Building Rapport in Electronic Mail Using Accommodation Theory

By Crook, Connie W.; Booth, Rosemary | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Building Rapport in Electronic Mail Using Accommodation Theory


Crook, Connie W., Booth, Rosemary, SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

Competent communicators must be able to assess the communication environment and adapt their message accordingly to achieve their goal. Thus, to be effective (i.e. to achieve one's goal in communicating the message), competent communicators adapt their communication style to that of the recipients. They do this by developing a common language among the participants in the communication. With the emergence of computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) as a medium of organizational communication, the basic features of the communication i.e., the message, the channel, and the sender/reader need to be reexamined. The author of a written message receives no immediate feedback from the message reader as to the interpretation of the message. With oral communication, feedback in the form of additional questions, pauses, and voice inflections provide the communicators personal cues to the interpretation of the message. These cues or contextual factors are absent in written communication. In written communication, the words provide the primary method of determining message meaning.

In electronic communication, the rapidity of response, the jargon and symbols used, and the informality of the message give additional meaning to the communication. Thus, to communicate effectively the author must accommodate the message to the reader by adjusting it to reflect the reader's communication style. If an author recognizes the reader's preferred word choices and uses language consistent with the reader's preference, it is thought to promote rapport between the author and the reader and provide increased understanding of the message (Bandler & Grinder, 1975).

When determining the meaning of a written message, the reader must rely on the systems by which "individuals encode, transfer, guide, and modify behavior" (Dowd & Pety, 1982). According to Dowd and Pety (1982), an individual has one of three preferred channels: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Grinder and Bandler (1976) note that one can identify an individual's preferred channel by examining the verbs, adverbs, and adjectives the person uses.

This study examines how the author's preferred word choices in electronic mail messages can be identified through a computer evaluation. The preferred word choices refer to the verbs, adverbs, and adjectives that a person uses to represent a preferred auditory, kinesthetic, or verbal channel. Individual written messages were evaluated using a computer program that recognizes the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic words that an individual uses to answer questions, solve problems, or think (Bandler and Grinder, 1975).

Computer-Mediated Communication Systems

Computer-mediated communication systems include computer conferencing, computer bulletin boards, videotex, facsimile, voice and electronic mail (Rice, 1987). Studies of CMCS suggest that these systems are not automated versions of existing off-line media but a "new medium with their own advantages, disadvantages, social dynamics, problems, and opportunities" (Hiltz & Turoff, 1985, p. 680). Advantages of using CMCS include reducing paper storage (Cole, 1988); eliminating telephone tag (Olson & Lucas, 1982); overcoming geographical constraints; masking of political, cultural, and symbolic information (Rice, 1987); participating in the communication at the time and rate of the reader's own choosing (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978); and facilitating creative approaches to problem solving (Peterson, 1990). Other advantages attributed to the use of computer-mediated communication systems include increases in personal productivity, changes in work tasks (Crawford, 1982), removal of organizational and departmental barriers and norms, and reduction of face-to-face contact (Kiesler, 1986). Sproull and Kiesler (1991 a) suggest that computer-mediated communication systems allow people to easily transfer messages to others.

Despite the numbers of advantages associated with CMCS, there are some problems with communicating electronically. …

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Building Rapport in Electronic Mail Using Accommodation Theory
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