Effects of Medium of Communication on Experimental Negotiation

Short, J. A. Effects of Medium of Communication on Experimental Negotiation. Human Relations. 27 3 (1974): 225-34

This 1974 article details a study that John Short conducted to determine the effects of communication medium on experimental negotiation. While it was written over 35 years ago, it is foundational to social presence theory that Short later developed. The study was conducted due to what Short saw as a move to decentralize business and a greater difficulty of having face-to-face (FtF) communication, an occurrence far more relevant to the globalization of business and education in our current era.

He explains well the characteristics of visual communication.

The visual nonverbal cues normally used in face-to-face interaction whose transmission is affected by the removal of the visual channel include physical proximity, eye-gaze, posture and facial expression. Consideration of the functions of these cues suggests that they convey information primarily about the emotions of the participants rather than about those matters which are ostensibly the subject matter of the meeting (Argyle 1969): (the latter information is transmitted almost entirely verbally). (226).

Short’s study was largely about comparing FtF communication with that of the telephone: communication with visual component removed. His hypothesized effect was that in a negotiation situation, if an individual strongly believed his argument (as opposed to arguing a side for which the person did not have personal convictions), he would be relatively more successful under FtF conditions than over the telephone. The video consideration (communication by closed circuit television) was added as an experiment.

If the lack of the visual channel was the basis for this effect, [the video] condition would be expected to be similar to the face-to-face condition; if the physical isolation in the audio condition was the basis, the video condition might be more similar to the audio condition. If the video condition gave results similar to the face-to-face condition and different from the audio condition there might be some hope for practical applications of visual telecommunications. (227).

The study diverges from my own topic in that the topic of participant discussion was business-oriented and consisted of a negotiation, so there was a certain measurable outcome of which party archived their goal (or got the better position due to a compromise. In the classroom setting of my study, students discussed topics more theoretically, not reaching any successful goal. Additionally, the video used in Short’s study was synchronous, which is more in common with FtF video than is asynchronous video due to the element of immediacy. However, there are many similarities that can be extracted from Short’s study and from the results.

The outcome of the study revealed that the video conditions were quite similar to the FtF conditions in the means and standard deviations of the payoffs (success for this particular setting), whereas the audio conditions were not. This outcome is consistent with Short’s hypothesis that it is not the isolation inherent in telecommunications, but rather the lack of the visual channel that is the basis for the effects. Therefore, the possibility of effective telecommunication applications is promising.

The similarity of the outcomes in the video condition to those in the face-to-face condition in a situation in which the audio condition differs from the face-to-face condition, holds out expectations of useful applications for visual telecommunications. (233).

Online video communication can be seen as a current example of the video communication technology available at the time of Short’s article. In this way, the outcomes of this study can be extended to the discussion of the online video conversation (OVC). Therefore, we can apply these finds to see that video communication is closer to FtF communication due to the visual element, than it is to purely audio communication even though one is alone in the audio communication setting, just as he or she is in the personal video setting.

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