Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Communication

Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Communication

Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Communication

Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Communication


In this book, Michael W. Kramer applies uncertainty reduction theory (URT)--a key theory in current communication scholarship--to the context of organizational communication. Examining URT and the range of research applicable to organizational settings, Kramer proposes a groundbreaking theory of managing uncertainty (TMU), which synthesizes prior research while also addressing its criticisms. Examples are provided to illustrate the principles of the TMU at both the individual and collective(group/organizational) levels of analysis. Original studies based on the theory show that it provides a useful extension of URT, addressing some concerns raised by critics of that earlier model. Kramer illustrates that, as a model in progress, TMU will change as new research and insights build upon it.


My sense of prefaces and acknowledgments in books is that we respond to them like we do to many of the Academy Award acceptance speeches. We usually consider them too long and frequently ignore them as a result. Therefore, I will be brief.

I began the process of developing this model of managing uncertainty by scribbling some notes on the back of a conference paper (notes that I still have) while being inattentive to another presenter. I am not sure what inspired me; it was not the other presenter. Some credit for my initial thoughts should go to Petty and Cacioppo (1981) for their elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In the same way that they argue that there is more than one path to persuasion, I felt that there is also more than one way that people manage uncertainty. Bob McPhee's announcement of the Arizona State University Organizational Communication Prize Lecture Conference motivated me to turn those brief notes into a manuscript. This eventually led to the development of a tentative model of motivation to reduce uncertainty that I presented and that was later published (Kramer, 1999). Positive response to it led me to pursue writing this volume.

The model that is presented in chapter 4 represents some of the many ways that people respond to uncertainty in their lives. It attempts to demonstrate some of the complexity of issues involved in organizational communication. The model should be viewed as a model in progress that will need to be changed as new research and insights build on it. The studies I conducted as part of this volume have already modified the model. It is my hope that it will assist readers in understanding and researching this important topic more thoroughly so that additional changes can be suggested.


I will not attempt to thank all of the people who encouraged me to write this or influenced my thinking about the topic. Instead I will focus on a few key individuals. Certainly my department chair, Pam Benoit, provided me with a great deal of support to begin the project and also to complete it, including reading drafts of early chapters of the manuscript. Fredjablin, my PhD advisor, not only helped me . . .

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