In grad school, I studied Organizational Communication under Dr. Shirley Drew at Pittsburg State University‘s Communication Department. Below is the second part of my response to a final question about persuasion and human attitude theory.
Since classical theories of organizations were proposed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several other theories have been developed in an attempt to look at organizations from different perspectives. These perspectives are theorists’ answers to questions that did not fit into the traditional understanding of organizations with the hope of achieving better understanding and explanation of why organizations are organized, function or reach entropy the way they do.
While classical theory was very mechanical and focused on the machine-like qualities of the parts of an organization, theorists made a distinct swing away from this generally inflexible, non-communicative perspective with the introduction of the Human Relations Theory of organization.
Human Relations Theory of organization was developed, in part, as a result of an observation that researchers made while conducting a study of the effect of lighting on workers in a factory. This study, known as the Hawthorne Studies, showed that workers work better, are more productive, and seem to gain more satisfaction from their work when they feel important. In this case they felt important simply because they were being studied. As theorists expanded on this study, the Human Relations Theory was developed as a strong focus on self-actualization of the individual by encouraging the individual to work with the attainment of basic needs as a reward. As the organizational theory’s focus turned from the production or attainment of organizational goals to the betterment and fulfillment of the individual, opposing scholars and critics voiced their concerns. Some thought human relations theorists were too focused on giving employees a good feeling about themselves. In part this aspect of Human Relations Theory may have been a contributing factor to the development of the Social Systems Theory that turned again toward viewing organizations not as a machine but more as an organism of parts that are all working together for the common purpose.
Read on about Social Systems Theory.
In grad school, I studied Attitude Theory under Dr. Hamilton at Pittsburg State University’s Communication Department. Below is my response to a final question about persuasion and human attitude theory.
The debate about persuasion is one that theorists have long been questioning and the debate is still out. However, my research shows that there are techniques that at least help bring the recipient closer to a place of persuasion. According to my research concerning editorials and persuasion, editors and scholars have a variety of opinions about whether editorials should attempt to persuade readers to a certain point of view.
Through a survey of editors in the Midwest and research in the literature, I found that there are specific purposes for editorial pages. The three purposes were as follows:
- First, to provide a public service to the readers. That is, to provide the reader with an admittedly subjective look at a topic that is in the interest of the public mind.
- Secondly, editorials are an influence tool used to persuade the audience of readers to a specific point of view. (There are some editorials that are not attempting to persuade but they are attempts to get the readers riled or upset enough to get a response. These editorials typically take a strong view of a particularly controversial topic and are not usually trying to persuade but to simply increase reader involvement and thought.
- Thirdly, editorials have a two-fold purpose: to reflect and to lead public opinion.
In the non-scientific survey that I used to question editors, I found that editors often related an editorial that they said persuaded people to act in a certain manner. This suggests that people can be persuaded, but I think this is glorifying the ability of editorials a little much and down playing the rational mind of readers. I agree that editorials can have an influence on the thinking patterns of readers and contribute toward a persuasion, but I have yet to see any study that eliminates the many variables involved in such a public attempt at persuasion as editorials. Therefore, I concede that editorials can be contributing factors toward persuasion, but I would provide rebuttal to the editors examples. One Joplin Globe editor said they wrote an editorial about city police officers patrolling on I-44. The police department later changed its policy (the editor attributed this change to his editorial), but I suggest that by placing issues in the public eye, the fear of public disapproval or even the lash of the public tongue is more influential than the actual editorial itself. Yes, this is part of the process that caused the persuasion to change but a sole contributing factor? I don’t agree.
While research shows that editorial pages are the second most highly read pages in newspapers, I suggest from my own experience that the people who read the editorials carefully are those who are highly involved in the issues addressed in the editorials they read. The research shows that those highly involved people are more likely to develop counter-arguments to the arguments toward a certain viewpoint proposed by the editor.
Therefore, the consequences of attempting to persuade high-involved audiences is more likely to be negative rather than positive. Still, there are many readers who may be persuaded. Research suggests that there are several persuasion techniques to use:
- Rational arguments,
- Passionate appeals, and
- Even by presentation of a topic that they expect to have to discuss in the future.