypher, Bostrom, & Seibert, 1989), fOUf were published in the
Journal of Business Communication and one in Communication Education.
It is time researchers began to explore this area with renewed interest and
understanding of the importance of listening to the communicative process,
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Commentary on Allen, Gotcher. and Seibert
and time that editors look at such research with added attention. To what
degree do individuals' fear of being influenced prevent them from listening?
How do perceptions of the degree to which someone else is listening influence one's evaluation of the other's intelligence, support, and understanding?
Studies in which participants are asked to evaluate another's listening immediately after interactions, and that test the listener's comprehension and
degree of idea acceptance, will produce more insight than simple comprehension tests.
One notable area of research, which addresses our call for research to help
solve human problems, is represented by Bingham and Burleson's (1989) study
on strategies for deflecting sexual harassment. Organizational communication
researchers should be providing evidence of effective "refusal" messages, along
with compliance-gaining and compliance-resistance tactics. We are convinced
that organizational members will face more complicated communication situations in the future and will need an arsenal of behaviors, and knowledge of their
impact, with which to combat the attacks they will receive.
Because we feel the climate for equality in the United States has been
dissolving during the past 15 years, we believe it is more critical now than
ever before that we provide individuals with tools and skills to combat the
discrimination they are likely to face. The field of organizational communication has an opportunity to make significant contributions to individuals'
repertoires of communication strategies to deflect harassment and abuse. We
have not yet met that challenge.
It would seem that a companion to communication skills would be communication training research, yet Allen et al. dismiss this area, saying simply,
"The bulk of training articles ... are not reviewed here because of space
constraints. However, numerous articles were published during the 1980s,
many dealing with training in communication skills" (p. 262). If communication skills constitute an important area of research, then the ways in which
organizational members learn those skills is also critical.
Theoretical development is the next area on which researchers should focus
their efforts. We believe the most fruitful writing that attempts to develop a
theoretical framework for future research includes that by Fulk and Boyd
(1991), Tompkins and Redding (1988), Krone et al. (1987), and Deetz (1992).
Scholars need to use social identity theory (Ashforth & Mael, 1989) to
identify messages used to create distance in a relationship as well as to
identify with some implied organizational group, and to adapt the social
influence model and adaptive structuration (Fulk & Boyd, 1991) to contexts
such as a sales force. Social information processing research must be tested
(Zalesny & Ford, 1990). Eisenberg's (1990) "jamming" needs to be taken out
of the context of abstract image making and applied to real organizational
The most promising of all the recent theoretical work has come from Stan
Deetz's new book, Democracy in an Age of Corporate Colonization (1992).
This treatise provides a rich theoretical foundation from which to launch a
research endeavor. Deetz claims that during the past decade organizations
have become the primary institution in many societies because of sheer
economic power:
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The United States is one of a handful of nations with gross national products
larger than the gross product of several international corporations. Deeply involved with the growth of the multinationals have been issues of accountability
and effects on nations' economics and public policies. (p. 18)
The corporations have transformed how people work, live at home, and deal
with family, and have also developed a growing domination of social decision
making. Deetz calls for research on a new political sensitivity with three
goals: "insight, critique, and education" (pp. 345-346).
Research on groups and decision making has received extensive attention for
much longer than the decade of review provided by Allen et a1. In addition, this
subject area represents probably one of the best-constructed sections of Allen et
a1. 's chapter. The authors do suggest that laboratory studies can operationally
define variables, but the pressures and constraints on decision making can better
be assessed in the field. This line of research is exactly what we have called for,
particularly in light of the shift from outcomes perspective to a process orientation with "factors influencing how decisions are made in a real-world setting"
(p. 271). What we believe is needed is a carefully executed meta-analysis of these
research lines, resulting in a clear statement of valid research findings translated
into group process approaches. Included in this review should be what Allen et
al. list as a separate category of organizational and group effectiveness. The
questions posed by Allen et a1. at the end of the group effectiveness section
provide some hint of potential lines of research.
Charles Redding (1991) calls for the examination of power and ethics in
organizations. But how should we study power in the organization? Apparently,
not many researchers have been able to answer that question. Too many researchers are still studying French and Raven's (1959) five bases of power and have
not seen the direct links between power and sexual harassment and between
power and politics in organizations. In fact, much of the research reviewed by
Allen et al. actually is focused on conflict management that mayor may not deal
directly with uses and abuses of power (Ross & DeWine, 1988).
We would urge the continued examination of the use of language to
exercise power and influence (Drake & Moberg, 1986). Language usage in
organizational research has not received the attention it deserves, particularly
with regard to the powerful use of language to control and express "political"
views. "Political maneuvering" appears to be a promising new area of research, especially as it relates to sexual harassment, male and female superiors, and ethical decision making. Field research settings are difficult to enter;
however, to understand how power is manifest in an organization, we do not
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Commentary on Allen, Gotcher; and Seibert
believe instrumentation or laboratory studies can come close to tapping into the
variable. Perhaps the use of critical incidents and focused interviews will reveal
how organizational members use power to advance ideas and themselves.
Allen et a1. call for research on ethical codes of conduct and are "troubled"
by the lack of interest in this area. Instead of focusing on codes of ethics, we
think it would be much more profitable to examine the degree to which
organizational behaviors and communication reflect ethical expectations.
The analysis should use rhetorical themes and behavioral descriptions and
then juxtapose the results with unwritten ethics codes. Finally, research on
ethics codes and decision making should be placed within the context of
power analysis, because neither exists without the other.
As organizational practitioners tum to issues of diversity, change, and organizational culture, so do researchers. However, the field of organizational communication has spent too much time calling for such research and not enough
time doing it (DeWine, 1988). In fact, Allen et a1. identify this as the second most
frequently researched area, and claim that it has hblossomed."
First, we need to identify more clearly what we mean by culture and how
change and diversity influence that culture. Too often we have confused
culture with climate research (DeWine, 1991). We think organizational climate has been overresearched. It has not presented more than a vague
perception of "how happy I am in my job." Practitioners are tired of hearing
about general perceptions of "how things are around here."
Unfortunately, researchers continue to view culture as a variable and
believe in "managing or changing it in predictable ways" and in "linking it
to desired organizational and individual outcomes" (p. 264), while other
disciplines are embracing organizational culture as a much larger framework
for examining life in any organization. Allen et a1. gloomily predict the
continuation of this trend of viewing culture as a variable to be manipulated,
which certainly does not put us in the forefront of research. We think
Mumby's (1988) characterization-that an organization does not have a
culture, it is a culture-is a more realistic view. Organizations do not have
any existence independent of the shared values and meaning systems that are
generated by organization members.
We would like to recommend more research on culture be undertaken from
the "inside," for example, Goodall's (1984) examination of NASA and the Uthal
conference. We do not believe culture is a variable, but rather a state of mind or
existence that guides and directs all activity in the organization. Only from the
inside and from a review of history can one come to understand culture. "We are
dealing with culture only when a group believes so strongly in something that it
automatically assumes that any new member coming into the group ought to have
that same assumption" (Schein, 1985, p. 11).
With change will come diversity, and issues related to this change in the
workplace must be addressed. All other variables will be affected by the
dramatic infusion of diverse workers predicted for the next century. The field
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of organizational communication has another opportunity to lead researchers
and practitioners into a greater understanding of how these changes will
affect all aspects of human interaction.
A final area for productive research is family and work life. As individuals
spend more and more time at work, the lines between their private lives and work
lives begin to blur (DeWine, Pearson, & Yoast, 1993). Allen et a1. mention the
work-family relationship only as it is related to organizational decision making
(Wicker & Burley, 1991). We believe this is an excellent area to combine
interpersonal and family research with organizational communication designs.
We all know what it is like to juggle, integrate, and compromise our own desires
as well as demands from others in an effort to reconcile our personal and
organizational lives. We know that the stresses of organizational life influence
the conduct of our personal lives and vice versa. Of particular interest is the
impact the changing role of women has had on this interaction. How are mutual
influences and our coping strategies (juggling, integrating, compromising-or
just giving up) reflected in ourday-to-day communication and relationships with
others in both of these lives? (DeWine, Daniels, & Pearson, 1988, p. 1)
There are a number of areas we have left out of our research agenda (Le., public
relations and boundary spanning, infonnation flow and networks, technology,
and structure), not because they are unfruitful areas for research, but because we
are attempting to create a focus for the field. We think attention should be paid
first to communication skills and training, organizational culture, ethics, diversity, and family and work life. These areas are most promising, and all directly
focus on communicative messages in organizations.
We need more meta-analysis work, so we can see where we have been and
make better predictions about where we are going. We need to separate the
method from the process (i.e., the "metaphor" is not the culture, but rather a
tool used to study it). We need to use understandable statistical analyses and
triangulate research methods. We must stop talking about doing these things,
and actually try to do them.
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