There are countless communication theories, with each one looking at a different aspect of communication or looking at communication in a new way. The number of theories that exist raises the question of how they can be used to understand communication. The answer is that every communication is complicated, with one single theory not being enough to understand every communication completely. For this reason, various theories can be applied to various situations, with each one helping us to understand something about the communication. To consider how real situations can be analyzed, five communication theories will be described. Each one will then be applied to a real situation to show how the theory helps create understanding of the communication events and processes that make up human life.
Theory of Feminine Style
The theory of feminine style argues that the difference in the way that men and women communicate is linked to the traditional roles that they play in society. The theory describes how women have been confined to private roles, such as within the home and the family. In contrast, men have held public roles and been seen as more important in society. This has created a difference where women's communication styles have developed to suit their private environment. In contrast, men's communication styles have developed to suit their public lives.
The theory of feminine style focuses especially on rhetoric and the use of public speeches. The main features that characterize the feminine style are (Dow & Tonn:
a tendency to use concrete examples use of a personal tone a tendency to rely on personal experience a tendency to apply inductive reasoning the use of audience participation
Each of these features are linked to the woman's private role and the communication style that developed on account of the private life. For example, a personal tone is used because women's communication has developed based mainly on one-on-one personal communications. As another example, audience participation is used because women are accustomed to gaining feedback from the person they are speaking to.
The theory of feminine style also shows how men communicate differently, especially in public situations. The masculine style is based on being aggressive, debating others, and using logical arguments. One prime example of the difference is seen by comparing the styles of two talk show hosts, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil's style is one of debate, where he debates his guests for the purpose of uncovering their problems. In doing so, he also uses logic and is often direct and aggressive. In contrast, Oprah Winfrey has a more personal approach and is focused on the personal experience of the guest. While Dr. Phil debates guests about their issues, Oprah Winfrey is more likely to try to create a personal connection based on understanding them. Audience participation is also used by Oprah Winfrey, who often appeals directly to both the audience in the studio and the home audience. In addition, she often adds comments of understanding based on her own personal experience, while Dr. Phil does not link his own experience to that of his guests. The styles of these two well-known television hosts shows the major differences between the feminine and masculine style.
The Medium Theory
Marshall McLuhan's medium theory argues that the medium of a communication is the message. This is based on the idea that the medium is more than just the way that a message is communicated and that the medium has its own qualities that define the message. This includes that the way the message is perceived and understood depends on the medium.
For McLuhan, mediums differ according to the cognitive processes each one requires. As an example, one can consider a television news report using both video and comments on the video to place it into context. Understanding this message requires visual and hearing skills to see and hear what is being shown. However, understanding this message does not require analysis skills because the meaning has already been created by the medium itself. Unless the individual watching the news report chooses to think critically about what they are seeing, the medium has the message as part of it. In contrast, one can consider news of the same event being passed onto somebody via first-person accounts. In this case, the person is being given information and observations, rather than meaning. The person then has to analyze the information to find the meaning in it. In this case, the main cognitive skills are comprehension and analysis. In this second example, the person providing the first-person account may also give their opinion on the meaning of events. However, the person is not likely to accept the meaning given as necessarily correct. Instead, it is identified as an opinion and questioned. In reality, the meaning given by the news report is also based on someone's opinion. However, the medium of the message gives it credibility, resulting in the person hearing the opinion being likely to accept it as correct without consideration. These two examples show how the medium impacts the message.
Theory of Dialogics
Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of dialogics is based on the idea that there is not one single static language that everyone shares. Instead, language is ever-changing and there are various forms of language always in conflict with each other. In this context, this is not referring to different languages conflicting, but forms of the same language conflicting. Bakhtin also argues that meaning is created based on the conflicting languages and the meaning of words used and their place in the language.
For an example of the theory of dialogics, it is necessary to consider the types of languages Bakhtin is referring to. These can be associated with certain professions, such as with the use of jargon. They can also be associated with certain cultures. They can also be associated with social class, such as in the way that individuals considering themselves to be of higher social class may tend to use less common words, as if this use distinguishes them from "common" people. For one clear example, the language of younger people will be used. For example, there was recently a trend where words with negative meanings began to be used in a positive way. The word 'bad' was used to mean good and the word 'fat' or 'phat' was used to mean good. In doing this, a new language was created that put the two languages in direct conflict. A young person using the word 'phat' was aware of the meaning, but an older person not sharing the language associated a different meaning with the word. This shows one example of a language conflict that exists, with Bakhtin's theory of dialogics being used to study how these kinds of conflicts occur as language is constantly altered.
Communication Privacy Management
Sandra Petronio's communication privacy management theory deal with how individuals make decisions about either keeping private information private, or revealing private information to others. The theory argues that there are two forces operating in opposite directions: the need to disclose information and the need to conceal information. Whether a person decides to reveal or conceal private information depends on the balance between the two. Petronio also includes in the theory the differences in the way that information is held, such as someone being the only one holding private information vs. A group holding private information.
As an example of this theory in practice, one can consider a person that learns about the decline of the company they are working for and its intention to close. This person has learned this via their position in the company and they have an obligation to keep the information private. This obligation to the company makes up the person's need to conceal the information. However, the person also has friends at the company and knows that their futures will be impacted by the information. The person feels an obligation to tell their friends the truth. This obligation to their friends makes up the person's need to reveal the information. Whether or not the person reveals or conceals the information will depend on where their need falls on the scale. If their need to reveal is stronger, they will reveal the information. If their need to conceal is stronger, they will keep the information private. The situation might then be more complicated if the individual learns the information as part of a team within the company. In this case, they are no longer an individual with private information, but part of a group with private information. Their reveal or conceal scale is then complicated by any obligation they feel to the group and may also be complicated because they feel less individually responsible for telling people since they may consider that someone else will reveal the information.
Theory of Identification
Kenneth Burke's theory of identification argues that rhetoric occurs because people partially identify with one another. The partial identification is necessary since if people…