Communication Apprehension, Interpretive Styles, Preparation, and Performance in Oral Briefing

Article excerpt

Many people experience difficulty dealing with the anxiety that may accompany oral communication, particularly if it occurs in a formal setting such as an interview, briefing, or presentation. Research indicates that approximately 60 percent of public speakers experience some anxiety on the day of a speaking engagement (Smeltzer & Waltman, 1984). When 3,000 Americans were asked "What are you most afraid of?" 42 percent said "speaking before a group." Fear of speaking outweighed fear of heights (32 percent), insects (22 percent), sickness (19 percent), and death (19 percent) (Mayer, 1989). In an exploratory study, 140 MBA students described communication episodes that had challenged them at work and revealed that oral communication was the most challenging communication arena. The study also identified "controlling nervousness and anxiety" as the most desired communication skill or ability (Reinsch & Shelby, 1993). Nevertheless, oral communication apprehension has been neglected in the business and managerial communication literature.

The primary focus of this study was to test the role of interpretive styles as a contributor to communication apprehension in public speaking. The secondary focus was to study the relationships among communication apprehension, performance, and preparation.

COMMUNICATION APPREHENSION

Communication apprehension (CA) is defined as "an individual's level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons" (McCroskey, 1970, 1977, 1984). Although CA has been examined with respect to written, telephone, and face-to-face oral communication (Daly, 1985; Reinsch, Steele, Lewis, Stano, & Beswick, 1990), these literatures are relatively separate from each other. Here, we will focus on the face-to-face oral CA literature, and the term CA will mean oral CA.

CA is typically divided into "state and trait" aspects. State CA is specific to the immediate communication episode that the person is facing, for example, an interview. It is anxiety experienced in the "here and now" (Booth-Butterfield & Gould, 1986). Trait CA has been defined as "a relatively enduring, personality-type, orientation toward a given mode of communication across a wide variety of encounters" (McCroskey, 1981). Thus, trait CA scores for an individual would be expected to be consistent over time and context, barring an intervention program.

Job performance has been found to be inversely related to trait CA (Penley, Alexander, Jernigan, Henwood, 1991; Pitt & Ramaseshan, 1990). To avoid communication, high apprehensives have been found to select occupations that involve low communication requirements (Daly & McCroskey, 1975). Additionally, high apprehensives have been reported to be less likely to desire advancement than others, since they foresee that such advancement would increase the communication requirements imposed on them (Scott, McCroskey, & Sheahan, 1978). Conversely, Stark, Morley, and Shockley-Zalabak (1987) reported that low apprehensives deliberately sought out and occupied jobs with significant communication requirements.

During presentation episodes, high state CA has been shown to be related to excessive attention to self, which results in poorer performances in public speaking situations (Daly, Vangelisti, & Lawrence, 1989). Speakers experiencing state CA, because they are more self-focused, miss external cues, and thus lose some of the opportunities they may have to adapt to audience reactions. The ability, in a public speaking situation, to determine whether the speaker's point is being understood or whether the audience is paying attention is critical. For these reasons, understanding and coping with CA is important to public speakers (Daly, Vangelisti, & Lawrence, 1989).

THE ROLE OF COGNITION IN COMMUNICATION APPREHENSION

Earlier work in CA investigated conditions that might trigger high state CA in various communication situations, but recent studies conclude that situational variables are relatively unimportant predictors of state CA (Ayres, 1990; Beatty, 1988; Beatty, Balfantz, & Kuwabara, 1989, Beatty & Friedland, 1990; Buss 1980). …