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  • Small Group MemberCommunication and

    Personality Traits

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    1. differentiate between a communication trait and a personality trait,

    2. identify and define the four communication traits discussed inthis chapter,

    3. identify and define the three personality traits discussed inthis chapter,

    4. explain how communication and personality traits impactgroup work, and

    5. develop a profile of the ideal group member based on traits.

    CaseStudy Abdul arrives home after attending a committee meetingon loss prevention at Aim, a department store where he has worked as a shiftsupervisor for the past two years. His wife, Ashley, is waiting for him and thedinner he was supposed to bring home.

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  • 46 Chapter 3 Small Group Member Communication and Personality Traits

    Ashley: Hey, where were you?Abdul: (mumbles something as he hangs up his coat)Ashley: Ive told you a hundred times, I cant understand you when you

    mumble. Wheres the food? Im starving.

    Abdul: I forgot the food. My committee meeting with my loss preventiongroup lasted twice as long as I planned.

    Ashley: Why did the meeting last so long?Abdul: Because my group members are driving me crazy.Ashley: How so?Abdul: Well, theres James who just sits there, never saying a word. When any-

    one asks him a specific question, he just nods his head and says as littleas possible. He talks so softly, I cant hear what he is saying. When

    Photo 3.1 Working in a small group allows members to communicate through a varietyof verbal and nonverbal behaviors.

    Source: iStockphoto.com/aldomurillo.

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  • I was talking to him, I tried to make eye contact with him but he keptlooking away. Hes so nervous. He makes me feel uncomfortable.

    Ashley: Is everyone else quiet?

    Abdul: I wish. Theres this guy Vinnie who has something to say abouteverything. When I told him I disagreed with him, he told me I wasstupid and lacked his personal experiences and that I should keepmy mouth shut. It took all my self-control not to yell at him. Duringthe meeting, I think he insulted everyone at least twice.

    Ashley: Did anyone say anything to him?

    Abdul: Well, there is this other member, Sachiko. She talks a lot, too, andoften disagrees with what is being said, but I like her because shealways stays on topic. She has a way of talking to you where she dis-agrees with you but doesnt put you down at the same time. Sheallows everyone to make their points and really seems to care aboutwhat others have to say. I like her the best and hope she becomes theleader of the group. She tried to tell Vinnie that we needed to stayconstructive and develop a solution, but he just rolled his eyes.

    Ashley: What do you think the other group members think about you?

    Abdul: They probably think that I dont want to be there, and theyre right. Acouple of times they would get off track, talking about their personallives and what they were going to do after work, and I had to interrupttheir gabbing to remind them that we needed to stay focused on thetask at hand. Im not there to make friends. I just want us to prepareour loss prevention plan, delegate the work responsibilities, and meetwith the manager next week. I have better things to do than spend timewith this particular work group, and I dont need any more friends.

    Ashley: (sarcastically) With that attitude, I bet youre the most popular per-son in the group.

    Abdul: Okay, okay, okay. I guess I could have a better attitude about mygroup. I just get frustrated when I have to work with others, espe-cially when the other people dont communicate like I do.

    Ashley: (a little less sarcastically) With a little effort, youll get along finewith your group. Maybe someday they will learn to love and appre-ciate you as much as I do.

    Abdul: Very funny. Whats for dinner?

    Ashley: You were supposed to bring dinner home from Cha-Chas, remember?

    Abdul: Oh yeah.

    Ashley: Grab your coat. Youre driving, and youre paying.

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  • In this case study, Abdul describes his group members,and we read, in the brief descriptions, how the groupmembers communication behaviors differ. Some group

    members are quiet and reserved while others are loud andoutgoing. Some discuss an issue constructively while othersattack the person with whom they are speaking instead offocusing on the topic being discussed. Some members talk to

    demonstrate control while other members think before they speak.This chapter aims to explore the communication and personality traits group

    members possess. To do so, we will define the term trait and differentiate betweena communication trait and a personality trait. We then will examine four preva-lent communication traits and three prevalent personality traits. Finally, we willsummarize the research conducted on these communication and personalitytraits in the small group.

    Definition andDifferentiation of Traits

    Think of traits as relatively enduring behaviors that people tend to use consis-tently across their life span. For instance, if Abdul possesses the assertivenesstrait, he would be expected to assert himself across different situations and contextsnot to say that the specific situation would not influence his behavior(i.e., Abdul might project more assertiveness toward his loss prevention groupthan he would toward his wife). However, a person high in trait assertivenesswould display it more often in more situations than a person low in traitassertiveness. Trait researchers do not deny that the situation influences how aperson behaves; they just believe that traits play a significant role in why and howpeople communicate.

    A communication trait is defined as an individuals consistencies and differ-ences in message-sending and -receiving behaviors (Infante & Rancer, 1996), anda personality trait is defined as an individuals psychological makeup comprisingattitudes, values, beliefs, experiences, and behaviors. Communication traits differfrom personality traits in that communication traits focus specifically on howpeople use verbal and nonverbal messages to stimulate meaning in receiversminds (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 2003). In a way, communication traits can beconsidered a subset of a persons personality traits.

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  • This chapter will introduce you to several communication and personalitytraits. Because communication is vital to the small group communication process,we will focus first on communication traits.

    Communication Traits

    Although a person possesses many communication traits (Frey, 1997; Haslett &Ruebush, 1999; Keyton & Frey, 2002), we will focus on four communication traitsknown to influence how group members communicate: communication appre-hension, communicator style, argumentativeness, and verbal aggressiveness.

    Communication ApprehensionArguably the most researched communication trait, communication apprehen-sion describes an individuals level of fear or anxiety associated with either realor anticipated communication with another person or persons (McCroskey,1977, p. 78). Generally, an individual ranks high, moderate, or low in communi-cation apprehension. An individual who is high in communication apprehensionalmost always feels apprehensive about communicating with other peoplewhereas an individual who is low in communication apprehension hardly everfeels apprehensive about communicating with other people. An individual who ismoderate in communication apprehension falls somewhere between being highlyfearful and not being fearful at all, and tends to be more flexible in dealing withcommunication apprehension on a daily basis.

    According to James McCroskey (1984), communication apprehension canemerge in four forms: trait, context-based, audience-based, and situational. Traitapprehension refers to a relatively enduring level of apprehension across a varietyof situations. People who are high in trait communication apprehension feel anx-ious about communicating across all situations. Whether communicationinvolves talking during a job interview, participating in a class discussion, or giv-ing a public speech in the community, a person with high trait communicationapprehension usually will experience anxiety and apprehension. On the otherhand, a person who is low in trait communication apprehension will feel com-fortable in most situations and not experience any discomfort or anxiety.

    Context-based apprehension, a form of apprehension tied to a specific con-text (i.e., small group, meetings, interpersonal, public speaking), is based on theidea that people sometimes feel comfortable talking in one context and anxious inanother. Some people feel completely comfortable talking to almost anyone face-to-face but experience a great deal of anxiety when giving a public speech. Other

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  • people may experience no anxiety when giving a formal presentation in front of acrowd but a great deal of apprehension when attempting to communicate in asmall group.

    Audience-based apprehension is linked to communicating with a specificaudience. Some people, though low in trait communication apprehension, mayexperience apprehension when it comes to communicating, for example, withtheir superiors at work. In the case study,

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