Communication as a Process of Influence


Another master assignment. This time, the topic covers the issue of Communication as a Process of Influence. Since it has a lot to do with my dissertation paper as well, here’s a short excerpt of what I am going to do. Oh, God….speaking of dissertation paper, I have to finish it in one month, so…my presence on the blog might decrease. But hey, you have to agree education comes first!

Anyway, here’s my article Communication as a Process of Influence. You can use it, just don’t use it word by word.

It is a known fact that, once a process of communication had taken place between two persons, the relationship they shared before communicating is changed forever. Of course, there exists a gradation in what this change is concerned, which varies from deliberated actions (induced modifications) to unexpected happenings which do not have as aim certain effects of communication.
I chose to speak about communication as a process of influence because I believe the human beings possess a gift which is more powerful than they know, that is the power of language, the power of words.
To support my ideas upon this subject , I chose to discuss the opinions of Denis McQuail, a well known theoretician, and of Irena Chiru, a Romanian writer who has a study on the interpersonal side of the communication.
When talking about influence, it is Denis McQuail who refers to communication’s intentionality in producing some specific effects. He tries to explain that we cannot speak about this if we do not connect it with the concept of power. Thus, the term influence implies the use of power in order to make the other one do or act the way one wants in such conditions when only communication can be used. In McQuail’s view, to influence means to induce a change into your interlocutor’s behaviour, not any kind of change, but one you want to be produced.
The main difference that McQuail spots between the two concepts is the fact that power implies notions like coercion and force, while influence through means of communicating becomes efficient only when being accepted by the receiver.
All elements of the communicational scheme are to be taken into account in such a situation. The concept of influence is connected to the sender’s need to control the receiver, by manipulating him through a certain type of message, creating a special context, having as background a certain code etc.
When analyzing social communication, McQuail finds some variables that may be combined in such way so as to obtain efficiency in influence. These elements are:

  • a) the situation and the context in which communication takes place (informal – mass-media; formal – school);
  • b) the characteristics of the sender and of the message ( the sender can be credible or not, the message can vary according to the style and form of addressing);
  • c) the characteristics of the receiver (different receivers react differently to the same message);
  • d) processes like acceptance and understanding;
  • e) the different types of effects.

There are five situations when a receiver may be persuaded, thus, there are five types of power that a sender of a message has:
1- the power of the reward – offering the other material advantages (money, objects, social position etc.) or satisfying some of his desires (positive reward – implies attraction between the two factors);
2- the coercive power – is based on the fact that the receiver expects himself to be punished by the sender if he does not “accept” the sender’s influence (we talk here about the negative reward and a rejection between the two factors);
3- the referential power – the receiver identifies or wants to identify himself with the sender (common people often imitate the way in which famous people dress, speak or act);
4- the legitimate power – the receiver understands that the sender is the leader and accepts him/her as so (a teacher-student or parent-child relationship);
5- the power of the expert (connaisseur)- when the sender is known as the expert in one situation or another, his indications influence the receiver.

Denis McQuail next wants to explain why the receiver accepts to be influenced. It seems that this responds to the receiver’s needs, thus existing an “availability”, from his part, towards the sender’s influence. Taking this into account, McQuail thinks that there are two types of people: ones that can be regarded as victims of the process of persuasion, and others which are rational human beings, capable of building their own opinions, but who accept some other opinions because they need approval (or just want to consult with the others before making a decision).
From this point of view, the author finds five functions of the receiver, corresponding to the five types of power of the sender. These functions are:

  • 1- the accommodation (adaptation) function – if the sender can satisfy the receiver’s needs, then the latter will have a positive attitude towards the former and will accept his influence;
  • 2- the ego-defensive (self-defensive) function – the receiver is very much concerned about the way in which his/her image is perceived by the others and, in order to protect his/her ego, he/she develops an ego-defensive process and selects only those messages that will maintain a coherent image;
  • 3- the functions of expressing values – this third situation has in view those attitudes expressing values and shaping the image of the self. The receiver selects only the messages that she/he can identify with (is very much the same as the previous one);
  • 4- the cognitive function – refers to the need of understanding the things that influence or affect one’s life.

There are many other types of needs that determine the receiver to “accept” the influence, but two of them are more important and these are: the need of belonging to a group and the need for security.
When talking about the effects of the process of persuasion, Denis McQuail thinks that they are greater if the sender has in view messages that correspond with the receiver’s ideas, opinions and interests. The message has an important impact when it refers to subjects, issues that are of a special interest to the receiver and he/she is directly involved in (again, a kind of positive reward, because the receiver grows confident, confirming his position).
We find a similar opinion in what messages are concerned with Irena Chiru as well. She considers that, when building a message, we have to take into account, among others, its power of persuading.
In order to persuade the receiver, the sender of the message must chose and develop a decisive argument and exclude all the others. He/she should also use the receiver’s objections as a reliable source in knowing his/her interlocutor (the objections shouldn’t be rejected, but reformulated so as to help the receiver see the advantages). When the receiver agrees on the proposal, the sender must be sure that the former really understood the message. If the receiver wants further information, the sender has to be very concise in order not to get any other critics.
Irena Chiru thinks that the sender should also appeal to logic, thus using impersonal constructions like It is necessary, it is obvious, creating the impression that he is very sure of what he says.
The questions are also very important. The sender will use them as a trap in order to put the receiver into difficulty and make him accept his point of view as the right one (or the most appropriate one).
The author also observes that sometimes to persuade turns into to manipulate when the sender works at the level of emotions and feelings.
I think that both authors offer an interesting and precise image of the subject. Denis McQuail analyses the problem of influence with its social implications, offering detailed information upon certain situations depicted in his studies of human behaviour. Irena Chiru indicates the steps which have to be followed in order to persuade an interlocutor, her study upon interpersonal communication and the process of influencing others representing a putting-into-practice (maybe) of Denis McQuail’s theoretic support.
Persuasion is one of the objectives of communication, because of the effects it may have when trying to obtain benefits (such as a better job, respect, fame or social position). The accomplishing of individual needs and desires make human beings use language in order to achieve them.

1. McQuail Denis – Comunicarea, Bucure?ti, Institutul European, 1999
2. Chiru Irena – Comunicarea interpersonal?, Bucure?ti, Ed. Tritonic, 2003

Comments (5)

Well, I like your approach, It would have been better if the comparison were made between two famous writers in the domain, I could have used it more efficiently :D

What can I say, Remmy, do your own research for half of it? :) )))

uuuu…nice free stuff for school :) )

Thanks a lot, I found this very useful, famous or no famous writers in the domain :) )

lol, no problem

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