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Reflective Communication Management, a Public View on Public Relations
Unformatted Document Text:  20 organizational communication analysis is the acts people perform that are meaningful for themselves and others, along with their thoughts about organizing and working, Heath (p.2) argues. At the heart of this analysis is an interest in knowing how people in companies create and enact meaning, a sense-making approach to the study of organizational performance. Sense-making involves placing stimuli in some kind of framework. Sense-making can be seen as a thinking process that uses retrospective accounts to explain and redress surprises, constructing meaning, interacting in pursuit of mutual understanding, and patterning. “In order to convert a problematic situation to a problem, a practitioner must do a certain kind of work. He must make sense of an uncertain situation that initially makes no sense” (Weick 1995:6-7). This problem setting is a process in which, interactively, we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them (Schön 1983:40). Sense-making is grounded as much in deduction from well-articulated theories as it is in induction from specific cases of struggle to reduce ambiguity. Sense-making is, however, driven by plausibility rather than accuracy. The concept of organizational sense-making is based in action theory, seen as the propositions people have to guide their behaviors (Weick 1995:21), which refers to the basic Thomas Theorem that "not facts but the interpretation of facts steers people’s action." People, and thus also managers, tend to frame situations so that it makes the problem solvable. Managers use all kinds of strategies, including manipulation of frames (read: persuasion). They have to because they must get things done, even if there are conflicting interests. The constraint in this manipulation is public legitimacy, which, because of increased public counteraction, has become increasingly necessary for business to survive. This new, broadened business paradigm requires a larger degree of reflective self-control by management. This leads to what Schön (1983) calls the dilemma of rigor or relevance, which all professionals experience sooner or later. Rigor develops technical rationality, yet depends on internally consistent but normative theories to achieve clearly fixed ends. Relevance develops reflective rationality, focusing on the right solution in the right context. Doubt, therefore, is located more in the situation than in the mind. The task of the professional/manager is to make sense of the situation and construct the appropriate meaning for it. The way to do that is by enacting his or her meanings and reconsidering them. That is reflection-in-action and reflection on the communication-in-action (cf. Schön, 1983). What is seen as appropriate is not random. “Culture defines which act is appropriate and which is not” (Heath, 1994:5). Culture leads people to share a vocabulary that carves reality into meaningful units. But enactments themselves also develop culture. That is why the process in which organizational work is done - management - itself produces culture. Looking at the institutional dimension of organizations, it is obvious that societal culture defines management and is defined by management as well. That is why framing is basically an interactive cultural process.

Authors: Van Ruler, A. A. Betteke. and Vercic, Dejan.
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20
organizational communication analysis is the acts people perform that are meaningful for themselves and
others, along with their thoughts about organizing and working, Heath (p.2) argues. At the heart of this
analysis is an interest in knowing how people in companies create and enact meaning, a sense-making
approach to the study of organizational performance.
Sense-making involves placing stimuli in some kind of framework. Sense-making can be seen as a
thinking process that uses retrospective accounts to explain and redress surprises, constructing meaning,
interacting in pursuit of mutual understanding, and patterning. “In order to convert a problematic situation
to a problem, a practitioner must do a certain kind of work. He must make sense of an uncertain situation
that initially makes no sense” (Weick 1995:6-7). This problem setting is a process in which, interactively,
we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them (Schön
1983:40). Sense-making is grounded as much in deduction from well-articulated theories as it is in
induction from specific cases of struggle to reduce ambiguity. Sense-making is, however, driven by
plausibility rather than accuracy. The concept of organizational sense-making is based in action theory,
seen as the propositions people have to guide their behaviors (Weick 1995:21), which refers to the basic
Thomas Theorem that "not facts but the interpretation of facts steers people’s action." People, and thus
also managers, tend to frame situations so that it makes the problem solvable. Managers use all kinds of
strategies, including manipulation of frames (read: persuasion). They have to because they must get things
done, even if there are conflicting interests. The constraint in this manipulation is public legitimacy,
which, because of increased public counteraction, has become increasingly necessary for business to
survive. This new, broadened business paradigm requires a larger degree of reflective self-control by
management. This leads to what Schön (1983) calls the dilemma of rigor or relevance, which all
professionals experience sooner or later. Rigor develops technical rationality, yet depends on internally
consistent but normative theories to achieve clearly fixed ends. Relevance develops reflective rationality,
focusing on the right solution in the right context. Doubt, therefore, is located more in the situation than
in the mind. The task of the professional/manager is to make sense of the situation and construct the
appropriate meaning for it. The way to do that is by enacting his or her meanings and reconsidering them.
That is reflection-in-action and reflection on the communication-in-action (cf. Schön, 1983).
What is seen as appropriate is not random. “Culture defines which act is appropriate and which is not”
(Heath, 1994:5). Culture leads people to share a vocabulary that carves reality into meaningful units. But
enactments themselves also develop culture. That is why the process in which organizational work is done
- management - itself produces culture. Looking at the institutional dimension of organizations, it is
obvious that societal culture defines management and is defined by management as well. That is why
framing is basically an interactive cultural process.


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