Proxemics and Expectancy Violations Theory

Expectancy Violations Theory  (EVT) is one way of understanding how people create assumptions and use physical space. People interact with space in ways where behaviors are expected. A component of EVT includes the interpersonal behavior subject of proxemics zones. Proxemics is the study of how humans use space. Intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and territoriality with sub territories are components of proxemics within EVT. Intimate distance is the zone around a person that ranges from zero to 18 inches. In Western culture, this space is often shared with family members and close friends. Personal distances ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet and reserved for interactions with familiar people. An impromptu meeting with a coworker at the water cooler or the exchange of pleasantries with the clerk at the local grocery store is familiar interactions. Social distance ranges from 4 to 12 feet and is the space people use interacting in social environments such as work or parties. Public distance is 12 feet and beyond and is a formal type of space used by public figures, educators, supervisors, and so on.

Claiming Space

How space is used is the subject of territoriality. Defined as a person’s ownership of an object or area (West and Turner, 2004), territoriality is the process that people apply to personal and private property. From placing a book bag on a seat in a crowded subway car to building a fence around a home, Western culture uses territory to signify ownership. Territoriality has three main components of primary territories, secondary territories, and public territories. Primary territory is a person’s, “exclusive domain over an area or object” (West and Turner, 2004, p. 139). An office desk and a warehouse locker are claimed and labeled by workers to indicate ownership of the territory. Secondary territory is a person’s “affiliation with an area or object” (West and Turner, 2004, p. 139). A particular seat at the local coffee house or a library a student visits frequently and thinks of as a second home is how people associate secondary territory with an area or object. Public territory is, “open spaces for everyone” (West and Turner, 2004, p. 139). Beaches, parks, city centers, town squares, and so on are public spaces that are accessible by anyone.

Gendered Space

Sapiro (2003) notes that space is used and manipulated differently by men and women. Men take up more space than women do and that contributes to how Western culture perceives men and women’s roles in shared spaces. Richards and McAlister examined how men and women occupy space in a 1994 study published in the Journal of Psychology

Men sit and stand more expansively than women do much more often spreading their arms and legs outward or sideways or sitting with their heads and trunks leaning backward and their legs spread out in front of them. American men tend to cross their legs in the ankle-over-knee position. Women position themselves as though trying to shrink, with arms and legs closer to the body. The more submissive a woman is, the more controlled her body movements (Sapiro, 2003, p. 337/338).

When behavior deviates from expected interactions communication issues emerge because people will react negatively to space violations. Expectancy Violations Theory provides a foundation for why communication issues materialize in relationship to how people use space. However, EVT does not provide solutions for conflict management so anyone experiencing a violation of expected behavior should also be aware of how to resolve the situation.


Sapiro, V. (2003). Women in American society: An introduction to women’s studies (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

West, R., & Turner, L. (2004). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.


Selective Processes in Mass Media

Attitude change theory contains several components two of which are applicable to information distribution. Selective retention is the idea “that people remember best and longest those messages that are consistent with their preexisting attitudes and beliefs” (Baran, 2014, p. 327). Selective perception is the process “that people will interpret messages in a manner consistent with their preexisting attitudes and beliefs” (Baran, 2014, p. 328). Providing audience with information that cannot be cherry-picked and contains multiple angles is a way to ensure accuracy is replicated through various channels. Information can easily be manipulated and evolve into inaccurate, untruthful, and false reports after it is released to the public.

Journalists are responsible for distributing vetted information but is the public also held to the same ethical standard? Does the public have an obligation to present unbiased and vetted information on blogs, social media fan pages, twitter accounts, and personal websites? Dissecting and criticizing is practically a Constitutional right and the ubiquity of technology has given every person with Internet access a voice of dissent. With computer mediated-communications (CMC) becoming a dominant method of communicating, developing and maintaining ethical standards interaction is developing into a necessary process. Ethical standards are necessary because without ethical standards, anyone can make a profusion of claims without repercussion. Claims without validity are not only damaging but could potentially create lawsuits from the distribution of faulty information. Understanding how people communicate through CMC is exciting and interesting but people should also work within their scope of expertise and experience


Baran, S. J., (2014), Introduction to Mass Communication Media Literacy and Culture. (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.



Women, Leadership, and Systems Theory

Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2011) indicate that systems theory, “describes the interconnected elements of a system in which a change in one element affects all of the other elements” (p. 11). Examining the components of leadership through systems theory demonstrates that each component from leader to subordinate affects each other in a mutual way. Mihelic, Lipicnik, and Tekavcic (2010) describe the construct of ethical leadership as a series of behaviors that serves as role modeling. Followers mimic the accepted behavior of leaders, and leaders communicate behavior to followers through decision-making, understanding consequences, and disciplinary action toward unethical behavior (Mihelic, Lipicnik, and Tekavcic, 2010). Examining power distance in ethical leadership is necessary for understanding leader and follower relationships. Cultural theorist Geert Hofstede, describes power distance, “as the degree to which a person is able to influence other people’s ideas and behavior” (Hofstede Centre, n.d., para. 2).  Power distance is a cultural trait so people learn behaviors from the people who are perceived as authority figures. Leaders are people in positions of power and develop credibility through actions and followers emulate leadership actions.

The compatibility of ethics and credibility in leadership is found in women who are changing the industries to which they belong.  People in communications are familiar with Sherry Turkle because her work at MIT has changed how people interact with technology.  As the director of MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle,“is an expert on culture and therapy, mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics”  (MIT, n.d., para. 1).  The president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards has, “expanded its advocacy for access to health care and ensured that Planned Parenthood played a pivotal role in shaping health care coverage and services for women” (Planned Parenthood, 2014, para. 2).  Most people are familiar with Geena Davis as an actress, but fewer people know that she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.  This organization works, “within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to dramatically improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under” (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2016, para. 1).  The common theme each of these women possess is passion for leading with credibility.  Not only does each woman demonstrates expertise in her field, which supports credibility, but these women are passionate about the ethical approaches to these controversial topics.


Beebe, S. A., Beebe, S. J., & Redmond, M. V. (2011). Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. (2016).  About Us.  Retrieved from

Hofstede Centre.  (n.d.).  United States.  Retrieved from

MIT.  (2014).  Sherry Turkle.  Retrieved from

Mihelic, K. K., Msc, Lipicnik, B., Phd, & Tekavcic, M., Phd. (2010). Ethical leadership. International Journal of Management and Information Systems, 14(5), 31-41. Retrieved from

Planned Parenthood.  (n.d.).  Cecile Richards.  Retrieved from




Foundations of Communication Theories

Individual System Model, Uncertainty Reduction Theory, Social Penetration Theory

Individual System is a foundation for the communicative competency model that communication professionals need to understand. This system denotes that, “the more a person wants to make a good impression and communicate effectively, the more likely it is that this person will view self, and be viewed by others, as competent” (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2009, p. 383). A competent communicator will be motivated to understand any culture, and will take steps to decrease uncertainty while increasing knowledge.

West and Turner (2004) indicate the main tenets of Uncertainty Reduction Theory are that people experience uncertainty within interpersonal settings, which creates cognitive stress.  Strangers work toward cognitive consistency so that communication between people becomes predictable.  As relationships move from uncertainty to predictability, Social Penetration Theory becomes apparent.  West and Turner (2004) state that through Social Penetration Theory, relationships move from informal to intimate and self-disclosure is a core component of relationship development.

Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel (2009) describe the process of permeating a culture to create mastery of cultural knowledge as necessary strategies that increase knowledge. Similar to the methods a researcher might use, acquisition of cultural knowledge begins with interrogation, surveillance, and information exchange. Cultural knowledge is increased with methods including posturing, bluffing, and engagement (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2009). By asking questions, observing customs, disclosing information, gauging reactions to behaviors, and engaging the help of local nationals, a communication professional can create an effective strategy using the Individual System model to achieve cultural competency.


Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., & McDaniel, E. R. [Eds.]. (2009). Intercultural communication: A reader (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

West, R., & Turner, L.  (2004).  Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application.  Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.


Expectancy Violation Theory and Online Communications

Expectancy Violation Theory (EVT) is defined as the process in which messages are presented, interpreted, and internalized within human interaction. West and Turner (2004) state that

  • Human interaction is driven by expectations.
  • Expectations for human behavior are learned.
  • Evaluations of deviation are mediated by the reward value of the communicator (p. 140).

In the context of Electronic Mediated Communications (EMC), Expectancy Violation Theory provides the framework for understanding how communication behaviors are present in online environments. Humans expect certain behaviors in online groups to reduce uncertainty and create a predictable pattern of communication. Violating expected behavioral assumptions can create chaos, resentment, and in some cases changes in membership. EVT helps Internet users develop more meaningful relationships by offering an explanation for understanding some online behaviors.

West, R., & Turner, L. (2004). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.



Thoughts on Leadership

Entering into an established environment affects all other elements of the environment so a leader must be prepared to improvise with these changes. Almaney (1974) reiterates the idea that external forces including, “competitors, customers, government, and suppliers” (p. 38) can cause shifts within an environment, and “present the system with opportunities for exploitation and confront it with uncontrollable constraints and contingencies” (p. 38). The reluctance to change is diminished when a person thinks the idea of change is self-initiated. A new leader can make an impact in an environment by making seamless changes that appear to develop from within the environment .

A leader that imparts a passion to others creates trust, which can transform the behavior and productivity of followers.  Becoming a quality leader is a multifaceted endeavor.  Cardon (2016) states, “Establishing credibility allows you to communicate more easily and more influentially” (p. 13).  One approach to enacting change is to observe the complexities of interactions within the environment before suggesting improvements. Observation provides the opportunity to draft a big picture and then fill in the details, so that a person can intimately know the environment. By developing the larger picture and feeling competent in the subject, a leader is able to institute changes and improvise when necessary.


Almaney, A. (1974). Communication and the systems theory of organization. Journal of Business Communication, 12(1), 35-43. doi:10.1177/002194367401200106

Cardon, P. (2016). Business Communication: Developing leaders for a networked world (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.


This Week in Communication Theory: Diffusion of Innovations

This Week in Communication Theory: Diffusion of Innovations 

An excellent theoretical concepts to read about is Diffusion of Innovations Theory, which was developed to understand why some ideas are accepted and adopted by a group while other ideas are rejected (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). Diffusion of Innovations Theory is useful for examining why people engage in legal or illegal behaviors both on and offline. This concept is easily observed in the behavior of peers, acquaintances, and friends through business ideas. Did a group of friends recently begin selling scented candles or start a photography business? They were likely influenced by a charismatic leader within the group. Diffusion of Innovations Theory is a good method for understanding and predicting trends because this theory allows a person to identify influential people within a group.


Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2010). Intercultural communication in contexts (5th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.