Howard Giles Communication Accommodation Theory
Howard Giles Communication Accommodation Theory
Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) is one of the most studied theories in the communications field and was developed in 1971 from speech accommodation theory. The theory is attributed to Howard Giles, a researcher, and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Howard Giles noticed something interesting. He saw that people change the way they spoke to others, depending on the situation that they were in, and he wondered why. He started looking into it and developed one of the most popular theories that we study today.
What is Giles’s Communication Accommodation Theory?
The accommodation theory suggests that we adapt our language based on our surroundings and with whom we communicate. The accommodation theory is a framework for analyzing spoken discourse.
Communication Accommodation theory, which was originally a part of speech accommodation theory, was created as a way to understand how and why people change their communication patterns with others, depending on the environment they’re in.
When looking at different people in society, the theorists observed that people belong to various groups, whether it be ethnic, religious, political affiliation, etc.
And these people typically model their communication in a way that a synonymous with those groups, the way we interact with others depends on;
- How we see ourselves
- How we see others
Human beings often mentally categorized everything in our life, including communication.
The first part of this is looking at groups. The two different types of groups are:
- In groups: in groups or those we feel like we belong to
- Outgroups: Outgroups are ones we feel like we don’t belong to.
When we have to communicate with people, we first have to determine whether or not they’re part of our in-group, and then we decide whether or not we want to change how we communicate to match them.
The theory considers the underlying motivations and consequences of what happens when two people in a conversation, usually with different cultural backgrounds, shift their communication styles. During communication encounters, people will try to accommodate or adjust their manner of speaking to others.
Communication Accommodation Theory Assumptions
Communication accommodation theory is based on four assumptions.
- Everyone who communicates has similarities and differences with the person with whom they’re communicating. These similarities and differences come from their past and how similar or how dissimilar they are, affecting their willingness to accommodate one communication.
- How they perceive a person’s speech and behaviors determines how they evaluate their message. This essentially means that all communication has context and how we perceive a message based on this context. Are they just idly chatting, or they have an in-depth discussion?
- Language in behaviors gives information about social status and belonging. This assumption says that in a conversation, each member has a status relative to the others. If you’re talking to your boss, then he or she is the one who has the power. However, if you’re helping someone find direction, then you’re the one with the power. Because of this assumption, subordinate individuals are more likely to accommodate those in power.
- There are varying degrees to which they accommodate others, and social norms usually guide this. Every conversation has expectations based on social factors.
Giles says that there are two ways in which we communicate with others. He calls this convergence and divergence. There is a wide array of language features that easily influence when a speaker converges or diverges from the interlocutors.
- Phonological variants
- Rate of speech
- Frequency or pauses in speech
- Degree of lexical diversity
- Tone of interaction
- A nonverbal feature.
- Pitch tone
When a speaking converges to their interlocutors, the usage of their features become more like that of the other person.
When a speaker diverges from the interlocutors, their usage of these features become dissimilar.
Convergence is the way in which you adapt or alter your communication behavior to become more like someone. It could be when we speak and behave more similarly to the person with whom we’re communicating. When a person decides they want to fit in and become a part of their conversation partners in the group, they match their communication patterns.
Accommodations in Convergence
One important part of convergence is accommodation. That is when we look at how we communicate with people who don’t necessarily understand the speech patterns we use and how we aim to improve communication.
The question is whether or not the receiver of your messages perceive your efforts for accommodation in a positive or demeaning way.
We tend to like people who are like us. So, this effort to become more like someone also, therefore, increases affinity. There are many different elements of communication that we can converge on.
For example, have you ever been around maybe a group of young adults or teenagers and adjusted the way you speak? Possibly by adding more slaying phrases or colloquialisms?
Have you ever spoken to someone who’s whispering? Chances are you’re going to whisper too. That is convergence
Communication Accommodation Theory Divergence
Divergence is the exact opposite of convergence. It’s when an individual purposely speaks in acts differently from the person with whom they’re communicating.
It’s usually used when a communicator wants to point out their differences from someone else, such as in a debate or when you’re just expressing a different viewpoint. There’s a utility to divergence as well. It allows people and cultures, in general, to retain their identity, providing a richer communication experience.
When practicing this, the person who is doing the communication doesn’t feel the need to fit in, so they continue communicating their original way. This could be for multiple reasons too.
- One person can simply choose to keep their ethnic identity, so they choose to communicate as they do with people in their own culture.
- Another person can feel their social status is different from the person they’re talking to, so they don’t feel the need to change how they’re talking.
For example: Have you ever had an instructor who you knew was simply using big words just for the case of showing their intelligence or maybe to belittle an audience or to show that they, in fact, held a particular degree or had expertise in an area that their audience maybe did not.
When we use jargon to showcase intellectual superiority, were actually engaging in something called divergence.
Research suggests that when there are intergenerational interactions or encounters, the divergence tends to be the norm.
We do things to make ourselves feel and appear older or younger than other demographics, and convergence then becomes the exception, but not the norm.
Maintenance means there is no adjustment made in speech patterns. There is no Convergence or divergence.
Many studies have been published about communication accommodation theory, and many researchers have added to this foundation. But this foundation has always proven to be very sound.
The fact is, there are a lot of different elements that play into how we communicate with others.
But how we exploit both our similarities and differences is important, and understanding that will help you become a better communicator.
Self-handicapping is when you invoke a reason for not able to do certain things. It is when the elderly, for example, invoke their age as a reason for not performing well. Showing my age and invoking the age for a reason to use social media, for example.
Discourse management is the way in which you alter the content. It is about carefully selecting what topics you should discuss and with whom.
For example, should we talk about sex with our parents? For some, it is a big no—there specific topics of conversation that are simply taboo due to these demographic differences.
Howard Giles Communication Accommodation Theory Example
Example: People adopt the adopt slang that their friends used to fit in. People talk differently using different words and gestures according to the different groups of people like the elderly, children, women, men, teens, rich, poor, etcetera.
Another Example: Think about the last time you talked to one of your friends. How are you talking? Were you using those big words, or were you using short ones? Were you talking in complete sentences, or were you talking in sentence fragments? Were you serious, or were you sarcastic?
With your friends, you were probably much more casual, much more laid back, maybe even goofing around.
Now think about the last time you talked to one of your Boss/Professors.
Were you using bigger or small words? Were you using complete sentences? Were you serious, or were you sarcastic?
Hopefully, you had different answers here;
With your boss/professor, you are likely more serious and a lot more professional. It is because of the communication accommodation.
Applications of Communication Accommodation Theory
- We use convergent strategies for social approval. We want people to like us more or less.
- We also use it for social identity. We are unique and different from one another, but we don’t want to be so different from everyone we don’t belong to or don’t like.
How do we predict what someone will act in Communication Accommodation Theory?
- We can think about cultural differences between individualism or collectivism. How can we predict whether or not somebody will converge or diverge in their communication behaviors?
- We can also predict what someone might do simply by looking at their previous, similar interactions with individuals from different demographics.
- We can start to think about stereotypes and how stereotypes might inform these practices or tell us which we should do. If I identify as a woman with a new identity as a man, then there are ways in which I’m going to make my stories myself. My experience is different from yours simply based on gender stereotypes and either breaking those or affirming those.
- We can also understand that there is a certain etiquette that we were socialized with a group norm. How we should behave in society sometimes gives us clues about why or how someone would or would not converge or diverge and then also for group affiliation.
- If you’re communicating with someone who’s in a group that you desperately want to be a part of, then converging would be the best strategy, basically, to build solidarity dependent relationships, trust, affinity, and the like.
Communication Accommodation Theory Strengths and Weaknesses
Communication Accommodation Theory Strengths
- Convergence and divergence are easily understood concepts.
- Communication Accommodation Theory applies to virtually all communicative contexts.
Communication Accommodation Theory Weaknesses/ Disadvantages
Criticisms/disadvantages of The Communication Accommodation Theory include:
- The first critique of the Communication Accommodation Theory is that it assumes that both parties are communicating rationally. They point out that people can and do become unreasonable and even irrational during the conflict.
- People who realize the communication accommodation of the other person can assume the person has fake or pretentious. However, if not recognized, it makes people comfortable in the interaction increases their being fond of you.
- Communication Accommodation Theory divergence can be taken as mockery.
- In convergence, people can show more power than what they really possess, making them seem intimidating.
- Divergence can create a communication barrier as the distance is maintained between people when somebody is viewed as inferior.
- Differences between convergence and divergence are sometimes not very clear by situations.
- Communication Accommodation Theory assumes that both parties involved in communication are always rational, and there are no conflicts between them.
- There are little researches that have been done on this subject.
Communication Accommodation Theory in the Workplace
This is a typical example of Communication Accommodation Theory in the workplace;
Communication Accommodation Theory Experiment
I’m going to give you a little experiment to do with your friends the next time you’re sitting with them and act in a way that you normally wouldn’t act.
If you’re laughing and joking around, start talking professionally or if you’re studying, start joking around and see how they react.
I guarantee you they’re going to be a little bit confused, but it’ll make more sense when you tell them about communication accommodation theory.