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Initial Contact and Uncertainty among Strangers

An interpersonal communication process must have a starting place, and getting a conversation underway with a complete stranger is particularly difficult. Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese set forth a theory of uncertainty reduction that takes place in initial communication between strangers. When two individuals encounter one another for the first time, they face a high degree of uncertainty due to their lack of information about each other. This uncertainty is especially high when the two individuals do not share a common culture. If they at least share a common language and have certain common interests, they can begin talking. Their discourse then allows them to share meanings and to decrease their uncertainty gradually as they get better acquainted. We do not build an intimate interrelationship suddenly. The process typically proceeds through a series of stages over time.

Uncertainty is an individualís inability to predict or to understand some situation due to a lack of information about alternatives. The antidote for uncertainty is information, defined as a difference in matter-energy that affects uncertainty in a situation where a choice exists among a set of alternatives. As an individual gains information about another person, uncertainty is reduced, and the situation becomes more predictable. Uncertainty is unpleasant, and individuals generally seek to reduce it. In order to communicate with another person in a smooth and understandable process, one must be able to predict how the other person will behave, what the individual will say next, and how the person will react to oneís remarks.How does one obtain information in order to start a conversation with a complete stranger? In some cases, a mutual acquaintance may provide certain information about the stranger. Once a conversation gets underway between strangers, the degree of uncertainty is reduced, so that the further communication is facilitated. Notice that a conversation between strangers in the United States usually begins with many questions being asked that demand short answers (such as questions dealing with oneís occupation, hometown). As two people get acquainted, the number of questions decreases, the number of statements increases, and they become longer. Uncertainty is being reduced.The degree of uncertainty between two strangers is greatest, of course, when they come from different cultural backgrounds. You do not even know if you share a common language with the other person. What if the other person does not speak your language? In what language should you begin the conversation? When meeting a business counterpart from another culture, should you kiss, bow, or shake hands? These uncertainties are all inhibitors to beginning a conversation with a cultural stranger.

Date: 2015-01-02; view: 814

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