Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Communication Accommodation Theory comparison

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Individuals in the office must communicate with one another. Individuals may communicate their emotions, share their ideas, and exchange knowledge through communication. While all humans live to communicate, the way they communicate varies. Individuals may convince with the express intention of exerting influence when communicating at work. They may also want to collaborate in order to build and strengthen partnerships. Communication theories describe the influences that affect each form of action. There are several scientific approaches to communication that have in-depth perspectives into how various people interact. Studying communication theories is of great importance as it assists in development of modern communication technologies. The paper is going to examine the application of Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Communication Accommodation Theory. It is going to compare and contrast the two theories and will clearly show why the concepts of Communication Accommodation Theory are more applicable in the work environment.

Cognitive dissonance theory was advanced by Festinger. When individuals are compelled to believe two things that do not match, they tend to go through moments of intense emotional torture and unless they deal with their belief system, they are bound to experience dissonance (Mills, 2000). Human beings tend to avoid situations where they can experience dissonance which happens when there are conflicting feelings about particular situations. In the attempt to evade dissonance, individuals tend to ignore positions that oppose their own. They ensure that their beliefs and actions are in tandem and they also tend to seek reassurance after making tough choices. Change of behavior or justification of current behavior is also adopted to avoid dissonance. Festinger argues that in communication, individuals make decisions and take actions to reduce the contradictory beliefs within them (Aronson, 1999). The theory considers the desire to avoid dissonance as a basic human need just like the need for food and shelter. Individuals therefore tend to achieve consistency between their actions and beliefs by exposing themselves to information that is consistent with their beliefs.

Cases of Cognitive dissonance are common and workers often experience those situations. Human service workers are sometimes coerced to tolerate tasks that are in conflict with their personal beliefs. A social worker managing a children care center may be compelled by management to admit a child that does not meet the admission criteria. Human resources personnel may also face dissonance when called upon by the management to dismiss an employee in a manner that is against the policy of the organization. Cognitive dissonance at the work place leads to increased absenteeism, high employee turnover and reduced productivity because of stress. The most outstanding weakness of the theory is that it does not give predictions on how dissonance will be reduced yet many workers would want to know how to solve dissonance in order to achieve their career goals (Egan &Santos, 2010). The theory is also limited because it does not factor personality differences. There are some people who are generally wired to work with conflicting beliefs and they perform well. That caliber of people that seems to cope well even with inconsistencies in their minds is not accommodated in the Cognitive dissonance theory. The theory does not factor in the impact of a persuasive message. Some messages are weak in nature and ignite less dissonance while others are strong and drive more dissonance. Failure to accommodate the message variables limits the theory in many ways since workers do not respond to low dissonance in the same manner as those messages with high dissonance.

Communication Accommodation Theory was advanced by Howard Giles and argues that individuals tend to adjust their style of communication in an attempt to accommodate the other party. The theory upholds that there will always be similarities and differences in speech behavior in all forms of conversations (Gibbons, 2005). The speech behavior of a particular individual is influenced by past experiences and interactions and it determines the extent to which he accommodates others. If the beliefs and attitudes of people in a group are similar or closely related, the more they accommodate each other. The theory is founded on the principles of perception and evaluation. The perception that one develops regarding a certain speech influences the manner in which the individual evaluates the conversation. This is what drives individuals to change their behavior in communication to accommodate the other party so that they are perceived and evaluated well. The theory also upholds that language has a big impact in group interactions and can be used to reflect social status (Ayoko, Charmine &Hartel, 2002). Members of a lower social class will always try to accommodate those of a higher class as a reflection of their desire to belong to the higher class. Communication accommodation can be done either through divergence or convergence. Convergence relies on attraction where individuals mimic each other’s communication behavior like speech rate and eye contact. Divergence happens when there is a power difference or social difference between communicators and the gap between their verbal and non-verbal communication behaviors is not closed. Divergence is a clear indication that the person talking is not interested in being closely associated with the recipient of the information.

Communication Accommodation Theory is oftenly practiced at the work place. Colleagues working in the same department in an organization will tend to use the same vocabulary and will try to keep up with each other’s speed rate. A junior employee will tend to address a boss in a respectful language while the boss is likely to tone down to receive the gesture. This shows acceptance for the other. A human service worker in a residential care unit may change his tone and speed of conversation while dealing with children. In moments of agreement, the individual will express convergence but in times of disagreement, divergence may be expressed. The theory is limited because it ignores the possibility of serious conflicts between parties where one party may be hostile or fail to engage reason (Gibbons, 2005). It has also been argued that conversations are very broad and cannot be reduced to two simple categories of divergence and convergence. Despite the few limitations, the concepts of the theory explain human behavior at the work place better than the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. It is superior because it addresses the group dynamics in a work environment. It clearly shows how different personalities overcome their differences to accommodate each other. The theory also details how major and minor differences in social class or nature of the message are accommodated in a conversation. It is also broad in coverage of communication aspects and not as narrow as the Cognitive Dissonance Theory.

Communication Accommodation theory helps understand culture and diversity while the Cognitive Dissonance Theory gives a reflection of self and how individuals internalize messages. In terms of explaining the behavior of people at the work place, Communication Accommodation Theory is more practical to Cognitive dissonance theory because it addresses the different forms of interactions at different levels. It covers a wider scope that stretches beyond speech and nonverbal communication.


Aronson, E. (1999). The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance: A Current Perspective. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Academic Press. pp. 1–34.

Ayoko, O, Charmine E. J., Härtel, V.J. (2002). Resolving the Puzzle of Productive and Destructive Conflict in Culturally Heterogeneous Workgroups: A Communication Accommodation Theory Approach. International Journal of Conflict Management. 165–195.

Egan, L.C.,Santos, L.R. (2010). Choice-induced Preferences in the Absence of Choice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 46 (1),204–207. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.08.014

Gibbons, J. (2005). Book Review: Law Enforcement, Communication and Community. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 15(3),265–267. doi:10.1080/01434630508668408.

Mills, J. (2000). Changes in Moral Attitudes Following Temptation. Journal of Personality. 26 (4), 517–531. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1958.tb02349

January 05, 2023

Sociology Life

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