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HOW DOES COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION CHANGE THE WAY THAT WE INTERACT? Matt Billings and Leon Watts, Human-Computer Interaction Group, Department of.

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Presentation on theme: "HOW DOES COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION CHANGE THE WAY THAT WE INTERACT? Matt Billings and Leon Watts, Human-Computer Interaction Group, Department of."— Presentation transcript:

1 HOW DOES COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION CHANGE THE WAY THAT WE INTERACT? Matt Billings and Leon Watts, Human-Computer Interaction Group, Department of Computer Science, University of Bath, BA2 7AY. {m.j.billings:l.watts}@bath.ac.uk ABSTRACT: Research in human-computer interaction indicates that the use of Computer- Mediated Communication (CMC) alters the way that people create and maintain relationships. Given the increasing interaction between people and organisations through CMC, it is imperative that this effect is properly understood. This poster presents research into the ways in which communication is affected by computer use, drawing on the experiences of conciliators - for whom improving communication in conflict situations is vital. The findings of this research can be used to inform the design of CMC systems. INTRODUCTION: The explosion in communications technologies means that more people and organisations are establishing and maintaining relationships using computer-mediated communication (CMC). Research suggests that the use of CMC alters relationships [10]. There is evidence that on-line relationships may be more intense (hyper- personal) [9] and leave people freer to express their true, or idealised, selves. However, there is also evidence to suggest that CMC alters relationships in terms of reduced trust [7] ; reduced self-disclosure [6] and a reduction of rapport. These changes to the communication process potentially exacerbate relational conflict. This is an obvious concern for individuals and organisations wishing to use CMC. Without an understanding of the way relationships are maintained, and CMC's impact on this, the effectiveness of disparate communication may well be reduced. Therefore, an examination of way in which communication skills designed to reduce conflict, are applied in CMC, may provide an insight into the way that CMC alters the way in which we interact. MODELLING COMMUNICATION: In order to understand the way that CMC alters relationships, it is necessary to be able to identify the ways that various communication behaviours influence interaction. Research in communication theory [3], activity theory [2], CMC [10] and presence [4], have been synthesised into a Model of Relational Communication (MoRC). [1] This model outlines the role that salient factors of communication play in shaping interaction, and rendering an individual observable to other inter-actors. It also helps to identify stages where communication breakdown or misunderstandings can occur. THE MoRC DEMONSTRATES THE FOLLOWING: The way that parties perceive each other will be shaped by salient context variables; the expectations these promote; and the narrative frameworks used to interpret these. Research findings suggest that the use of computer-mediated communication has an effect due to loss of cues; loss of social perceptions;and misattribution. The impact of these effects can be sited at various stages on the MoRC. CONCILIATION Third-party dispute resolution (conciliation) is another form of intervention into to the communication process that alters the way that parties observe and interpret each others behaviour [8]. The conciliator has no enforcing powers, so must ensure that their impact on the relationship is perceived as fair by both parties. They use their refined communication skills to adjust the salience of issues, parties expectations of these issues, and/or the way parties interpret these issues. It is apparent that there are similarities between computer-mediated and human-mediated communication. It is also evident that the effect of CMC would be profound in conciliation. This is because CMC and conciliators both impact on the same aspects of the communication process i.e. SCV,expectations and INS. METHOD: Interviews were conducted with 12 practicing conciliators. The conciliators shared in excess of 90 years' experience. These interviews were analysed to produce a Grounded Theory [5] of Conciliation. This outlined relationships between the persistent characteristics of mediation and provided 36 possible ways of coding mediator actions. They were also used to investigate conciliator concerns about the impact that CMC would have on their practice. CATEGORIES OF CONCILIATORS CONCERNS WITH THE USE OF CMC: 1) Loss of cues: body-language/eye gaze etc. may be reduced, affecting the conciliator's ability to understand what parties truly mean. 2) Misunderstanding/misattribution: parties may misconstrue a gesture or statement, leading to erroneous conclusions about the other's actions 3) Loss of presence: a reduced sense of 'being there' may mean that the conciliator will lose their control over parties. 4) Parties differing expertise with technology: this may shift power differentials in unanticipated ways. These concerns echo findings from CMC research. They were further examined through observations of, and interviews with, practitioners who use CMC as part of their practice. (e.g. video and chatrooms) THE MULTI-MoRC: One of the MoRCs limitations is that it only deals with two communicating parties. As more parties are added, complexity increases exponentially. This simplified diagram of the Multi-MoRC demonstrates that a separate MoRC exists between every inter-actor in a group i.e. different SCV, expectations and INS are salient between parties. However, when interacting with party B, party A will also be mindful of their own interactions with party C. They will also be aware of interaction between party B & C, through the changes in their observations of B and of C. Therefore, although a different MoRC exists between each interacting pair, these are not discrete, but shaped by the interaction between other participants. VIDEO-CONFERENCING IN CONCILIATION (ROLE-PLAYS) Observations of an experienced conciliator, using video-mediated communication (VMC) for their practice, demonstrated the impact that CMC has on interaction. The conciliator found that it was harder (but not impossible) to control parties. This was attributed to a reduction in the effect of body-language. They also found that, although conflict seemed to be exacerbated by the medium, their interactions seemed to have more of an impact than in FtF. This is an interesting finding that is currently under investigation. They also found that they were able to adapt many of their existing skills to the situation. This indicates that the detrimental effects of CMC can be mitigated by experience. OBSERVATIONS OF TEXT-BASED MEDIATION Observations and interviews with practitioners who conciliate disputes in Wikipedia (an on-line encyclopaedia that anyone can edit at any time), demonstrate some of the novel ways that the technology can be used to assist in dispute resolution. The conciliator states ground rules early-on and asks that people do not edit them. This makes some of the SCV and expectations explicit and persistent. Similarly by striking-through, rather than deleting the inappropriate parts of the comments, the conciliator makes their input transparent (thus reducing misattribution) and also demonstrates the impact that simple rephrasing has (altering expectations). The distribution and impact of other techniques is currently under investigation MEDIATOR ONTOLOGY (MOnt'y): The MOnt'y outlines the persistent factors of the conciliator's role. The conciliation field is hugely diverse in terms of practitioner styles, topics and participants. This makes analysing the process incredibly difficult. By ascertaining conciliator's own views on their role, the MOnt'y provides a method for observing those aspects of conciliation that are consistent across the field. The MOnt'y demonstrates that conciliators share high-level concerns. They will be mindful of these whenever they act within a specific role within the mediation. This role will be shaped by the action they are performing in order to fulfil a specific task. Therefore the MOnt'y provides a consistent approach for observing and categorising conciliator actions. FINDINGS Preliminary findings suggest that a main impact of CMC is to change the salience of the SCV's present in the SSS. This has an impact on the role that expectations play in shaping the INS people use to explain the Observed other. However, observations and interviews with conciliators have indicated that these alterations to the SCV can be overcome through adaptation of existing techniques, in order to accommodate the changes in salience wrought by CMC. CMC also comprises novel techniques that serve to make the SCV persistent (i.e. less likely to change unexpectedly), and to render certain changes visible (therefore reducing the potential for misattribution). However, it is apparent that some SCV exert greater influence over expectations than others. For example, differing emotional states may mean that situations of high-conflict may require different techniques to low- conflict situations. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS These findings indicate that the design and deployment of computer-mediated communication technologies will shape the way that parties form and maintain relationships. Specifically, in the correct circumstances people can adapt and utilise the limitations of a system in order to retain or improve understanding. However, given the context of use, systems may benefit from being designed in ways that make the salience of SCV persistent. This may cement expectations and interpretative frameworks, facilitating a shared understanding. In addition, developing systems that provide a degree of visibility to changes in the SCV may reduce misattribution - parties will be able to understand how and why changes in the observed other have arisen. AREAS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH These findings are to be tested further by deploying VMC in real-world conciliation settings. This will provide very rich data, that will produce variables to be examined under experimental conditions. It is hoped that the findings can be integrated into the design of a CMC system, which can slo be tested under laboratory conditions. REFERENCES [1] Billings, M. & Watts, L. A. (2006) The Model of Relational Communication: Explaining Difficulties Encountered Through the Use of Technology in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Australian National Mediation Conference. Hobart, Tasmania [2] Bodker, S.& Bogh-Anderson, P. (2005) Complex Mediation Human-Computer Interaction vol. 20 [3] Craig, R. T. (1999) Communication Theory as a Field Communication Theory vol. 9 (2) [4] Floridi, L. (2005) The Philosophy of Presence: From Epistemic Failure to Successful Observation Presence Teleoperators and Virtual Environments vol. 14 (6) [5] Glaser, G. B. & Strauss, A. L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research Aldino Publishing Company:New York [6] Joinson, A. N. (2001) Self-disclosure in computer-mediated communication: The role of self-awareness and visual anonymity European Journal of Social Psychology vol. 31 [7] Olson, G. M. & Olson, J. S. (2000) Distance Matters Human-Computer Interaction vol. 15 [8] Wall, A. J., & Lynn, A. (1993) Mediation: A Current Review Journal of Conflict Resolution vol. 37 (1) [9] Walther, J. B.(1996) Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal. Communication Research vol. 23 (1) [10] Walther, J. B.& Burgoon, J. K. (1992) Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Interaction. Human Communication Research vol. 19 (1) ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS); Lorraine Bramwell Associates (Swindon); Portsmouth Mediation Service; Bristol Family Mediation; Wikipedia. THE MODEL OF RELATIONAL COMMUNICATION (MoRC): Parties become aware of each other as potential communication partners. Various social-context variables (SCV) become salient (e.g. shared language, history, physical artefacts, environment etc.). The SCV generate expectations of appropriate behaviour. These in turn promote the various interpretative narrative schema (INS), that each party uses to explain their experience of the other. These structures bound a shared social space (SSS) in which parties are rendered observable to the other. Reaction to the other may change the salience of some or all of the SCV, expectations or INS. Changes in any of these structures will change the way that parties are observed and explained. PARTIES IN CONFLCIT When in conflict, people do not always communicate effectively. The highly emotive atmosphere and the desire to win may lead to the adoption of inappropriate language, topic and gestures. These may reduce understanding and exacerbate conflict, leading to entrenchment and hostility. CONCILIATION/MEDIATION The conciliator seeks to improve the communication between parties, and use this to develop a working relationship that allows parties to reach a mutually satisfactory solution to the conflict. The conciliator has no enforcing powers. Instead their power derives from their reputation for, and demonstration of, impartiality; and their experienced use of communication skills.


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