Chapter 1: literature review and rationale icon

Chapter 1: literature review and rationale

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Relationships of various types have been the subject of countless studies, and relational communication has been analyzed from almost as many angles. Studies have shown how relationships begin (e.g., Bell & Daly, 1984), escalate (e.g., Tolhuizen, 1989), are maintained (e.g., Stafford & Canary, 1991), de-escalate (e.g., Duck, 1982), and end (e.g., Dindia, 1994). Within each of these relational stages, communication is the vehicle for movement or change within the relationship. Often the goal is to move the relationship in a positive direction. In order to do so, partners use different behaviors to communicate how they value the relationship.

Value communication is defined as the avenues used by one relational partner to communicate that he or she values the relationship with the other. The term “avenue” is used to describe observable behaviors rather than intrapersonal thought or psychological phenomenon. The literature on relationships includes numerous studies centering on constructs similar to value communication, such as affectionate displays (Guerrero & Andersen, 1991, 1994), affinity seeking (Bell & Daly, 1984), and prosocial maintenance behaviors (Dindia & Canary, 1993; Canary & Stafford, 1994; Dindia, 1994; Canary & Stafford, 1994). However, to date no scholars have specifically investigated how relational partners communicate relational value to one another. Dindia and Canary (1993) defined relational maintenance as keeping the relationship in existence, maintaining the status quo, keeping the relationship in a satisfactory condition, and/or preventing problems. Affection has been related to a sense of belonging (Weaver, 1993), warmth, and positive regard (Morreale, Spitzberg, & Barge, 2001). In contrast, value communication is the specific act of directly or indirectly communicating that one values the relationship with the other as opposed to valuing the other person. This clarification is made because the relationship often becomes its own entity. In other words, a person may value the relationship with a relational partner in addition to valuing that person.

The Importance of Value Communication

One of the basic human needs is to feel a sense of belonging and connection to others (Maslow, 1943, 1954). Feeling valued is an inherent need in every human being (Chenot, 1998). This need may be fulfilled in a variety of ways, but is most often accomplished in relationships and the interaction therein. To feel this connection and sense of being valued by others, it is necessary for those positive sentiments to be communicated in some way.

Feeling valued serves a number of purposes. Ashbury (1990) asserted that one must have sufficient experiences in feeling valued to be able to develop self-regulating behaviors such as social and communication skills. Nowell (1997) claimed that feelings of belonging, and feeling needed, are significant in the pursuit of spirituality. According to Treurniet (1989), feeling valued is central to the development of self-esteem, and is as inherent to life as are people’s basic drives. One of the benefits of social relationships is the feeling of being valued by the other. The communication of value in a relationship may serve as the glue that keeps it going. People need to feel valued.

^ Types of Value Communication

As a result of three earlier pilot studies and a review of relevant literature, a preliminary taxonomy of avenues of value communication was developed. These avenues are open communication, acts of respect, acts of trust, interpersonal enjoyment, acts of service, gifting and resource sharing, physical affection, time, and enhancing attractiveness. The first pilot study involved field observation of male-female dyadic interaction in a food court on a university campus and at a local shopping mall. Detailed notes were taken of each observed interaction. Following the observation, the data were grouped into similar behaviors and given a title that described each group of observed interaction. All of the avenues of value communication were observed except for acts of trust and enhancing attractiveness.

The second pilot study consisted of interviews conducted with a young married couple. The interviews were done one at a time and were audio recorded. The recordings were then transcribed. The transcripts were coded by underlining any statement that described the communication of relational value. These statements were then gathered into similar groups and given a title, similar to the method used in the first pilot study. This study resulted in a list that included all of the above avenues except for acts of respect and enhancing attractiveness.

In the final pilot study, a survey was sent out via e-mail. This survey asked romantic partners how they knew that their partner valued their relationship. They were also asked how they communicated to their partner that they valued this same relationship. Similar to the two pilot studies listed above, these transcripts were coded by underlining statements that described the communication of relational value. These statements were then grouped by similarity and given a title. These surveys produced examples of all nine avenues of value communication.

It is important to note that these pilot studies were conducted to fulfill assignments in a graduate level qualitative research methods course. Because of this, each of these studies were conducted and coded by one researcher. However, other scholars, including the instructor for the course, have evaluated each of the studies and their results. The taxonomy resulting from these three pilot studies was used as a basis or starting point for the review of literature, and to compare the taxonomy resulting from the study done in this thesis. Examples and definitions of each of these avenues of value communication are given in the next section of this thesis.

Along with the pilot studies, these avenues of value communication are further derived from and supported by literature on relational maintenance (Hays, 1984; Canary & Stafford, 1994), nonverbal intimacy behavior (Andersen, 1999; & Guerrero, DeVito, & Hecht, 1999), friendship (Cole & Bradac, 1996; Fehr, 1996; Griffin & Sparks, 1990; Kalbfleisch, 1993), supportiveness (Albrecht, Burleson, & Goldsmith, 1994), and love (Branden, 1988; Buss, 1988). The benefit of including these bodies of literature is not only to compare these different areas of study, but also to meld their information together in an attempt to further look at the construct of value communication.

An analysis of various taxonomies in these bodies of literature provided a plethora of ideas, concepts, and relational phenomena that directly or indirectly communicated value. For the purposes of this study, only items that describe action have been considered. Items such as microenvironments in the nonverbal literature (e.g., Andersen, 1999; Krupat & Kubzansky, 1999), descriptive items that are found in the friendship literature such as emotionally balanced, family-oriented, and confident (e.g., Cole & Bradac, 1996), and antisocial behaviors such as avoidance that are found in the maintenance literature (Dindia, 1994) were deemed unrelated because they did not directly describe positive communication. It could be argued that in some circumstances each of these might be used to communicate relational value. However, for the purposes of this study, and to more accurately define the construct of value communication, they were not considered.

Some of the avenues of value communication tend to be more direct, while others seem to be more indirect. Determining the level of directness or indirectness of each avenue of value communication is subjective and likely to vary as a result of the history of the relationship, the sex of each communicator, and the specific situation. A closer examination of each of these avenues of value communication will likely produce a continuum from directness to indirectness, rather than simply one or another. At this point, however, it is important to include all types of value communication, whether direct or indirect. Later research can determine differences in the degree of directness.

In an effort to visually compare the related constructs from each of the taxonomies, a chart has been created (see Table 1). The aspects and descriptions of each of the constructs were aligned as closely as possible to match those from other bodies of literature. It is worthy to note that these five bodies of literature are not necessarily congruent in all ways. While nonverbal communication is a mode of communication, maintenance describes the sustaining of a relationship, friendship is a type of relationship, and love is an emotion- all of the above have aspects that suggest direct and / or indirect communication of relational value.

Although the items listed in table 1 are, for the purposes of this study, viewed as positive relational constructs, it should also be noted that many of these items may also describe behaviors that are negative. For example, touch may be used for affection and intimacy, but may also be used to intimidate or in aggressive or violent situations. Open communication, or more specifically, the use of ones voice may be used to communicate romance and/or positivity, but may also be used in harsh conversation, or to belittle or insult someone. However, this thesis will focus on positive forms of communication. Positivity is inherent in value communication in that valuing the relationship with another connotes holding the relationship in high regard. The interview questions asked to the participants in this study were positive in nature resulting in positive data. A description of the questions asked will be in the next chapter of this thesis.

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