ERIC Number: ED207122
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1981-May
Equivocal Messages in Organizations.
Putnam, Linda L.
A study was conducted to examine the ways individuals in organizations interpreted and responded to ambiguous messages. Using Karl Weick's model of organizing, investigators measured the number of rules (criteria for taking action), the number of people, and the frequencies of message categories generated in two simulated organizations comprised of 51 college students. The students acted in company positions at three organizational levels--upper management, middle management, and work groups (foremen and workers)--and responded individually and collectively to high, medium, and low ambiguous organizational messages. The results showed that the subjects used more rules and more people to process high ambiguous messages than they did to process low ambiguous messages. Analysis of group interaction revealed that most groups spent their talk time reducing equivocality. Workers and foremen reduced ambiguity by adding interpretations while managers proposed specific action steps. Overall, the study indicated that misunderstandings in organizations might evolve from divergent approaches to the management of equivocality. Since some degree of equivocality is present in all organizational input, the way individuals interpret and process this ambiguity is a key to understanding how organizations make sense of their activities. (RL)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association (Minneapolis, MN, May 21-25, 1981).