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USING BALESIAN ANALYSIS TO ASSESS THE INTERACTION SKILLS OF AUGMENTED COMMUNICATORS

Presenter
Donald B. Egolf, Ph.D.
1117 Cathedral of Learning
Department of Communication
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: 412-624-6763
Fax: 412-624-1878
Email: ratchet@pitt.edu

Individuals who augment their communication do so in order that they can improve their interaction with others. Reasons for seeking such improvement are virtually the same as are the reasons for communicating in general: the need to earn the cooperation of others, the need to effect changes in the attitudes and behaviors of others, the need to impress, the need to generate feedback that aids in the acquisition and maintenance of self-concept, the need to engage in learning dialogues, and so on. If interaction is the penultimate goal of communication for all communicators including augmentative communicators, then it is crucial that all parties interested in promoting effective augmentative communicator-partner communication have a tool for assessing interaction skill. Advocated in this presentation is that the Bales' (1950) Interaction Process Analysis tool is ideal for conducting the assessment.

The tool can not only be used to analyze interaction in a single encounter (synchronous analysis) but can also be used to track development or improvement in interaction skills over time (diachronic analysis). The latter characteristic makes it ideal to chart the effects of training from a pre-training baseline session, through interim in-training probes, to a single post-training check, and to subsequent maintenance and improvement evaluations. Although the technique was designed for evaluating small group communication, we have found that it is efficacious for the two-person dyad as well.

In using the technique one first transcribes the interaction and then marks the transcript with respect to "turns." A turn begins when one partner begins to communicate and ends when that partner stops communicating and the other partner begins to communicate. After the transcript is divided into turns, each turn is then subdivided into "acts." A turn may have one or multiple acts. For example, "I voted for Sondra," would be a turn with at least one act, but, "I voted for Sondra because I think that she is well qualified for the job," is a turn with two acts: "I voted for Sondra" is one, and "... I think that she is well qualified for the job" is the second. In short, an act is a unitary thought that can stand alone.

After the transcript is divided into acts, each act is categorized into one of 12 categories. The categorization is done for each participant alone and for all participants together. The categories and their definitions follow:

  1. SEEMS FRIENDLY: acts that show solidarity, raise the self esteem of others, raise the status of others, and show general affability.

  2. DRAMATIZES: acts that show tension release, jokes, laughs, and general satisfaction.

  3. AGREES: acts that show passive acceptance, understanding, concurrence, and compliance.

  4. GIVES SUGGESTIONS: acts that provide direction without depriving others of their autonomy.

  5. GIVES OPINION: acts that evaluate. These often begin with "I think," "I believe," "It seems to me," etc.

  6. GIVES INFORMATION: acts that provide objective information, i.e., information that can be independently confirmed.

  7. ASKS FOR INFORMATION: acts that ask for confirmable information.

  8. ASKS FOR OPINION: acts that ask for evaluation and analysis.

  9. ASKS FOR SUGGESTIONS: acts that ask for direction and ways of acting.

  10. DISAGREES: acts that show passive rejection or lack of concurrence.

  11. SHOWS TENSION: acts that indicate a plea for help, withdrawal, or lack of comfort with the discussion.

  12. SEEMS UNFRIENDLY: acts that deflate the status and self esteem of others and defend and assert one's own self.

Following the categorization, the percentage of the total number of acts that fall into each of the respective categories can be compared to Bales' "norms" (Littlejohn, 1978, p. 273). They are the general category percentages that functioning and successful communication encounters generate. Below are the Bales' norms:

  1. SEEMS FRIENDLY: 3%
  2. DRAMATIZES: 6%
  3. AGREES: 11%
  4. GIVES SUGGESTIONS: 5%
  5. GIVES OPINION: 19%
  6. GIVES INFORMATION: 25%
  7. ASKS FOR INFORMATION: 5%
  8. ASKS FOR OPINION: 3%
  9. ASKS FOR SUGGESTIONS: 1%
  10. DISAGREES: 4%
  11. SHOWS TENSION: 5%
  12. SEEMS UNFRIENDLY: 3%

There are some things of note about Bales' norms. First the majority of acts in a successful encounter are task acts. Categories 4 through 9 are task categories having to do with giving and asking for information, opinions, and suggestions. Fifty-eight percent of the acts are in these categories while only thirty-two percent of the statements fall into Categories 1, 2, and 3; and 10, 11, and 12, the socio-emotional categories. Thus, to have a successful communication encounter there must be a majority of task acts.

Note too that the largest percentages are in Categories 6 and 5, 25% and 19% respectively. Therefore, just two categories account for 44% of the total number of acts in a successful encounter.

Also to be noted is the fact that there are many more acts in the "giving" categories (Categories 4, 5, and 6) than in the "asking" categories (Categories 7, 8, and 9). The total percentage for the former is 49% and for the latter, 9%. There are two reasons for this: one is strategic and the other is psychological.

The strategic reason is that in many communication encounters information must be "put on the table" if there is to be a discussion. This information can be benign (last night's TV shows) or extremely gravitas (How do I get a donor heart?), for example. Given this need for information it is not surprising that there is such a high loading on Categories 4, 5, and 6.

The psychological reason for the high loading in these categories relates to personal power. Powerful people give information. Weak people ask for it.McGinty (see Martin, 1998) said that the weak ask numerous questions while the strong give information, opinions and suggestions, and set the agenda. Empowerment, of course, is a key issue in augmentative communication. Augmented communicators have often had to occupy the passive interactive role.

We have used Bales' technique for assessing the progress of seven newly augmented communicators, ages 7 to 18 years. The assessment covered the time from pretraining, through training, and after training. The application showed the technique to be very sensitive to interaction behaviors in any single communication encounter (synchronic analysis). And, we found that the instrument was very sensitive to changes over time (diachronic analysis).

Our seven participants changed from passive communicators to active ones and the technique tracked these changes well, showing the corresponding changes in the distribution of acts across Bales' twelve categories.

In sum, the technique can be very sensitive in tracking improvements in interactional skills, and can be therefore used as well to provide accountability data for agencies that require it.

References

Bales, R. (1950). Interaction Process Analysis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Littlejohn, S. (1978). Theories of Human Communication. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill,

Martin, J. (1998). How you speak shows where you rank (An interview with Sarah McGinty), Fortune, Feb. 2, 156.


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