Communication Accommodation Theory

Communication accommodation theory, related to social identity theory, is about people adjusting to communicate by minimizing social differences. The theory was developed by Howard Giles, a professor teaching communication at the University of California in 1971. The theory is an advancement of speech adjustment theory talking about psychological concepts on dynamics of speech. Communication accommodation theory is related to social psychology. The theory was known as Speech Accommodation Theory until it included non-verbal aspects of communication then it became popular as ‘Communication Accommodation’ Theory. The theory is related to social identity theory.

The theory talks about, people wanting to portray their positive identity to others. They tend to match their own vocabulary, accent and cadence as of other interactants. For example, people adopt the slang their friends use to fit in. People talk differently using different words and gestures accordingly to the different group of people like old people, children, women, men, teens, rich, poor, powerful, weak, etc.

According to Communication Accodomation Theory, everybody acts like a boss

Concepts in Communication Accommodation Theory

Communication Accommodation Theory describes the human tendency to adjust their communication according to situations and people involved. People have that ability to mold themselves in any kind of situation to control social differences.

People try to get approval for everything they say and do to create a positive image of themselves in front of the other communicator. The factors of accommodation activities are gestures and words.

Accommodation process has been further divided into two categories according to this theory. One of them is convergence, which is a process of people naturally tending to adapt other communicators’ way of communicating to connect and decrease their social differences. The other one is divergence, which is a process of non-adaptation of communication characteristics and accentuation of social and nonverbal communication differences.

The people involved and situation of communication decides which accommodation process is used. If a person is interacting with another with very high standards, better at things and who seem to be powerful, then divergent characteristics are shown highlighting the differences. Similarly, if the other person is perceived to be of same standard, people try to be like them creating a comfort zone for both.

Accommodation process is guided by culture and norms. The major assumption of communication accommodation theory is that interactants have similarities and differences which can be in their speech, gestures and behavior based on their experiences and culture. Communication is evaluated and accommodation is done according to the evaluation. Communication also establishes social status as people tend to adopt the communication behavior of people who are higher in social status than theirs.

The theory is related to four socio-psychological theories: similarity, attraction theory, social exchange process theory, causal attribution process theory and intergroup distinctiveness theory. The theory is used in intergenerational communication, young to elderly communication, intercultural communication, etc.

According to Communication Accodomation Theory, people pretend to be powerful

Features of Communication Accommodation Theory

  • People tend to match the way they talk to the way listener talks.
  • It can be conscious or unconscious.
  • Accent, speed, vocabulary, cadence, gestures are some accommodations done.
  • It is done to fit in a group or social status.
  • It shows agreement, belonging and affinity.
  • People only show their positive sides while communicating.
  • There are other concepts like counter accommodation, under accommodation and over accommodation which affects the effects of communication accommodation theory.
  • It can either be beneficial or unfavorable.
  • It includes psychological, social and linguistic behavior of interactants.
  • Some strategies used are approximation, interpersonal control,, interpretability, etc.
  • It includes interpersonal, intrapersonal as well as intergroup factors affecting communication.

Examples of Communication Accommodation Theory

When a junior employee in an organization is talking to a higher level employee, both the people tend to accommodate each other by realizing their differences in social status and rankings or positions. The junior tries to talk in a respectful manner and a pretense to know many things to accommodate the senior and the senior tries to make the junior comfortable by accepting the respect. The junior uses convergence process whereas the senior uses divergence process.

For instance, Judy is a new employee in a beginner’s level in an organization. At lunch, all the employees are talking about expensive luxury cars. Though Judy has less knowledge on it, she tries to interact about cars using all the knowledge she has to fit in or belong in that group. She tries to do it to accommodate herself as one of the members of the same group.

Similarly, people trying to use slang just to fit in their friend’s circle is an example of divergence process between people of similar social status.

Friends learn how to behave to fit in a group

Criticisms of Communication Accommodation Theory

  • People who realize communication accommodation of the other person can take the person as fake or pretentious.
  • If not realized, it makes people comfortable in interaction and increases their being fond of you.
  • Sometimes it can also be taken as mockery.
  • Converging people show power than what they really possess which can also make them seem intimidating.
  • Divergence can create barriers in communication as distance is maintained between people when somebody is taken as inferior.
  • Differences between convergence and divergence are sometimes blurred by situations.
  • Both parties involved in communication are always assumed to be rational and there are no conflicts between them.
  • Very few researches have been done on this subject.