Seeking Compliance: The Production of Interpersonal Influence Messages

James Price Dillard

Like a good mystery, this book has an unexpected ending. In his final considerations, Gerald Miller deftly cuts to the bone when he politely criticizes researchers in this area for the conceptual confusion created by their proliferation of concepts and definitions, and for the "prevailing bias toward mindfulness" (p. 196) in their models and theories. He suggests that researchers should seek parsimony of expression in order to halt the proliferation of terms, and that they should study the compliance-gaining process in natural settings as a way of informing their heavily cognitive models and theories. What makes Miller's remarks come as a surprise is that they challenge a great deal of what has been said by the contributors to the book.

To be accurate, hints of Miller's remarks are sprinkled throughout this volume. In the preface, the reader is apprised of two major criticisms of the research on compliance gaining, i.e., "the absence of a broad theoretical vision and a seeming insistence on a limited set of methodological tools" (p. ix). Similarly, in his examination of the state of research in this area, Boster notes the influence that researchers' experimental training has had on the types of studies done (i.e., a great deal of hypothesis generating and testing and very little descriptive work), and states that the absence of theory or organizing principles makes a quantitative review of this diverse body of research extremely difficult. In their chapter on sexual influence, Edgar & Fitzpatrick suggest that the area might benefit from the use of more rigorous (and multiple) methodolgies (such as multidimensional scaling) and from the collection of behavioural data. The call for changes in methodology is also echoed by Krone & Ludlum who, in their chapter on the influence process in organizations, suggest moving beyond checklists to an examination of naturally-occurring influence attempts. They also hint at how the focus on having subjects cognitively monitor their decisions may have resulted in an overly rational depiction of organizational compliance gaining.

However, despite these calls for revision in theory and methodology, the contributions to the present volume leave the reader with the distinct impression that change will be slow in coming. The theoretical or conceptual advances proposed in the chapters by Dillard, Meyer, and O'Keefe are decidedly "rational," as is Haslett's research on the development of children's skill in strategic communication. As noted by Miller, Harkness's work on children's directives (which are often distinct from compliance-gaining appeals) is perhaps misplaced in this volume, and has the potential to add to the terminological confusion in research on compliance gaining. Similarly, Burgoon & Burgoon's carefully conceived research on compliance-gaining strategies in the health care context is based to a considerable extent on self-report or others' perceptions of the use of physicians' compliance-gaining strategies and on laboratory-based, experimental studies rather than on behavioural observations of naturally occurring physician-patient interactions.

In essence, then, the contributions to this book (while well written and thoughtful in their own right) exemplify what Miller and others say needs to be changed in research on compliance gaining. The significance of these chapters in terms of advancing the area is in my mind questionable.



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