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Steve was ecstatic following a strategic merger between U.S.-based Ryan Project Systems and German Gierig Strategin AG. Ryan, endeavoring to expand their market share, agreed to merge with international Strategin to maximize the market share of both organizations. Shortly after the merger, three Ryan employees began discussing their belief that a disproportionate downsizing on the Ryan side of the merger was occurring. Valuable human capital resources were being terminated, many by suspicious terms, at least according to Steve (Dainton & Zelley, 2019, pp. 49–52).

Theoretically, the case study is rich for examining and applying intrapersonal communication theories. Berger and Calabrese (1975) posited that social life is filled with ambiguities, and Uncertainty Reduction Theory attempts to explain how we shape our communication to avoid uncertainty. Laterally, Judee Burgoon (1978,1994) contemplated through the Expectancy Violations Theory that communicative behavior is developed to interpret meaning attached to personal space violations, including psychological and emotional spaces (Dainton & Zelley, 2019).

Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Analyzing Steve’s behavior in response to the merger between Ryan and Strategin AG, the Uncertainty Reduction Theory would attempt to explain ways in which 1) Steve communicated to minimize uncertainties he had about his evolving employment landscape or the world around him, 2) his regular uncertainty about the merger, perhaps through former experiences which we will discuss later, he experienced uncertainty or anxiety concerning the merger, and 3) Steve used communication as a primary vehicle for reducing his uncertainty.

Steve attempted to use communication to avoid behavioral uncertainty, how he should act in the situation he was placed in, and cognitive uncertainty, in which Steve was uncertain about how he should think about the merger. Steve then applied the axioms of the uncertainty reduction process. As commanded by our professor, we shall identify all applicable axioms to one self-evidencing pattern: Steve used communication to reduce his anxiety and uncertainty concerning his company’s merger. For brevity, table 1.0 reflects the application of each of the eight Axioms of the applied theory.

Axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory


Axiom 1

As your verbal communication with a communication partner increases, your level of uncertainty about that person decreases; as a result, verbal communication continues to increase.

Steve had regular conference calls with his peers, especially two former Ryan employees who together, served to advance and reduce their uncertainties concerning the merger.

Axiom 2

As welcoming nonverbal expressions increase, uncertainty decreases and vice versa.

Shortly after the merger, three coworkers took a week-long consulting assignment with a company in Barcelona. Together they expressed enthusiasm about the possibilities of travel outside of the United States.

Axiom 3

The greater your uncertainty, the more information-seeking behaviors you use. Conversely, as your uncertainty lessens, you seek less information.

Initially, uncertainty was present, but the levels may have been lower. Shortly after the merger, the general feeling was optimistic and information collaboration seemed to be at the minimum. Following the optimism of the Barcelona trip, an uptick in information-seeking began immediately.

Axiom 4

When uncertainty in relationships is high, the intimacy level of communication content will be low. On the other hand, the reduction of uncertainty leads to greater intimacy. 

Levels of intimacy were highest during the lowest periods of conflict interaction (anxiety and uncertainty) between the three key Ryan employees. Steve, as our case study, was at the core. Following the Barcelona trip, intimacy was highest; prior to it, communication was more frequent, revealing lower levels of associated uncertainty.

Axiom 5

The more uncertain you are, the more you will use reciprocal communication strategies and vice versa. 

Reciprocal strategies were in play for Ryan employees, especially following the meeting between Steve and his supervisor.

Axiom 6

The more similarities you perceive to share with the target person(s), the more your uncertainty is reduced. Alternatively, perceiving dissimilarities leads to increased uncertainty. 

Steve found himself polarized with his supervisor. He felt that his work product was justified and he was operating dissimilarly from his supervisor. His uncertainty about performance was augmented by his feeling of being unjustly targeted and having dissimilar characteristics from his supervisor.

Axiom 7

As uncertainty decreases, liking increases. Conversely, if your uncertainty rises, your liking of the person will decrease.

It seems that the three key employees in the Ryan study grew closer, following the intimacy they found on the Barcelona trip. Accordingly, uncertainty decreased, and liking of both the organization and each other seemed to increase. Conversely, Steve began to show more dislike for the situation he found himself in with his supervisor until he developed almost contempt for the Ryan merger at his firing. Accordingly, as his personal uncertainty increased once more, his liking of the organization and his supervisor decreased.

Axiom 8

Shared communication networks, or shared ties, lessen your uncertainty. On the other hand, if you share no common relations, your uncertainty intensifies. 

While Steve had several other coworkers in a shared style communication network, his anxiety or uncertainty seemed to lessen. By the end of the study, when Steve was targeted then terminated by his employer, he shared no common relations, and his uncertainty appeared to intensify.

Table 1.0 ((Dainton & Zelley, 2019; Goodwin, 2023b))

Application of Expectancy Violation Theory in the Ryan Merger

Burgoon developed the Expectancy Violation Theory based on specific axioms or self-evidencing truths like the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. Most central to the axioms is the focus on the human need for affiliation and a competing need for personal space (Dainton & Zelley, 2019, p. 40). The theory then explains what happens when expectancy violations occur, from a social normative standpoint, either positive or negative. The theory relates that the violation of space is subject to the interpretation of the communication receiver. Therefore, the theory is highly preceptive in nature and subjective in context. Overarchingly, the theory attempts to explain how violations of socially normative behavior can impact the dynamics of relationships and contexts of communication (Goodwin, 2023a).

Sadly, Steve’s prior experience served as a basis for his anxiety, yet he attempted to overcome them. The instant violation was the supervisor’s targeting of Steve for what Steve interpreted as being meritless. Steve viewed his supervisor’s inquiry as an attack against him for the use of his time. While Steve viewed the event with negative valence, he must have been mindful and applied an assessment of his supervisor: the overall positive or negative view Steve took of the company he was instrumental in growing. Steve assessed reward valance and determined the attractiveness to be appealing or positive. Steve predictably met his supervisor’s assessment of his inadequacies head-on. He supplied him with reports containing billable hours and details that supported his claims. Ultimately, Steve viewed his firing with negative valance, which he predictably reciprocated with negative behavior. The theory seems to explain the context of expectancy violations within social interactions and seemingly works to predict outcomes within intrapersonal interactions.

Works Cited

Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. (2019). Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life Fourth Edition. Sage.

Goodwin, M. (2023a). L03 Expectancy Violations Theory: [24SP] CAS 303, Sec 001: Comm Thry Goodwin.

Goodwin, M. (2023b). L03 Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT).

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