Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21
COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR GROUP
DECISION MAKING
Dennis S. Gouran
The Pennsylvania State University

Of the many topics on which communication scholars interested in the study of groups have focused, none has been the object of more sustained attention than that of decision making (Gouran, 1999). This is understandable in light of the fact that decision making is an activity in which individuals and groups engage numerous times virtually every day. It is even more understandable when one considers the significant ramifications such activity often has for the decision makers and others' well-being. At an individual level, the activity is exclusively cognitive, unless, of course, one solicits input from others while attempting to reach a decision. In groups, the process of making decisions is manifested and unfolds in the communicative exchanges that occur among the members. In either case, the likelihood of choosing appropriately (Gouran, 1988) depends on a number of skills. In this chapter, I identify such skills and relate them to the outcomes that decision-making groups achieve.

The term skill, as I am using it, refers to a capacity, either mental or behavioral in nature, that, in structured form, enables one to perform tasks necessary for the production of particular outcomes. Skills can be genetic in origin or acquired. In both instances, they fall along a continuum from undeveloped to highly refined and vary as a function of neurological, physical, and social factors. For the most part, the skills I discuss in this essay are acquired and in need of development, as opposed to being innate.

The types of situations decision makers confront and to which their choices apply range in the amount of cognitive effort, the number and sorts of skills, and, typically, the degree of deliberation required to produce desired outcomes (Beach, 1997). At one end of the scale, an individual or group may need to do little more than determine whether a set course of action applies to a current set of circumstances requiring a choice. A teacher, for instance, may have a policy specifying that three unexcused absences from class will result in the lowering of one's grade for a course by one letter. Confronted with a student's having three such absences, the teacher need only apply the policy. In this situation, matching the facts to the policy presumably would be the only requisite skill. Even if a final decision in the case cited had to be reached by a

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