The central aim of this thesis was to test and elaborate communication accommodation theory (CAT) in the organizational context, using a triangulated methodological approach. The thesis consisted of five studies which used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including statistical modeling, content-coding and qualitative analysis, to examine interpersonal and intergroup communication processes in supervisor-supervisee communication. It aimed to test the robustness of CAT as a generalizable theory of status-marked, intergroup communication across various organizational communication contexts.
Study 1 examined the effects of gender, status and role-identity upon supervisor-supervisee communication in the organizational context,
using structural modeling. Data were obtained from 157 respondents who completed questionnaires describing a satisfactory and an unsatisfactory interaction they had recently had with a supervisor. Two structural models were proposed. The first examined communication accommodation and social identity processes in satisfactory interactions, and the second examined these processes in unsatisfactory interactions. As predicted, the models showed that intergroup dynamics were salient in the unsatisfactory conversations, while interpersonal dynamics were salient in the satisfactory conversations. The models provided support for the use of CAT as a robust framework for the intergroup analysis of gender, status and role-identity in supervisor-supervisee communication.
Study 2 aimed to operationalize and elaborate CAT in an organizational context by developing a taxonomy
of CAT themes in a thematic content analysis of supervisees' descriptions of satisfactory and unsatisfactory interactions with their supervisors. With the aid of QSR NUD*IST4 qualitative research program, the study content-analyzed 6,053 text units from 314 accounts of communication, and produced a taxonomy of 35 CAT-based communication categories, including a number of new categories that extend CAT beyond its established communication strategies of interpersonal control, discourse management, interpretability and approximations. The new categories aimed to operationalize the recently theorized CAT strategies of supportive communication and face issues. It was argued that a core theme related to face; that is, supervisees' perceptions of their supervisors emanated from the central need to be treated with respect and to feel valued by their supervisors.
used a series of MANOVAs and ANOVAs to examine the effects of gender, status and role-identity upon supervisees' perceptions of supervisors' communication behaviors. Firstly, structured questionnaire data were analyzed, and secondly, frequencies of the thematic codes in the previous study were transformed into ratios and analyzed. The study revealed both predicted and non-predicted findings. For example, female supervisors in satisfactory interactions were perceived by supervisees as being more accommodating than male supervisors. However, female supervisors in unsatisfactory interactions were perceived as being more dominating than male supervisors, while male supervisors in satisfactory interactions were perceived as communicating that they valued their supervisees more than female supervisors did. These unexpected results were explained in terms of sex-role stereotypes and expectations.
Studies 4 and 5 analyzed transcripts of 31, 15-minute audio-taped interactions between PhD students and their supervisors, as well as analyzing their pre- and post-conversation questionnaires. The main aim of Study 4 was to examine sex, status and social identity effects upon the interactants' perceptions of their own and the others' communication accommodation behaviors in actual conversations. As predicted, there were gender-based ingroup accommodation effects. Men and women felt they related to their own gender on an interpersonal level more than in terms of work roles. The hypothesis that supervisees would be more accommodating to their supervisors than vice-versa was also supported. For example, it was found that supervisors felt they encouraged their postgraduate students to speak more than vice-versa, and postgraduates felt more polite than their supervisors
did. This also supported the hypothesis that lower-status interactants are more likely than higher-status interactants to be concerned with showing positive face.
Study 5 built upon the content analysis in Study 2, taking a rich qualitative approach by interpreting transcripts of the audio-recordings of the 31 supervisorsupervisee dyads. The study aimed to analyze, with contextually-based examples, ingroup and outgroup communication accommodation behaviors. Using the QSR NVIVO program, the examples were coded within the established CAT categories of interpersonal control and discourse management, as well as within the more recently theorized categories of supportive communication and face. Similar themes to Study 2 emerged in this study, such as non-dominance, out-of-role references, communication of similarities, and listening. However, a number of new themes
also emerged, such as academic ingroup identity and mentoring. This study also built on the previous studies by having more of a focus on face issues, and provided qualitative examples of positive face and negative face. Overall, the study demonstrated that CAT is a useful framework for the qualitative analysis of supervisor-supervisee communication. However, it also illustrated that not all communication behaviors can be neatly categorized. Indeed, it was argued that face issues cut across many of the other CAT strategies, and that further research should be done to conceptualize and operationalize face issues within the CAT framework.
At a theoretical level, this program of research contributed to both the communication and the organizational behavior literatures by extending and operationalizing CAT strategies. The research also demonstrated that CAT is a
robust theory for examining interpersonal and intergroup dynamics in supervisor-supervisee communication across various communication contexts (academic vs. non-academic). It also showed the importance of examining factors such as role-identity and role-expectations in intergroup communication processes. At an applied level, the research showed the importance of supervisors being aware of the impact of their communication style upon their supervisees' interpersonal and intergroup perceptions of them.