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EQUIVOCAL MESSAGES IN ORGANIZATIONS

L. Putnam, R. Sorenson
Published 1982 · Psychology

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This study examined the impact of ambiguous messages and organizational level on the processing of equivocality. Using Weick's (1979) model as a theoretical frame, investigators measured the number of rules, the number of people, and the frequencies of message categories generated in two zero-history organizations. Subjects used more rules and more people to process Hi ambiguous messages than they did to process Lo ambiguous messages. Analysis of group interaction revealed that most groups spent their talk time reducing equivocality. Workers and foremen reduced ambiguity by adding interpretations while managers proposed specific action steps. This study suggested that misunderstandings in organizations might evolve from divergent approaches to the management of equivocality. Since some degree of equivocality is present, in all organizational inputs (Weick, 1979), the way individuals interpret and process this ambiguity is a key to understanding how organizations make sense of their activities.
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