Communication Accommodation Theory

Communication between two people from different groups is often accommodated in the way of speaking to gain approval. Howard Giles first introduced this theory in 1973 and it has been held true since (Griffin, 2012, p. 394). His theory specifically focuses on the nonverbal adjustments of rate of speech, pauses, and accent. Giles and other communication scholars believe that communication accommodation is used to seek appreciation of those from diverse cultures or groups. The process of interweaving the speaker’s style to the label they have been given is the Communication Accommodation Theory.

Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) states that people alter their communication to others for various reasons. One reason is to seek approval from the listener. Another is to maintain a positive social identity and have efficient communication. According to Howard Giles, people accommodate their speech and behavior more often around people who have higher attraction or hold similar beliefs and attitudes to the speaker.

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He suggests that people use perception and evaluation in conversations, meaning they observe and interpret messages to determine their actions or attitudes in a conversation (Griffin, 2012, p. 94). For example, people who have a lower social status are more likely to accommodate and be guided by high social status individuals. Giles also believes that norms and appropriateness to conform human behavior in communication in order for the speaker to reach expectations of the conversation (Griffin, 2012, p. 394). Communication Accommodation Theory proposes several ways people adapt during conversations: convergence, divergence and over-accommodation. Howard Giles suggests in this theory there are more reasons we accommodate or under accommodate to others in conversation.

One method is convergence is a strategy used to adapt another’s behaviors to become similar to that person (Griffin, 2012, p. 395). Usually people converge toward stereotypes. Generation gaps are the most prevalent form of stereotyping seen with this theory. If there is an obvious generation gap, it can be bridged through discourse management, which a sensitive selection of topics to discuss. Another method is divergence is used to emphasize differences between communicators (Griffin, 2012, p. 396. ) This can be used to maintain one’s social identity and power status.

An example of this can be seen in self-handicapping. This is when a face saving strategy is placed in conversation to excuse a lack of performance for the elderly (Griffin, 2012, p. 396). Finally, over-accommodation means to excessively regulate your conversation giving a patronizing tone through vocal clarity or amplification, message, simplification, or repetition. People use these tactics in order to preserve their social identities and standings (Griffin, 2012, pg. 397). It is particularly important to minorities, whom are continuously adjusting to the mainstream.

This theory highlights this unconscious adjustment and allows minorities to realize the injustice of society. Communication Accommodation Theory also suggests that people over-accommodate in order to fit in to a social or cultural group (Griffin, 2012, p. 398). People try to please others through different communication styles. These tactics can be used in practical situations to understand the value of communication to all races, genders, and generations. Each individual situation and conversation requires a certain type of appropriate language.

Accommodating to these circumstances allows the speaker to change the communication behavior. As a youth leader, I am continually using convergence and divergence in the conversation to adjust my communication style. The environment has interracial, inter-gendered, and intergenerational communication. However, being a good communicator, I have the ability to monitor my social identity through my communication and effectively deliver my message. My social identity is defined by the groups I associate with and social categories I use to define myself (Griffin, 2012, p. 99). So when I first decided to be a youth leader, I was concerned with my social identity and my personal identity. I had initial orientation, or predispositions that focused on individual identity or group identity during communication (Griffin, 2012, p. 400). I have been involved in other youth groups before, so the presence of initial orientation was increased. One factor that contributed to this was the history of my interaction with this type of group. My youth group was not very accepting of new people; this influenced my mindset of my new youth group.

Also, I went in with stereotypes of where they are from. My new youth group is located in Botetourt; which is known for being very southern. This was my expectation, knowing I would not fit in. The norms of this type of group, the group-solidarity, and the collectivist context also influenced how I would be perceived by the group. Needless to say, I was concerned with my image being portrayed to the youth. There is not much age separation between myself and some members of the group; I was worried that my age would not give my authority meaning.

I often use divergence to highlight our difference in age. For example, when one of the youth girls says hello she usually says something along the lines of “Hey girl. ” or “What’s up? ” To maximize our differences, I respond using her name in a formal statement. For example, “I am doing great, Ashley. How are you? ” This tactic allows me to remain distant from the youth, but still cooperative in conversation. My adjustments to conversation have allowed me to maintain the image I choose to have and still have a relationship with the individuals of the group.

However, I see the opposite effect when the youth interact with one another. The girls will often converge in conversation. I believe this is shaped by the norms of society. For example, if one girl does not like someone, her friends feel the same, but they don’t know why. They are making their communication process the same as the others. The fact that they are from the same area allows them to quickly mold their communication in conversation. The youth have better attribution, or decoding of intent or disposition in conversation, because they are so concerned with each detail (Griffin, 2012, p. 02). They ask questions more often, making them personal, so they can relate them to their lives. Instead of being a teenager and converging, I have to self-disclose more. I do not want to lose credibility. This is similar to Uncertainty Reduction Theory because I am uncomfortable in the situation, causing me to diverge instead of converge. The communication between the same groups can lead individuals in the group to converge, to stay the same. Overall the Communication Accommodation Theory is applicable in daily communication.

Converging and diverging have become basic steps to communication with individuals of the same or different social and cultural groups. This approval is part of a societal norm, which influences communication. Howard Giles created this theory to be applicable in important areas of human conversation. The theory can be beneficial to any situation in which members of different cultures or groups come in contact.


Griffin, E. (2012). A first look at communication theory. (8th Ed. ) New York: McGraw-Hill.

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