Communication, Language, and Meaning: Psychological Perspectives

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview
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19 COMMUNICATION IN SMALL GROUPS

Robert Freed Bales

For one reason or another, everyone spends a sizable fraction of his life interacting with other people in small groups. Whether for work or pleasure, such groups comprise a large part of our social lives, so it is not surprising that social scientists have been interested in understanding what goes on in such groups.

Our communication with each other in face-to-face situations is very subtle and complex. In addition to the meanings of the words used, there is a rich flow of contextual information by mutual eye contact. Bodily attitudes, gestures, and facial expressions play an important part. The obvious meaning of what is said in words is only a part, sometimes only a small part, of what is communicated, as we all know (see Chapter 21).

It has been found that a surprising amount of information is carried by the form of the interaction itself. For example, one can usually infer something about the relative dominance of members in a small group simply by counting the number of remarks each makes to the others. The number of remarks is roughly equivalent to the time consumed. In a small group, time is like money or property. It is not distributed equally among members, but in a gradient that has some relation to the social status of the members. Talking time in a group is not something that a member has with security -- it is usually something for which he must compete. Some members take it almost by force, in that they take more than others are willing to give them. They exercise power in the taking of time, though they may not gain legitimate status. An increase in the amount

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