Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

The Social Penetration Theory & the Uncertain Reduction Theory

Category Sales, Theories
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This theory comes to explain the uncertainty among people who communicate with each other and how different types of communication will help to reduce the uncertainty. As a starting point, the developers of this theory (Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese) stated that uncertainty is an unpleasant feeling, which people prefer to avoid as much as they can. Every person has been confronted with the feeling of uncertainty, rather if it was when arriving to new a destination or more commonly when meeting a new person.

In order to reduce the unpleasant feeling, people tend to seek information about the uncertain and by that creating more comfortable feelings, and more predictable relationships in case of communication with other people. “Coping with uncertainty is a central issue in any face-to-face encounter, whether interactants are conscious of this fact or not” (Uncertainty Reduction Theory Then and Now. Charles R. Berger), but when the uncertainty is reducing automatically the feeling of attraction (not only physically) start to emerge.

In the heart of this theory, Berger and Calabrese connected uncertainty with seven concepts that are in the base of communication: verbal output, nonverbal warmth, information seeking, self-disclosure, reciprocity of disclosure, similarity, and liking. Sales & the Uncertainty reduction theory “There are at least two ways uncertainty is relevant to interpersonal communication processes. First, in the broad sense, uncertainty reduction is a vital concern for the conduct of almost any communicative transaction. Second, uncertainty reduction’s impact on interpersonal relationships can be looked at in a more narrow sense; that is, the role-played by uncertainty reduction in the prediction of specific relationship outcomes.

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The broader role of uncertainty reduction concerns the interaction process itself, whereas the narrow sense concerns the outcomes of the interaction” (Charles Berger). The interpersonal communication process is crucial for any sales person in any kind of industry no matter what kind of products / services he or she trying to promote or sell. The essence of building relationship is the uncertainty reduction theory as the two sides (more important for the sales person) trying to discover the person who stands in front of him.

Definitely being able to help to the other person to know more about yourself (the salesperson point of view), will help in the purpose of reducing his uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings he deals with, while developing relationship with the salesperson. Assuming I am a salesperson, first thing in the process of building relationship (before the first contact with a customer) is to use the passive and active strategies in order to gather as much information I can about my customer.

Form the moment the first meeting was conducted, I will use the interactive strategy as I wish my customer will know everything he want to know about me (or about the product / service I wish to promote),and by that making him feel more comfortable and not vulnerable. The purpose of using this theory expressed best in the course book “SELL”, It was mentioned that “The more the sales person knows, the easier it is to build trust and gain the confidence of the buyer. Buyers have certain expectations of the salesperson and the knowledge that he or she brings to the table”.

This quote reflects best why a salesperson must use the uncertainty reduction theory in order to achieve his goals. As a salesperson, I should adjust my content and tactic toward my customer habits; this is another reason why it is important to use the three ways for gathering information according to the uncertainty reduction theory (Active, Passive and Interpersonal). The Social Penetration Theory This theory takes the theory of Berger and Calabrese one step deeper, as it xamines more deeply the interpersonal relationship / communication between two or more parties. The theory developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor (1973), in which they stated that as relationship develop, it become deeper and deeper, from non-intimate levels through to more personal levels. This method also called ‘Onion analogy’, as the intimacy grows and time pass by, more layers of the personality revealed to the other side, that is also the way social penetration is being made, through self disclosure.

According to this theory, the disclosure goes through few stages: Orientation stage, exploratory affective stage, affective stage, stable stage and de-penetration stage. Each stage reflects the level of intimacy / level of familiarity with another person. Number of studies examined this theory, all agreed that development of relationship between people come together with development from knowing peripherals aspects of personality into deeper aspects. The theory of social penetration provides a framework for describing the development of interpersonal relationship. These behaviors include exchange of information, exchange of expressions of positive and negative affect, and mutual activities” (The development of interpersonal relationship: social penetration processes). The salesperson should be aware both to his personality, together with the customer personality, and to understand to which level of intimacy the customer is willing to reach / or to which level he want to get with the customer. Sales & The Social Penetration Theory

Salespersons should understand the implications of the social penetration theory on the best side in order to create long term relationship between them (or the company they are represent) and their consumers. These days any business, no matter how big it is, wishes to create base of loyal customers who had good experience with the business directly or through the business sales force. From that reason, the business sales force has to be skilled in the aspect of interpersonal relationship. For example, a salesperson who skips the levels / stages of disclosure (according to theory) will fail in his purpose of ‘capturing the customer’.

On top of that, his self-disclosure should be done precisely as well and he should not give to much information about himself or the product / service in the early stages of the relationship. “Most service marketers today recognize the importance of keeping customers and making them into better customers (Berry 1983). In marketing whole life insurance (and, perhaps, similar services), the sales-person's ability to affect the customer's commitment and dependency on the provider may be determined largely by the interpersonal relationship he or she establishes with the customer.

Likewise, in service contexts characterized by continuous exchange activity and considerable purchase uncertainty, the long-term interests of the customer may be best served by initiating and maintaining enduring relationships with salespeople” (Relationship Quality in Services Selling: An Interpersonal Influence Perspective). As mentioned in the quote above, establishing good interpersonal relationship between the salesperson and the customer is crucial for any business these days.

Moreover, in order to create good brand name for the business, the salesperson must have the ability to answer all the expectations of the customer, and to be trustworthy while doing so. The key issue for salesperson when he implicate the social penetration theory is not to hurry thing too much, for instance he can’t be intimate with the customer at the early stages of the relationship. He should be peaceful, and should have the ability to give the customer the opportunity to disclose himself and not to push him into the corner and by that scare him away.

The Social Penetration Theory & the Uncertain Reduction Theory essay

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