Telephones, fax machines and email have all made office communication faster and easier. At the same time, they have dealt a big blow to interpersonal, informal forms of communication. Email tends to be formal, telephone calls are normally short, perfunctory and scripted and opportunities for informal conversations over projects are rarer. Meetings cannot be held daily to facilitate brainstorming, and many companies are realizing that something valuable may be lost.
Informal interactions give opportunities for people to bounce ideas off of each other and solicit for personal opinions in a low pressure environment. Outside of formal meetings, outside of email messages that can potentially be easily forwarded unbeknownst to the originator of the message, a personal conversation between small groups of people is the easiest and most comfortable way to get people talking. It is also easier for people to ask questions in an informal setting without taking everyone back to a subject that has already been covered.
This paper will first discuss the Relational Dialectics Theory. Baxter (2004) writes that inherent in human dialogue is the necessity of bouncing off different perspectives, opposing ideas and divergent voices. According to the authors, conversations between people achieve unity only through the differences in their opinions. Proper dialogue has to include both unity and divergence. There is a need to engage in more conversation between co workers in order to improve unity through having a continuous exchange of different ideas. In this regard, many companies are making arrangements for their employees to be able to talk informally by creating what one writer calls ‘watering holes’ where employees can converge over coffee for informal meetings. Encouraging informal discussions will ensure that managers get more people involved in conversations about how the company is going about doing different things and in that way produce more unity by allowing a variety of views to be expressed.
This paper also discusses the Social Penetration Theory which looks at interpersonal relationships’ progression through people slowly revealing more and more about themselves. This theory is relevant because as co workers spend more time sharing ideas, they gradually become closer and more at ease to share their real opinions and even the ideas that they hold close to their heart. People can even feel free to express criticism which would not have been easily expressed without a fairly deep level of intimacy. According to Em (2009), people gradually and progressively reveal their thoughts as they get closer to one another. Having more informal conversation time makes it more likely that they will reveal what they really think.
The Social Penetration Theory can be used to make a case for enabling employees to share their attitudes, feelings and opinions through self disclosure.
The theory of Symbolic Interactionism is also excellent for explaining the importance of facilitating interpersonal interaction in the office. According to the authors of this theory, people act towards people and things according to the meaning that those things hold to them. That meaning can change depending on an individual’s interaction with other people. The theory has been found applicable in the workplace setting. As people interact with one another, they interpret and define each other’s behavior. More interaction between workmates can result in formation of similar values and behavior. As people interact with one another, they begin to feel that they have a common social order.
One more theory is Dramatism which seeks to understand social interaction in terms of drama. The basic premise is that life is a drama and most situations are viewed by people as drama. Human interactions can be looked at from a dramatic point of view. People play certain roles, and they decide how they want to be viewed, as they interpret other people’s actions. Dramatism addresses how people explain the things they do. It explains how they understand themselves and how they explain themselves to others.
The Agenda Setting theory is also very apt for studying workplace interpersonal communication. According to this theory, certain people and institutions set the agenda for others. The theory states that the mass media cues people in on what issues are more important and therefore worth focusing on. Some people in the work place can play the role of Opinion Leaders in the course of interpersonal communications by steering the conversation and clueing their peers in on the important issues to discuss and work on. When interpersonal communication in smaller, informal settings is encouraged, people are better able to interchangeably practice the role of opinion leader.
Anderson, J. A. (2006). Communication theory. Guilford Press.
Baxter, A. L. (2004). A Tale of Two Voices: Relational Dialectics Theory. The Journal of Family Communication. 4(3&4): 181-192
Deutsh, C. A. (1995). Commercial Property: Communication in the Workplace; Companies Using Coffee Bars to Get Ideas Brewing. New York Times. November 5th 1995.
Em G. (2009). A First Look at Communication Theory, 7th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.