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CeliaLeibow

Dr.Langan
CommunicationTheory
CommunicationAccommodationTheory
HowardGilesproposedacommunicationtheoryentitledCommunication
AccommodationTheory.Itisatheorywherecommunicationstatingthatpeopleus
communicationtoattainadesiredsocialdistancebetweenthemselvesandother.This
theorystatesthatthisisdonethroughtheprocessofconvergenceordivergencetothe
otherbasedonliking.Thistheoryhasbecomewidelyacceptedandappliedtoanarrayof
arenasoutsidethecommunicationsphere.Someofthevarietiesofapplicationsinclude
interactionswithpoliceofficersaswellaseducators.
CommunicationAccommodationTheoryhasbeenappliedandusedtobetter
understandinteractionsbetweenpoliceofficersandtheirvictims,sotospeak.Ithasbeen
suspectedthatoftentimespeopleofminorityracesarepulledover,questioned,and
cited/arrestedmorefrequentlybyCaucasianpoliceofficersthanCaucasiandriversare
(Giles).Whileitistruethatminoritiesareoftentargetedmorebypoliceofficers,the
outcomeoftheinteractionbetweenthepoliceofficerandvictimoftenhaslesstodowith
thefactthatitisaminorityandmoretodowiththecommunicationthattakesplace.
Whensomeoneispulledovertheyeitherchoosetoaccommodatetheirlanguage
andbehaviortothepoliceofficers,andcomplywithwhattheysay,ortheycandothe
veryoppositeandbenonaccommodativeanduncooperative.Astudywascompletedthat
usedCommunicationAccommodationTheorytounderstand,andessentiallypredictthe

responsesoftheminoritiesversestheCaucasiansthatarepulledover.Factorsthataffect
theinteractionbetweenpoliceofficersandthosetheyvictimizeincludethetypeof
culturethepersoncomesfrom(i.e.collectivistorindividualist),theperceptionthevictim
hasofpoliceofficers,anddistinctionofaccents.Thisstudydemonstrateshowthese
factorscombinedaffecttheinteractionthatwilloccur(Giles).Thesefactorsgreatlyaffect
anddeterminetheoutcomeoftheinteraction.Ifsomeonefromamorecollectivistculture
(i.e.Latino)getspulledover,theyaremorelikelytosticktotheircultureandbenon
accommodating.Someonewhoispulledovermorefrequently(i.e.aLatinoperson)is
likelytohaveanegativeperceptionofthepolice,andthereforelikelybemorenon
accommodating.Whilehavingauniqueaccentdoesntdirectlyresultinsomeonebeing
targeted,itdoesaffecttheaccommodationofthepoliceofficerandinturnthatofthe
victim(Giles).Withallofthissaid,manyminoritiesareawaretheyareabiggertargetby
thepolice,whichresultsinnegativeperceptionsofthemandcanleadtonegative
outcomesbecauseintheinteractionthereislessofadesireforlikingandthereforeless
accommodation.
InthestudybetweenCaucasianpoliceofficersandLatinodrivers,itwasverytrue
thatLatinoswerepulledovermorefrequently.Latinoswereoftenpulledoverfor
correctableoffences(i.e.expiredregistration)(Giles).Duetothefrequencyandreasoning
forthevictimization,itislikelythatminorities,Latinosinthisparticularcase,become
agitatedbythisoccurrence,whichisalikelyproponentofLatinos,andessentially
minoritiesingeneral,behavinginalessaccommodatingmanorwithpoliceofficers,and
viceversa.Interestinglyenough,itwasntsimplyLatinosthatwerepulledoverand

treatedlessaccommodating,butLatinoswithadistinctnonnativeaccentwhowere
treatedlessaccommodatingly.Driverswithheavyaccentsexperiencedmoreextensive
policing(i.e.morepoliceofficers,longerinterrogationtime)andwereless
accommodatedbypoliceofficers(i.e.spokentomoreauthoritatively,dismissive,
harsher)(Giles).ThisdistinctioninaccommodationbetweenheavyaccentedLatinosand
policeofficersstemsmoresofromthefactthataheavyaccentindicatesalackof
acculturation,whichcanbeseenasasignofdisliking.Thissignification,whether
intentionalorunintentional,communicatestothepoliceofficerthatthetargethasnot
takentothisculture,andessentiallythinkstheirsisbetter.Thisisfurtherinterpretedby
thePrincipleofReciprocation,whichstatesthatpeoplerespondwithaccommodationor
nonaccommodationbasedonwhattheyperceivetheotherasdoing(Giles).The
perceptionthatpoliceofficershaveofminoritieswithheavyaccentscausesthemtoactin
alessaccommodatingway,whichinturnleadstominoritieshavinganegativeperception
ofpoliceofficersleadingtoareciprocationoflessaccommodatingcommunication.
Whilethismayseemlikeaneverendingcycleofreciprocation,thepowerto
breakthiscycleofnonaccommodatingbehaviorsandunpleasantinteractionslieswithin
thehandsofpoliceofficers.Ifpoliceofficerstrulywantcomplianceandaccommodation
fromcitizens,thesuccessingainingthiscomplianceessentiallyliesintheimagesociety
hasofthem.Theimagesocietyhasofpoliceofficersarecreatedthroughtheway
communicatedwithcitizens.Thiscanbeadifficulttaskforpoliceofficersbecausethey
havetoadjusttheircommunicationstylesduetothevarietyofpeoplewithdifferent
backgroundstheyinteractwithonanygivenday(Barker).Duetothevarietyof

interactionsandsituationsthatoccur,itisnecessaryforthemtoswitchbetween
empatheticandauthoritativeformsofcommunication.However,policeofficersdont
alwayssucceedinthisskill,sotospeak,whichcanresultinthemfosteringanegative
perceptionofpoliceofficers.However,themorepoliceincorporateaccommodative
formsofcommunicationintotheseinteractions,suchaspolitenessandrespect,themore
likelytheyaretogainafavorableimageintheeyesofthecitizensaswellasgainthe
compliancetheydesire.
Studieshaveshownthatacrossvariouscultures,thedifferentrolespolicefulfill
greatlyshapetheperceptionsocietyhasofthem.Forexample,astudywasdonethat
polledopinionsfrompeopleinTaiwan,andAmerica.Whenasked,themajorityof
Taiwanesesaidtheydidnttrustthepolicetotreatthemfairly,respectfully,orjustly
(Hajek).Whencitizenshavethistypeofnegativeperceptionofpoliceofficers,thislack
oftrustoftentimesleadstoalackofcompliance.Inthesecases,trustinpoliceofficersis
themediatingfactorforcompliance.Ifacitizendoesnottrusttheofficer,theyareless
likelytocomplyandaccommodatetheircommunicationuptothembecausethereisno
desiretobelikethemorontheirlevel,sotospeak.Simplystated,ifthereistrustina
personthereisgenerallylikinginvolved.Aspreviouslystated,mostaccommodative
communicationoccursoutofliking.However,ifthereisalikeoftrust,oranegative
perception,thereislikelytobeadivergentformofcommunication/behavior.
Whenanofficeraddressesacitizeninaharsh,belittling,ordemandingmanor,
theyarelikelytolosecomplianceandgainanegativeperception.Itwasstatedinastudy,
thatpeople,studentsinparticular,viewthewayanofficercommunicatesasmore

importantthantheoutcomefromtheinteraction(Barker).Whenapoliceofficer
approachesasituationeitherwithapolite,orevenprofessionaltoneismorerespectable
intheeyesofsocietyratherthanaharshanddemandingwayofcommunication.When
anofficeraccommodatestheircommunicationandbehaviortothatoftheirvictim,it
establishesalevelofrespectandtrust.Whilethisleveloftrustdoesntdirectlyevoke
compliancefromthecitizentotheofficer,itdoeshowever,shapetheviewsofthe
officerstrustworthiness,whichinturnevokescompliancewithlawenforcement(Baker).
Simplystated,thetrustinapoliceofficerisessentiallyamediatorthatpromotes
compliance.
Whilethepoliceofficerexamplesandstudiesaddressthenecessityforapolice
officertoaccommodatetheirlanguagetothatoftheirvictims,whichcanbelabeledas
downwardconvergence,thegoalofthesestudiesandaccommodationsistopromote
upwardaccommodationfromthecitizenstothepoliceofficers.Inotherwords,the
studiesgiveproofthatthedownwardconvergencefromthepoliceofficersisnecessaryto
gainupwardconvergencefromcitizens.ThisisausefulapplicationofCommunication
AccommodationTheory,itisbyfarnottheonlyapplication.
CommunicationAccommodationTheoryhasbeenappliedtothecommunication
betweenteachersandtheirstudentsintheclassroom.Thewayteacherscommunicateto
theirstudentsgreatlyaffectstheperceptionsoftheteachertotheclass.Oftentimes,
teachersspeakinaverydistinctmanor.Teachersoftenteachusingvocabthatstudents
haveneverheardoutsidetheclassroom,creatingalargegapbetweenteachersandtheir
students.However,teacherscanreducethisgapbetweenthemandtheirstudentssimply

byaccommodatingtheirlanguage.Whenteachersincorporaterelaxedcommunicationor
slangwordsintotheirteaching,studentstendtorespondinapositivemanor.Astudywas
donewhereagroupofstudentswatchedalecturevideoinwhichtheteacherincorporated
slangwordsintotheirteaching.Afterwatchingthevideo,studentswereaskedwhatthey
likedanddislikedabouttheuseofslanglanguagefromtheteacher.Inresponsetothe
videolecture,moststudentssaidthecontentseemedmorerelatableandrelevanttotheir
lives.Studentsnotonlyfeltasthoughthecontentwasmorerelatable,buttheteacher
seemedmorerelatableaswell(Speer).Inthisstudy,theteachersusedadownward
convergenceapproach,meaningtheyaccommodatedtheircommunicationtomatchthat
oftheirstudentsasawaytominimizethegap.
Whenteachersmodifiedtheirlanguagetomatchthatoftheirstudents,they
makingthecontenttheyareteachingaswellasmakingthemselvesmorerelatableand
accessibletostudents.Inthisstudy,whenstudentswereaskedwhattheydislikedabout
theteacherusingrelevantslang,theonlycriticismreceivedwasthattheteachermisused
theslangoritsoundedfunnycomingoutoftheteachersmouth.However,these
criticismsstemfromthegapthathasbeenembeddedintothestudentsminds.Often
timesteacherspeakinawaytoclearlyelevatethemselvesfromtheirstudents.Becauseof
this,studentshaveperceivedteachersasabovethemandhardertorelatetoorapproach.
However,byaccommodatingtheirlanguagetheyareminimizingthegapandallowing
studentstorelatetothemandthelessonsmoreeasily.ByapplyingCommunication
AccommodationTheorytotheirteachingstyles,teachersareabletoreachmorestudents
intheirclassroom.Thisapplicationalsoopensthedoorforstudentstoengagein

conversationwiththeirteachers.CommunicationAccommodationTheoryhasbrought
manypositiveexperiencesforstudentswhenitisappliedintheclassroom.
TheCommunicationAccommodationTheoryisonethatiswidelyacceptedand
widelyappliedtoavarietyofareas.Thistheorythatpromotestheuseoflanguagetohelp
individualstoeitherassociate,identify,andinteractwiththeother.Inothertheories,the
otherhasspecificcharacteristicsandidentifiers.However,theotherinCommunication
AccommodationTheoryisanyonethatisnottheself.Thisproposedtheorysuggeststhat
peopleuseeitherconvergence,whichisaccommodatingtheircommunicationbehaviorto
matchthatoftheother,ordivergence,whichisseparatingthemselvesfromtheother.
Aspreviouslyaddressed,thistheorycanhelptobetterunderstandtheinteractions
betweenpoliceofficersandcitizens,byhighlightingtheimportanceofaccommodation.
Thistheoryhasalsobeenappliedtoteachingstudentsintheclassroom.HowardGiles
theoryhasbeenusedtobetterunderstandavarietyofsituationsoutsidethe
communicationsphereandinallareasoflife.

Works Cited
Barker, Valerie, Howard Giles, Christopher Hajek, Hiroshi Ota, Kimberly Noels, Tae-Seop Lim,
and Lilnabeth Somera. "Police-Civilian Interaction, Compliance, Accommodation, and
Trust in an Intergroup Context: International Data." Journal of International &
Intercultural Communication 1.2 (2008): 93-112. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Giles, Howard, Daniel Linz, Doug Bonilla, and Michelle Leah Gomez. "Police Stops of and
Interactions with Latino and White (Non-Latino) Drivers: Extensive Policing and
Communication Accommodation." Communication Monographs 79.4 (2012): 407-27.
Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Hajek, Christopher, Howard Giles, Valerie Barker, Mei-Chen Lin, Yan Bing Zhang, and Mary
Lee Hummert. "Expressed Trust and Compliance in Police-civilian Encounters: The Role
of Communication Accommodation in Chinese and American Settings." Chinese Journal
of Communication 1.2 (2008): 168-80. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Mazer, Joseph P., and Stephen K. Hunt. "Cool Communication in the Classroom: A
Preliminary Examination of Student Perceptions of Instructor Use of Positive
Slang." Qualitative Research Reports in Communication 9.1 (2008): 20-28. Web. 28 Apr.
2015.

Myers, Paul, Howard Giles, Scott A. Reid, and Robin L. Nabi. "Law Enforcement Encounters:
The Effects of Officer Accommodativeness and Crime Severity on Interpersonal
Attributions Are Mediated by Intergroup Sensitivity." Communication Studies 59.4
(2008): 291-305. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.