Grounding in Communication - Elements of Theory - Least Collaborative Effort

Least Collaborative Effort

The theory of least collaborative effort asserts that participants in a contribution try to minimize the total effort spent on that contribution – in both the presentation and acceptance phases. In exact, every participants in a conversation tries to minimize the total effort spent in that interactional encounter. The ideal utterances are informative and brief.

Participants in conversation refashion referring expressions and decrease conversation length. When interactants are trying to pick out difficult to describe shapes from a set of similar items, they produce and agree on an expression which is understood and accepted by both and this process is termed refashioning. The following is an example from Clark & Wilkes-Gibbs,

A: Um, third one is the guy reading with, holding his book to the left
B: Okay, kind of standing up?
A: Yeah.
B: Okay.

A offers a conceptualisation which is refashioned slightly by the B before it is agreed on by both. In later repetitions of the task, the expression employed to re-use the agreed conceptualisation progressively became shorter. For example, “the next one looks like a person who’s ice skating, except they’re sticking out two arms in front” (trial 1) was gradually shortened to “The next one’s the ice skater” (trial 4) and eventually became just “The ice skater” in trial 6.

Clark & Wilkes-Gibbs argue that there are two indicators of least collaborative effort in the above example. First, the process of refashioning itself involves less work than A having to produce a ‘perfect’ referring expression first time, because of the degree of effort which would be needed to achieve that. Second, the decrease in length of the referring expressions and the concomitant reduction in conversation length over the trials showed that the participants were exploiting their increased common ground to decrease the amount of talk needed, and thus their collaborative effort.

  1. Time pressures: Parties will select more effortful means of communication when mutual understanding must occur within a fixed amount of time.
  2. Errors: Parties will select more effortful means of communication when the chance for error is high or previous low effort communications have resulted in error.
  3. Ignorance: Parties will engage in more effortful communication when a lack of shared knowledge is notable.

Time pressures, errors, and ignorance are problems that are best remedied by mutual understanding, thus the theory of grounding in communication dispels the theory of least collaborative effort in instances where grounding is the solution to a communication problem.

Read more about this topic:  Grounding In Communication, Elements of Theory

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