Goal Complexity and the Perceived Competence of Interpersonal Influence Messages

By Schrader, David C. | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Goal Complexity and the Perceived Competence of Interpersonal Influence Messages


Schrader, David C., Communication Studies


The ability to exercise control over one's environment is considered an important skill for the competent communicator (Parks, 1994; Wiemann, 1977). One way individuals can achieve such control is by getting others to comply with their requests, a function of communication that has generated a significant body of literature. Studies of the interpersonal influence process have identified the strategies people use to gain compliance (e.g., Marwell & Schmitt, 1967; Wiseman & Schenck-Hamlin, 1981), the characteristics of compliance-gaining messages (e.g., Baxter, 1984), source and receiver characteristics relevant to message selection and generation (Boster & Stiff, 1984), and the contextual features that constrain message behavior (Cody & McLaughlin, 1980).

More recent explorations in interpersonal influence have focused on the cognitive considerations people have as they produce and evaluate compliance-gaining messages (Cody, Greene, Marston, O'Hair, Baaske, & Schneider, 1986; Dillard, Segrin, & Harden, 1989; Hample & Dallinger, 1987; Smith, 1984). In general, these investigations reveal that people are concerned about achieving their objectives (effectiveness) and conforming with behavioral expectations of a specific situation (appropriateness), criteria that Spitzberg and Cupach (1984) consider essential to judgments of communication competence. In the interpersonal influence literature, Dillard et al. (1989) framed these two concerns in terms of primary and secondary goals. Primary goals, which define and drive an interaction, focus on the instrumental objective of gaining compliance and encompass sources' concerns for effectiveness. Secondary goals, which shape and constrain the behavioral options available to the source, focus on interpersonal and identity objectives (Clark & Delia, 1979) and reflect (but are not necessarily synonymous with) concerns for appropriateness. Dillard's (1990) goal-planning-action (GPA) model specifies five secondary goals: (a) identity goals, which focus on ethical, moral, and personal standards; (b) interaction goals, which involve concerns about impression management and conversation maintenance; (c) relational resource goals, which focus on relationship management; (d) personal goals, which reflect physical, temporal, and material concerns of the communicator; and (e) arousal management goals, which reference efforts to manage the anxiety or challenge associated with the influence attempt.

Concerns for effectiveness and appropriateness emerge from an episode's goal structure (Schrader & Dillard, 1998), which consists of the relationships among the primary and secondary goals. Recent research indicates that goal structures vary in their complexity (Schrader & Dillard, 1998). The complexity of an interpersonal influence episode increases as the number of relevant primary and secondary goals increase; for instance, a situation in which influence, relational, and arousal management goals surpass a specific threshold of importance would be classified as more complex than a situation in which only the influence goal exceeds that threshold. Several models of message production suggest that goal complexity is a salient feature of interpersonal influence episodes (e.g., Dillard, 1990, 1997; Greene, 1995; Meyer, 1990, 1997, O'Keefe, 1991; Wilson, 1997), and previous research indicates that differences in goal complexity affect both message planning (Berger, 1995a, 1995b) and message production (O'Keefe & Shepherd, 1987). These differences should be reflected in the standards people use to judge the competence (appropriateness and effectiveness) of interpersonal influence messages. Consequently, the purpose of this study was to further our understanding of the interpersonal influence process by examining the effects of goal complexity on appropriateness and effectiveness judgments of interpersonal influence messages. The following literature review is divided into two sections. …

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Goal Complexity and the Perceived Competence of Interpersonal Influence Messages
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