Human Communication is vast and infinitely complex (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). But in all of its complexity, valuable and highly practical theories emerge from the practice of human communication (Gillette, 2016). The Theory of Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships (AEvCR), developed through the observation of human communication, presents new ideas that aid the user of the theory in seeing things in new ways (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011).
Furthermore, this theory satisfies the requirements presented by Littlejohn and Foss (2016) as to what makes a good practical theory: good practical theories enable the user to: 1) focus on a real situation 2) explore what is unique about the situation 3) consider both the powers and limitations of each action taken 4) take actions that enhance your life 5) learn from experience and aid in the application of knowledge to new situations.
Defining Human Communication: A Difficult Task
Due to the breadth and depth of this topic, human communication is exceedingly difficult to confine to a single encompassing definition (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). According to colleague Heather Vaughn, “Like the universe, human communication is expanding” (Vaughn, 2016). This observation highlights the ever-changing nature of human communication. An additional impediment to defining human communication is its adaptive nature. According to colleague Randy Hiser,” individuals will adapt their communication based on location” (Hiser, 2016). This observation denotes that communication change/adapt to events such as travel, culture, etc. which further complicate the process of defining human communication.
Point of Departure: Practical Theories and the Cybernetic Condition
To assist in defining human communication, let us examine the nature of practical theories. Practical theories, unlike nomothetic theories, seek to improve the quality of life in concrete and specific ways (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). An important aspect of practical theories is the study of the systems used in order to life; this study of systems is known as the cybernetic tradition of theory (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). A system is “a set of parts that operate together in a definable way” (Gillette, 2016). As humans we have a plethora of systems, especially in terms of human communication. One such system is basic survival, a system which illuminates human communication.
The root of human communication, as framed in the cybernetic tradition, is to promote survival via group membership and function. Human interaction/communication serves to promote survival as the chances of survival are greater in a group (Buss & Kenrick, 1988) and thus we are instinctively inclined to form and maintain social relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). In ancient times, the hunter and gatherer system worked exceedingly well; men and women were fed and were able to reproduce. But without effective human communication, disaster would have ensued. When defined practically, human communication enables teamwork and the production of output greater in quality than any individual effort.
Human Communication in Modern Practice
In the modern world, group membership is paramount in every aspect of life, including the workplace. In the corporate world, the use of small teams in ubiquitous and has been a staple system of completing assignments. This is largely due to the fact that, as management guru Tom Peters states, “truly involved people can do anything” (Peters, 1987). Peter is correct on both of his underlying statements. First, the output that a well-functioning/involved team can produce can be truly remarkable. Secondly, that problems within groups do occur; in order to achieve excellent output, problems will be encountered and overcome. These problems can stem from, as Peters says, lack of truly involved members, or can stem from other factors such as power struggles/ leadership issues. However, regardless of problems, the goal remains the same: to produce results better than the results of an individual.
The Theory at Work: Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships
The aforementioned goal of producing work as a team that is of superior quality than the work produced by any one individual has been dubbed the Assembly Effect (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). Underlying the assembly effect are the forces known as effective synergy and intrinsic synergy (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). Effective synergy is the desired motivation and focused energy directed at accomplishing the task at hand. This benevolent force produces the high quality work. Alternatively, intrinsic energy is derived from team members (intrinsic to the group) and represents self-impairing phenomena such as power struggles, laziness, difficulty in arranging meetings, anything that impedes effort towards task accomplishment (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). Represented mathematically:
Assembly Effect = High Effective Synergy x Low Intrinsic Synergy
However, the issue now changes: how do we increase effective synergy and decrease intrinsic synergy? The answer forms the basis of the proposed theory, Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships.
Complementary Relationships are the Key
According to Relational Patterns of Interaction (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011), there exist two types of relationships: symmetrical and complementary. Symmetrical relationships are relationships in which two or more parties respond to each other in the same manner. Power struggles are exactly this: as one asserts control, so too does the other which leads to intrinsic synergy. Although symmetrical relationships are not inherently negative, they do represent a void of diversity in thought and action which can lead to greater intrinsic synergy. These relationships are commonly denoted as one-up/ one-up relationships as both parties respond in the same manner.
Conversely, complementary relationships are relationships in which two or more parties respond in opposite ways: if one asserts control, the other does not initially challenge, but listens and evaluates. Complementary relationships promote diversity of thought within groups and avoid many of the power struggles engendered by symmetrical relationships. As such, complementary relationships are often referred to as one-up/one-down relationships.
Therefore, the Theory of Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships posits that in order to engender an assembly effect within groups, group members must decrease intrinsic synergy by promoting complementary relationships.
Summation of Points and Significance
In order to add concrete value in a plethora of settings, a practical approach was used in both defining human communication and in the development of the Theory of Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships which states that in order to achieve an assembly effect in which the group’s output is higher in quality than that of any individual, intrinsic synergy must be mitigated though the promotion of complementary relationships within the group. This theory regarding group systems seeks to increase productivity and the quality of the work produced n teams.
To evaluate the theory, let us utilize the criteria presented by Littlejohn & Foss (2011). A good practical theory must enable the user to:
- focus on a real situation: AEvCR concerns real situations via teams at the work place
- Explore what is unique about the situation: AEvCR acknowledges that each group or system is comprised of unique parts that must be catered to. Through the promotion of complementary relationships, those aspects of diversity are acknowledged and welcomed.
- Consider both the powers and limitations of each action taken: AEvCR acknowledges that “one cannot not communicate” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). That is, the actions taken in a group by the individual communicates a great deal and attempts to oppose destructive communications from weakening the system through complementary relationships. However, AEvCR does not assume complete and total elimination of all negative communications.
- Take actions that enhance your life: By promoting the quality of team output, members may enjoy greater professional success via a healthier and more productive team.
- Learn from experience and aid in the application of knowledge to new situations: AEvCR may be applied to virtually all group/team scenarios and the results of the applied theory may be synthesized and used to reframe future actions.
Having met the criteria proposed by Littlejohn & Foss (2011) for a good practical theory, the Theory of Assembly Effect via Complementary Relationships may be implemented to achieve greater business value through the creation of higher systematic efficiency of work teams