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Goals, desires, and intentions shape many facets of communicative behavior, particularly message production (e.g., Bell & Daly, 1984; Berger, 1993, 1995; Dillard, 1990b; Kellermann, 1988; Miller, Cody, & McLaughlin, 1994; Wilensky 1978). The influence of goals on message formation has been demonstrated with respect to a variety of communicative functions, including politeness (e.g., Lim, 1990), conflict management (e.g., Canary, Cunningham, & Cody, 1988), negotiation (Donohue & Dietz, 1985), and compliance gaining (e.g., Cody, Canary, & Smith, 1994; Dillard, 1990b; Jacobs & Jackson, 1983). However, Dillard (1997) observed that although our assumptions about goals are developing, goals should be examined in a variety of interpersonal communication contexts to inform conclusions about their structure, in general. Thus, an examination of communication goals in context is the focus of this investigation.
We have grounded our study of communication goals within the context of problematic events. Problematic events occur when an actor behaves uncharacteristically and consequently perceives that others see him or her less favorably. Such is the case in instances of embarrassment, mistake, and accident (Edelmann, 1985; Metts & Cupach, 1989; Sharkey & Kim, 1994), faux pas (Harris, 1984), infidelity (Mongeau, Hale, & Alles, 1994), and regrettable messages including lies, blunders, or inappropriate disclosure (Knapp, Stafford, & Daly, 1986). Subsequently, the actor and others perceive the behavior as atypical, inexplicable, inappropriate, or unrealistic (Hewitt & Hall, 1973).
Problematic events are an important context of study because they can be particularly troublesome in close relationships. A problematic event may drive individuals in a close relationship to question the fundamental assumptions that formed the basis of the pairing (e.g., Fincham, 1992). In addition, because an individual's self-image is tied to the perceptions of dose others (e.g., Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1995; Turnbull, 1992), committing a problematic event in a close relationship may influence the actor's perception of self-worth. Given the potential impact of problematic events on both relational and individual functioning, it is important to understand how people cope with these situations. Accordingly, this investigation focuses on the subset of problematic events that occur in dating relationships and friendships.
Prior research suggests that offenders cope with problematic events in dose relationships by strategically planning a message (e.g., Antaki, 1994; Cupach, Metts, & Hazelton, 1986; Emmers & Canary, 1994; McLaughlin, Cody, & O'Hair, 1983). We believe that the well-planned nature of responses to problematic events in close relationships signifies that speakers possess message goals. Thus, the purpose of this investigation is to examine the variety, prevalence, intensity, and co-occurrence of goals for communicative responses to problematic events within dating relationships and friendships. First, we review the variety and facets of message goals potentially relevant to problematic event situations in close relationships. Then, we report two studies investigating the domain of goals generated by problematic events in close relationships. The first study ascertains the variety and prevalence of message goals associated with this subset of problematic events. In the second study, we examine the intensity of and relationships among the message goals identified in Study 1.
The Variety of Goals Generated After Problematic Events in Close Relationships
A widely held assumption in prior research on problematic events is that offenders are driven to restore their own positive face. In turn, empirical investigations have focused on identifying the strategies used to restore positive face, including the use of apology, excuses, justification, and refusal (e.g., Schonbach, 1980; Semin & Manstead, 1983; Tedeschi & Riess, 1981). Although this line of research has provided a rich framework of potential message strategies, we believe previous investigations have overlooked the full domain of goals generated after problematic events in close relationships.(2)
Evidence from domains not specific to problematic events indicates that multiple goals are relevant to communicative behavior. For example, Cialdini, Finch, and DeNicholas (1990) reported that managing positive face may be a prevalent goal, but it is also one that can be realized indirectly by satisfying other goals. In support of this position, research suggests that several goals may be achieved when managing positive face, including coping with the event, restoring affinity, and formulating both individual and relational esteem (Argyle & Henderson, 1984; Bell & Daly, 1984; Petronio, 1984; Planalp & Honeycutt, 1985). Other scholars have argued that individuals may be less concerned with restoring positive face and more concerned with making sense of an event (Read, 1992; Thagard, 1989) or managing the conversation (O'Keefe & McCornack, 1987). Because this research suggests that several goals may be generated after problematic events in close relationships, we pose the following research question:
RQ1: What are the goals generated after problematic events in close relationships?
The Multiple Facets of Goals
Realizing that a variety of goals may be generated after problematic events in close relationships highlights the need to clarify the relative characteristics of these goals. Moreover, a greater understanding of goals in this domain can contribute to the ongoing study of communicative goals, in general. In this investigation, we examined three facets of goals for messages addressing problematic events in close relationships: prevalence, intensity, and co occurrence.
Goals vary in prevalence or the frequency with which they occur. For example, Miller et al. (1994) stated that some goals may be chronically present across a variety of communicative contexts, whereas others are situation specific. Similarly, Cody et al. (1994) noted that goals such as giving advice and gaining assistance are prevalent in compliance-gaining situations whereas other influence goals are reserved only for particular occasions. Specific to the focus of this investigation, McLaughlin et al. (1983) reported that people who commit problematic events usually acknowledge, rather than avoid, discussion of the event. Following this research, we expect goals for communicative responses to problematic events in dose relationships to be differentially prevalent.
Goals for communicative behavior can also be distinguished by the intensity or importance of a particular goal relative to all others. Dillard (1990a) suggested that communication goals vary in priority such that some goals are of primary importance, whereas others play a secondary role. Thus, a goal may be prevalent, yet may or may not be considered particularly important.
Finally, goals vary in the degree to which they co-occur and complement versus displace one another. Individuals may attempt to achieve multiple goals simultaneously (Dillard, Segrin, & Harden, 1989; Tracy & Morgan, 1983). For example, O'Keefe and McCornack (1987) maintained that actors pursue both conversation regulation and face management goals in compliance-gaining situations. On the other hand, Kellermann (1988) observed that efficiency and social appropriateness goals may worn in opposition to one another in certain situations, such that only one goal is particularly intense at a given time. Thus, we expect that some goals generated after problematic events in close relationships may co-occur, whereas others may tend to displace each other.
The evidence reviewed suggests that the goals generated after problematic events in close relationships vary in prevalence, intensity, and co-occurrence. Accordingly, we explore the following research questions:
RQ2: How do the goals generated after problematic events in close relationships vary in prevalence?
RQ3: How do the goals generated after problematic events in close relationships vary in intensity?
RQ4: How do the goals generated after problematic events in close relationships vary in terms of how they co-occur or displace each other?
We conducted two studies to investigate these research questions. In study 1, we examined the variety and prevalence of goals generated after problematic events in close relationships. Study 2 examined the intensity of and relationships among the goals identified in Study 1.
We designed Study 1 to evaluate the variety and prevalence of message goals speakers pursue after problematic events in dose relationships. In the first stage of Study 1, we solicited self-reports of goals following problematic events in dose relationships. Using exemplars from these reports, a separate sample of participants completed procedures designed to develop a typology of message goals. Finally, we examined the full set of self-reported goals generated in the first stage to evaluate the typology and to assess the prevalence of each goal.
Stage 1: Soliciting Self-Reports of Goals
One hundred and eighty-four students (115 females and 69 males) in introductory communication courses at a large university in the midwestern United States were offered extra course credit to participate in a study about problematic events in close relationships. Respondents ranged in age from 17 to 41 (M = 20.81, SD = 2.80).
PROCEDURE AND MEASURE
Participants completed a questionnaire that asked them to describe a problematic event experienced with a dose friend or a dating partner. Respondents received these instructions:
Please think about a time in which you committed an event that was
uncharacteristic of your normal behavior (e.g., it was embarrassing, a
faux pas, a blunder, or a regrettable act) and made you think that your
friend or dating partner saw you in a less favorable light because of the
event. It does not matter if the event was minor, we're interested in any