... the individual must learn to behave in appropriate ways which permit the other members of the group to recognize and anticipate his behavior. Society is that way in which behavior is calibrated so that existence is not a process of continuous and wasteful trial and error. - Ray Birdwhistle

Coordinated Management of Meaning (or, CMM, as it will be abbreviated here) is not a single theory -- rather, it is a unified collection of interrelated definitions and explanations, some of which have been presented in other sections of this tutorial. Taken together, the six elements of the CMM model define a hierarchy of situations and actions that describes the "communication dance."

CMM whole model

According to CMM, each of us recognizes and makes use of the cultural patterns of our society. These are similar to what other models call "social conventions." Within those patterns, we "know who we are" -- that is, each of us posses a self-concept. When we interact with others we do so in the context of a relationship, and each contact occurs as a particular event or episode. Our face-to-face communication consists primarily of speech acts which frame the actual words, or the content, of our speech.

CMM focuses neither on the individual thoughts of the communicators, nor on the characteristics of the society in which they live. Instead, it focuses on the interaction between the communicators and among the communicators and the members of the society. It is this interaction that generates the meaning of the messages that are sent and received.

The next sections present each of the CMM levels along with examples that illustrate each in turn. To begin, imagine that there are two people who are about to communicate with one another in a face-to-face situation.

CMM question

The content of the communication described by CMM is contained in sentences that are spoken aloud by the communicants. The notion of content -- as data and CMM content information, as signs, and as the paradigms and syntagms of language appears in many of the theories presented in this tutorial. In this case the content is a series of vocal sounds which the example represents by the string of symbols: "Where's the beef?" It is important to see that the content, by itself, is not sufficient to establish the meaning of the communication. All six levels of the model must work together to do that.
Speech Act
Speech act theory is an integral part of the CMM model. This theory defines illocutionary speech as speech that intends to make contact with a receiver and perlocutionary speech as speech that intends to alter the behavior of the receiver. CMM speech act There are many different kinds of illocutionary and perlocutionary acts -- questions, answers, commands, promises, and so forht -- and the participants' knowledge of these plays a part in the communication.

The phrase "Where's the beef?" could be a question -- that is, the speaker could be asking where she might find the beef, or it might be a statement -- that is, in response to the request "Name a famous fast food advertising slogan from the 1980s" she might respond, "Where's the beef?"

The exchange between the two communicants is constrained by the rules of the speech act. In this example we will stipulate that the speaker is asking a question -- this normally means that the receiver feels obligated to respond with a statement in the form of an "answer."

Every instance of face-to-face communication occurs somewhere at some time and in the context of whatever else is going on at the time. This setting is called the episode. The same content takes on different meanings when uttered in different settings. A phrase used in a joke told over dinner in a restaurant, for example, may take on a very different meaning when used to make a point in an argument that occurs at the office.

Although the type of speech act and the type of episode both affect the meaning of the content, they are not independent of one another. In other words the episode plays a part in determining which kind of speech act is in use, and the speech acts play a part in defining the episode. exampleA Legal Episode

CMM episode

In this example we will now reveal that both communicants are participants in a college course in political science. HINT

The fact that they are speaking relates the communicants to one another. At the very least, they are two strangers, or they may be spouses, coworkers, owner/employee, parent/child, teacher/student, friends, enemies, and so on. (And, of course, they might simultaneously be two or more of these.)

CMM relationship

As was noted earlier, the levels of the CMM model affect one another. Thus, the relationship level interacts with the episode, the speech act and the content. exampleChild-Parent Relationship

In this example we now reveal that the speaker is the teacher and the other participant a student.

The second person's response will depend in part on the participants' conceptions of "who they are," and on the extent to which they have disclosed their self-concepts to one another.

CMM self-concept

If the teacher sees herself as a somewhat humorous, interactive individual, then she probably presents many questions to her classes, and likely she presents some of them as interesting puzzles or jokes. If the student sees himself as a serious intellectual, then it is likely that he will try to respond with the correct answer to the teacher's question.

Cultural Patterns
To some extent each of us acts in accordance with the cultural values of our society, and these may have to do with such as race, economic class, gender, and ethnic background. For example, people who work in the offices of large corporations usually wear suits to work and talk about business during lunch. People who live in cardboard boxes on the streets of large cities wear old clothes and don't meet regularly for lunch. Men often refer to sports in their conversation. Women often tell stories about their personal experiences.

CMM cultural patter

In this example suppose that the teacher is a woman with a middle-class American cultural background. Given her self-concept we might expect her to conduct class in a relaxed setting with much weight put on classroom discussion. And, suppose that the student is a man with an upper-class Chinese cultural background. In a traditional Chinese educational setting, students are expected to pay a great deal of respect to their teachers and to remain quiet unless called upon. q4015

In this case, then, the student might find himself in an uncomfortable setting with a teacher who is acting in what seems to be a strange and unpredictable manner. On the other hand, the teacher might feel that the student is unprepared, not very bright, extremely shy or otherwise unable to participate in the class. Because of their diverse cultural backgrounds, they may have difficulty doing the communication dance. [The Dance] q4024 q4032

In summary, notice once again that the Coordinated Management of Meaning model focuses neither on the individual thoughts of the communicators, nor on the specific characteristics of the society in which they live. Instead, it focuses on the interaction between the communicators within the context the society. It is this interaction that generates the meaning of the messages that are sent and received.

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