“Man is a social animal”, we have heard and used this quote in exams, essays and basically anywhere we deemed it fit. Mankind is the sole species with a superior intellect and power of communication. It is also said that communication is necessary for the survival of humans. Perhaps, as concluded, it is due to our immense need to feel connected with others, and this need of ours lead to the birth of a theory in the context of social behavior of humans, known as the Communication Accommodation Theory.
So what is ‘Communication Accommodation Theory’, basically, it is described as the adjustment that we humans make in our speech, in order to connect and understand each other better, i.e. minimize social differences. The theory was presented by the professor of Communication at the University of California, Howard Giles.
The Communication Accommodation Theory by Howard Giles was taken from the basis of Speech Adjustment Theory, which in essence, highlights the importance of psychological factors and concepts in the understanding of speech. However, this theory includes other elements of speech like gestures or non-verbal speech. It used to be known as the Speech Accommodation Theory until its added factors of gestures, and now is known as Communication Accommodation Theory as communication includes all behavioral factors.
The theory emphasizes on two factors: Connection and Positive Image. Basically, humans make an adjustment in their speech due to their need to feel connected and bonded with others, and they also make adjustments when they feel the need to maintain or bring about a positive image and reputation in the eyes of the interactant. Adjustment includes adjusting one’s accents to meet and match the other’s, use of a different variation of vocabulary, the attitude towards life and even some views.
We have seen and known people to take on a slightly different personality with each of their different social group. For example, a person might be increasingly well-mannered in a social setting with a particular group and then at the next moment, assume the vocabulary of a pirate or sailor with another group. this extents to the personality of communication shift with how one communicates with their parents, friends, children, teenagers, senior people, women, men, poor, wealthy, etc. In essence, in order to match and belong with a particular group, a person assumes the identity and behavioral characteristics of the people they like and adjust themselves accordingly.
Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs Theory categorizes the third stage of need as “Social Needs” or “Belonging Needs”. It can be assumed that The Communication Accommodation theory is supported by Maslow, as through recognizing a need, a human will be motivated to adjust his communicative behavior and connect or belong with a group of people.
Types Of Accommodation Processes
In order to minimize social differences, people bring about an adjustment to their communication. It mainly includes an adjustment in their gestures and words, i.e. verbal and non-verbal communication.
The two types of adjustment process a person can go through, as described by Howard Giles are: Convergence and Divergence.
The first type of adjustment process is Convergence in the Communication Accommodation Theory. This process is where people adjust their communication to minimize social differences and connect with the interactant, creating a comfort-zone.
The second type of adjustment process is Divergence in the Communication Accommodation Theory. This is quite the opposite of the first process, Convergence, as it is the emphasis on the social differences of the individual and the interactant. Here, the person tries to adjust in a manner where they would further disassociate themselves with the interactant.
The choice of adaptation process is dependent upon the interactant. If the interactant is someone who the individual associates themselves with, them they would use convergence as to match and connect, while if the interactant is someone who the person wishes to not associate themselves with, then they would use Divergence.
For Example: In the case of Diane Downs, a woman who’s three children were shot by a stranger, every mother was trying to connect with her until she was found guilty of the attempted murders and then every mother went on to disassociate themselves with her.
Features Included In The Communication Accommodation Theory:
- In adaptation, the person tries to match the way they talk with how the interactant talks.
- It can be intentional or unintentional.
- Accent, delivery speed and credence are some of the factors which are adjusted.
- Its purpose is to fit in a group.
- It represents the belonging needs of an individual.
- People emphasize on their positive sides whilst communicating with others.
- This includes social, linguistic and psychological behavior of the interactant which the individual tries to match.
Criticisms Faced By Communication Accommodation Theory:
A theory is presented and criticisms come flowing in. Howard Giles theory is no different. Here are some of the criticisms faced by the theory after its presentation:
- Not much research has been performed on this topic.
- An individual through adjustment, can manipulate the interactant by faking a personality.
- If an individual assumes a person to be inferior to them, they can use divergence and come off as intimidating.
- Individuals can show power through adjustment which they don’t really possess.
- Through adjustment, others can grow fond of a personality of an individual which doesn’t really exist.
- Sometimes, adjustment can also be taken as mockery.
- Divergence results in establishing barriers between the person and the interactant.
Example of Communication Accommodation Theory:
Eleanor, a junior in an organisation learns that a senior she looks up to is interested in fantasy novels. Upon her next meeting, she “casually” includes the novels in the conversation as a way to connect with her. Elanor glorifies and appreciates the plot, characters and the writing. This is the use of convergence on her part as she is trying to establish a deeper connection with a senior she looks up to. As for the senior, she accepts the advancement of respect and replies with closed off answers, as to not let the conversation go way out of hand. this is the use of divergence process on the senior’s part.