Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communication Quality Revisited: Exploring the Link with Persuasive Effects

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communication Quality Revisited: Exploring the Link with Persuasive Effects

Article excerpt

This paper explores a central issue in business communication, communication quality, and links it to persuasive effects. Making connections between persuasive effects and communication quality requires rethinking some earlier research in the field, specifically Shelby's (1988) initial theory of management communication, which Reinsch (1996) noted also applies to business communication (p. 31). Therefore, in this paper I revise and extend the early formulation of the strategic choice construct. Furthermore, I explore theoretical relationships among effectiveness, efficiency, and quality, the three outcome variables or criteria by which (according to the theory) persuasive effects are judged. Since a comprehensive conceptualization of communication quality is also important in establishing theoretical linkages, following the quality assurance literature, I broaden the definition of communication quality beyond traditional stylistic concerns. Finally, I elaborate a framework for linking communication quality to persuasive effects and derive testable propositions about those relationships.

Extensions of the Strategic Choice Construct

An increasing number of scholars in various communication-related disciplines have minimized, if not turned their backs on, instrumentality - that is, on treating communication as a mechanism by which message senders use their knowledge and skill to affect the understanding or behavior of message receivers toward predetermined goals (Mumby & Stohl, 1996; Putnam, 1983). An alternative view - and the one represented here - is that business communication appropriately combines the rhetorical with the instrumental by creating knowledge during an exchange, which may be "instrumental" in effecting communication outcomes (see Moore, 1996a; Hagge, 1996; Kreth, Miller, & Reddish, 1996; Moore, 1996b).

In practice, a lack of attention to the theoretical grounds of influence has too often reduced the field to formulaic prescriptives, many of which have little or no empirical basis (Shelby, 1986). As a response to that indictment, I developed a macro theory (Shelby, 1988), which posits rhetorical choice as a function of persuasive goal and probable audience response, the latter depending on certain receiver and situational variables. This paper extends that analysis in two ways: first, by qualifying rhetorical choice to mean preference for the "most appropriate" option for a given situation; and second, by suggesting that appropriate options are those that influence and, thus, predict the direction of persuasive outcomes. Though these choices neither guarantee nor necessarily predict the probability of desired persuasive effects, they do influence the direction of the outcome.

Put simply, to move a reader or hearer closer to - or farther from - the behavior a communicator desires (understanding, believing, doing, collaborating) depends on how successfully the writer or speaker chooses appropriately from among the various rhetorical options at his or her disposal. The hypothesis presumes that communicators have options and, thus, make choices about whether to communicate, who should communicate, medium of communication, and message - content, structure, style, formatting, and, where applicable, delivery. The process may be modeled as follows: choice influences message, resulting in an outcome. In the feedback loop, outcomes constitute data for assessing appropriateness, assessments which in turn may shape subsequent rhetorical choices.

Outcome Variables as Measures of "Appropriateness"

If the most "appropriate" rhetorical options for a given situation predict the direction of the persuasive response - e.g., whether they move the receiver closer to or farther from what the sender desires communicators need definitive criteria for measuring what is and is not appropriate. In the following, I examine three socially constructed managerial outcomes by which the appropriateness of options may be judged - effectiveness, efficiency, and quality - and explore the interrelationships among them. …

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