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Evolution, Exchange and Coordination: Implications for Organizational Communication
Unformatted Document Text:  Evolution, Exchange and Coordination 22 response to the trials and tribulations of early encounter. Some have even formalized the assumption by building it into their research designs (e.g., Teboul, 1994; Sias & Wyers, 2001). What seems to lie at the heart of the impasse is the field’s over-reliance on a cognitivist conceptualization of uncertainty. By equating uncertainty with its alternate state (i.e., certainty), current scholarship necessarily invites attention to information-seeking behavior. In our view, a more fruitful start to the issue is one that begins by focusing on the negative affect typically associated with uncertainty and asking what problem in humans’ evolutionary past ‘emotional’ uncertainty would have been designed to help humans overcome. In the context of the suite of resource exchange adaptations, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that the uncertainty we experience at an emotional level might have served to alert us to a potential threat to loss of resources in exchanges with others. In this sense, it is likely tied to cheating detection mechanisms all humans come equipped with. It is not difficult to surmise that those equipped with such mechanisms would have had huge survival and reproductive advantage over those without. Also all evidence suggests that uncertainty is common to humans the world over (e.g., Hofstede, 1997; Gudykunst & Nishida, 1984). Framed in this way, information seeking no longer becomes the necessary response to uncertainty. It becomes one of many possible responses. Further, this suggests what we all acknowledge as common sense – that at a cognitive level, there are many things we are uncertain (i.e., don’t know) about. For instance, right now, I don’t know what you are wearing, but I don’t care either. On the other hand, this perspective renders uncertainty an insufficient condition for information-seeking behavior, a point that Sunnafrank (1986, 1990), through his theory of Predicted Outcome Value (i.e., value of future exchange) has repeatedly made. This is important, as liberating information seeking from uncertainty also raises the possibility that other causal mechanisms for our information-seeking behaviors exist, that we have yet to articulate. As such, in the future, organizational communication scholars might devote more attention to examining uncertainty and information seeking outside of the traditional encounter context. Some research has demonstrated effectively that employees re-encounter the organization at various periods of their tenure (e.g., Kramer, 1993a, 1993b, 1994). However, if we view uncertainty as an emotion signaling a potential threat to loss of resources accrued in exchanges with others, then we must recognize that it can occur at any time in an employee’s tenure, over something as seemingly innocuous as a colleague’s retirement. The same reasoning may apply to information-seeking behavior. Once freed from its assumed relationship with uncertainty, it may be examined in a variety of novel research contexts (e.g., for leverage in upward influence). In sum, an evolutionary perspective that places emotions at the center of our theory-building efforts, relegates many of our current theories to the status of mid-range explanations of human communication, unlocks more fruitful, deeper causal mechanisms for its understanding, and can afford us a more dynamic (i.e., less linear) view of how employees move through the world of work.

Authors: Teboul, JC. Bruno. and Cole, Tim.
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Evolution, Exchange and Coordination
22
response to the trials and tribulations of early encounter. Some have even formalized the assumption by
building it into their research designs (e.g., Teboul, 1994; Sias & Wyers, 2001). What seems to lie at the
heart of the impasse is the field’s over-reliance on a cognitivist conceptualization of uncertainty. By
equating uncertainty with its alternate state (i.e., certainty), current scholarship necessarily invites
attention to information-seeking behavior. In our view, a more fruitful start to the issue is one that begins
by focusing on the negative affect typically associated with uncertainty and asking what problem in
humans’ evolutionary past ‘emotional’ uncertainty would have been designed to help humans overcome.
In the context of the suite of resource exchange adaptations, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that the
uncertainty we experience at an emotional level might have served to alert us to a potential threat to loss
of resources in exchanges with others. In this sense, it is likely tied to cheating detection mechanisms all
humans come equipped with. It is not difficult to surmise that those equipped with such mechanisms
would have had huge survival and reproductive advantage over those without. Also all evidence suggests
that uncertainty is common to humans the world over (e.g., Hofstede, 1997; Gudykunst & Nishida, 1984).
Framed in this way, information seeking no longer becomes the necessary response to uncertainty. It
becomes one of many possible responses. Further, this suggests what we all acknowledge as common
sense – that at a cognitive level, there are many things we are uncertain (i.e., don’t know) about. For
instance, right now, I don’t know what you are wearing, but I don’t care either. On the other hand, this
perspective renders uncertainty an insufficient condition for information-seeking behavior, a point that
Sunnafrank (1986, 1990), through his theory of Predicted Outcome Value (i.e., value of future exchange)
has repeatedly made. This is important, as liberating information seeking from uncertainty also raises the
possibility that other causal mechanisms for our information-seeking behaviors exist, that we have yet to
articulate. As such, in the future, organizational communication scholars might devote more attention to
examining uncertainty and information seeking outside of the traditional encounter context. Some
research has demonstrated effectively that employees re-encounter the organization at various periods of
their tenure (e.g., Kramer, 1993a, 1993b, 1994). However, if we view uncertainty as an emotion signaling
a potential threat to loss of resources accrued in exchanges with others, then we must recognize that it can
occur at any time in an employee’s tenure, over something as seemingly innocuous as a colleague’s
retirement. The same reasoning may apply to information-seeking behavior. Once freed from its assumed
relationship with uncertainty, it may be examined in a variety of novel research contexts (e.g., for
leverage in upward influence).
In sum, an evolutionary perspective that places emotions at the center of our theory-building
efforts, relegates many of our current theories to the status of mid-range explanations of human
communication, unlocks more fruitful, deeper causal mechanisms for its understanding, and can afford us
a more dynamic (i.e., less linear) view of how employees move through the world of work.


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