Reducing Uncertainty in Communications sample essay

This paper aims to present basic discussion of Charles Berger’s Uncertainty Theory. The Uncertainty Reduction Theory basically states that strangers, in order to communicate with each other to accomplish a purpose, strive to reduce the uncertainty that they feel with each other. It begins with the motivation for the study of the theory. Afterwards, a brief discussion of the theory and presentation of some of its axioms follow. Then, a clear example shall be given to illustrate to the readers a clear application of this theory.

Finally, major implications of the theory as far as communications is concerned shall be formulated. Introduction “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know. ” — Donald Rumsfeld Imagine yourself in the following scenarios. On the first day of class, a gorgeous girl sits beside you and greets you. This made your heart beats very fast. Boy, you are in love at first sight! Is there a chance or not?

That’s the question. Imagine that you are an insurance salesperson. You usually sell well beyond the weekly quota but not quite this week. You need to need to close five more insurance policies. Then, you see a group of church-goers and plan to approach them. As you are about to say hi, they started to glance at you with negative looks. You become tongue-tied and do not know what to do. Imagine that you are given an errand by your law office. You are tasked to meet with the secretary of Bill Gates in order to formulate ways of winning in the new anti-trust case against Microsoft?

This is the first time that you will meet a proxy of a very powerful individual. What will you do to eliminate the butterflies in your stomach? The above situations involve uncertainty, and how we manage uncertainty determines how we are going to be successful in our transactions. In many communication settings like the above, we could use the Uncertainty Reduction Theory to understand them and make inferences on the best course of action. It states that as people begin to interact, they strive to reduce the level uncertainty that they feel towards each other.

The theory features seven axioms and twenty-one theorems derived from these axioms (Berger and Calabrese 1975). This paper will explore this theory in detail, discuss specific ways of applying it, and identify its major implications. Uncertainty Reduction Theory As mentioned above, strangers try to reduce the uncertainty between them. The uncertainty involved here are of two types: cognitive and behavioral. For cognitive uncertainty, strangers try to reduce the gap in their knowledge of how the other person thinks, particularly in the realm of beliefs and attitudes.

For behavioral uncertainty, strangers try to predict how the other person will act based on how he or she perceives the other at present (Garlough nd). The theory assumes the following: • People experience uncertainty in interpersonal settings • Uncertainty generates cognitive stress. • When strangers first meet their primary concern is to reduce uncertainty or increase predictability. • Interpersonal communication occurs through stages. • Interpersonal communication is the primary means of uncertainty reduction. • The quality and nature of information people share changes through time.

• Can predict this type of behavior in a law-like fashion (Garlough nd) The above assumptions form the basis of the axioms and theorems of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. For the purposes of this paper, only three key axioms shall be discussed: • Axiom 1: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the levels of uncertainty decrease. As the uncertainty is further decreased, the amount of verbal communication increases • Axiom 3: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior.

When uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases. • Axiom 6: Similarities between people reduce uncertainty. Dissimilarities create uncertainty. (Garlough nd) In other words, uncertainty and verbal communication is inversely proportional. Expect that two strangers talking as if they were old friends have already reduced their uncertainty levels significantly. This is Axiom 1. Axiom 3 is similar with Axiom 1. Information-seeking behavior is inversely proportional to the level of uncertainty felt. This is self-evident and appeals to intuition and common sense.

Axiom 6 appears to be debatable. While it may or may not be the case that similarity or something held in common by strangers will facilitate communication, strangers meeting for the first time should look for more ways that they are the same rather than different. Case in point: A study by Goodboy and Myers indicates that students feel better if they could communicate well with an instructor and vice versa. And as such, they recommend that both students and instructors find ways to reduce the uncertainty that they feel towards each other.

In particular, the instructor should be consistent in class and grading policies. This way, students could better perform in class. Application Beginning speech communication students must have heard that people do fear death the most. They fear public speaking (Rolls 1998)! Now, this forces us to question. Is there any way that the Uncertainty Reduction Theory could help reduce if not eliminate stage fright? Yes, there is. Stage fright may not be totally eliminated. As a matter of fact, a sufficient amount of it may be necessary for optimal speech performance.

But it is the responsibility of the public speaker to manage speech anxiety in order to perform well and not be defeated by those butterflies in the stomach. It should be noted that the length, duration, and intensity of stage fright varies. This depends on the type and difficulty of a speech act (Witt and Behnke 2006). Here’s where the Uncertainty Reduction Theory will come. The level of uncertainty that a public speaker will feel on the podium will depend on how well (or how less) he or she knows his audience.

If the speaker at an earlier point refused to follow the basic rule of doing your audience, he or she would find it hard to utter words that make sense. In return, the audience may feel uncertain if the speaker really knows what he or she is saying. Thus, credible information from the speaker is directly proportional to a good response from the audience and inversely proportional to a sense of cynicism. On the part of the speaker, a sense of knowing that your audience is receptive is directly proportional to the confidence that he or she can muster. Therefore, Axiom 1 holds as far as public speaking is concerned.

For Axiom 3, a confident speaker without or with little uncertainty, would not care if the audience likes him or not. He will proceed with his talk as smoothly as he can. In contrast, even if he or she tries not to, a very uncertain speaker will notice every real or imagined little signs of disapproval. In a similar way, Axiom 34 holds for public speaking. Similarities, to paraphrase Axiom 6, facilitate communication. By having things in common, a speaker can empathize well with the audience and their needs; this makes him feel certain that he or she can with their heart.

On the part of the audience, they obviously would prefer a speaker that could identify with them. But if nothing in common is immediately identifiable, Axiom 6 can guarantee a would-be speaker that he or she can gain rapport by finding or inventing something in common with the audience. Implications The Uncertainty Reduction Theory is a good framework for communication. This is especially true for shy persons. The way I see it, if it can be shown that good communication can only occur if some conditions are adequately fulfilled, i. e.

the axioms and theorems of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, then anyone experienced or not can learn how to communicate with other people more effectively. As shown in the previous section, the Uncertainty Reduction Theory can be used to analyze communication phenomena such as public speaking and stage fright. Therefore, if a particular problem could be accounted for, then a solution could be put in place. It follows that problems in public speaking could be lessened if public speakers in training would study communication theories such as the Uncertainty Reduction Theory.

In more concrete terms, a communicator must be on top of the situation. He or she must take serious steps in reducing the feeling of uncertainty that the speaker and the audience feel toward each other. To accomplish this, a “spontaneous” or “extemporaneous” speech must be patterned to a well-formed formula of a speech that will surely reduce such uncertainty. Research in this aspect is an open field. Finally, by stating the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, in terms of axioms and theorems as in the language game of Mathematics, the authors of this theory have effectively placed communication as an almost exact science.

Currently, communication is part of the social sciences but by improving its rigors and system of thought, it can compete side by side with science. This is a significant contribution of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. Conclusion By understanding and applying the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, significant improvements in the quality of communication among individuals can be expected. Therefore, this theory must be taught to every student who will tread the halls of any respectable university.


Berger, C. R. , Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond:toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication [Abstract]. Human Communication Research, Vol. 1(1): 99-112. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ123999) Retrieved November 17, 2008, from ERIC. Garlough, Christine. (nd). Uncertainty Reduction Theory [PowerPoint Presentation of Lecture]. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from http://www. commarts. wisc. edu/Fac/Garlough/Lectures/UncertaintyReductionTheory. ppt. Goodboy, Alan K. , Myers, Scott A. (2007). Student Communication Satisfaction, Similarity, and Liking as a Function of Attributional Confidence. Ohio Communication Journal, 45, 1-12.

Retrieved November 17, 2008, from EBSCOhost Research Databases (Communication & Mass Media Complete). Rolls, Judith A. (1998). Facing the Fears Associated with Professional Speaking. Business Communication Quarterly, 61(2), 103-106. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from EBSCOhost Research Databases (Communication & Mass Media Complete). Witt, Paul L. , Behnke, Ralph. (2006). Anticipatory Speech Anxiety as a Function of Public Speaking Assignment Type. Communication Education, 55(2), 167-177. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from EBSCOhost Research Databases (Communication & Mass Media Complete).