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Communicating the right message on the wrong medium: the construction of competent messages in medium rule-violation situations




Sudduth, Linnea Ann, author
Merolla, Andy, advisor
Sprain, Leah, committee member
Harman, Jennifer, committee member

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This study examines medium rule violations, or violations of people's expectancies for appropriate media selection. Examples of medium rule violations abound and include, for instance, breaking up through email and being fired over the phone. Previous scholarship (Gershon, 2010; Starks, 2007; Westmyer, DiCioccio, & Rubin, 1998) suggests that media selection may be, in some situations, a rule-governed behavior. This study proposes a unified term, "medium violations," for violations of such medium rules for appropriate media selection. In addition, it suggests a framework, drawn from Shimanoff's (1980) taxonomy of rule-governed behavior, for developing more competent messages in medium rule-violation situations. The taxonomy organizes rule-governed behaviors according to the communicator's conscious awareness of a rule when engaging in a rule-governed act. The study hypothesizes that the varying levels of rule-consciousness can be used to address communicators' face needs. Thus, the more rule-conscious the message, the more competent the message should be perceived in medium rule-violation situations. A two (situation type: medium rule adherent vs. medium rule violation) by five (message type: negative reflective, violation, no rule acknowledgment, following, positive reflective) experiment was conducted with 291 participants. In addition, a coding scheme to better understand participants' reactions to the medium selection was developed. The study found that messages in the medium rule-adherent situation were always viewed as more competent than medium rule-violation messages. Yet, negative reflective messages, messages where the communicator engaged in both self- and other-facework, were perceived as the most competent message type. No interaction effect between situation type and message type was found. This study sought to increase current knowledge on medium rules and the construction of messages in medium rule-adherent and violation situations. It suggested the existence and importance of medium rules in guiding mediated interactions, and it also demonstrated the utility of Shimanoff's (1980) taxonomy of rule-governed behavior in the construction of mediated messages. Further, the emotional reaction to the medium selection coding scheme was found to be reliable and may be useful in future empirical research.


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