Dating has always been man’s most primitive form of communication between the sexes. It is a moment in time that be characterized by uncertainty and stress when our inability to “read” another persons emotions becomes the personification of our personal failures. This phenomenon becomes magnified threefold when dating becomes a competitive game involving more than two people being played out for millions of home viewers. This is the situation of Bob and fifteen women on ABC’s, “The Bachelor”.
In this aggressive arena and situation, communication becomes particularly difficult, as each of the women struggle to earn precious moments of time with Bob in an attempt to win this game of love. Much of the interaction among the players in my scene happens within a small group contextual level, but the dynamic within the game also lends itself to an organizational context. By analyzing the burlesque scene, I will demonstrate the various verbal and nonverbal issues that arise within this group such as the women’s use of powerful speech styles and speech accommodation to establish dominance within their group as well as, paralanguage and kinesics as means of controlling and retaining Bob’s attention.
By definition the dates, which are separated into groups of five or six women and Bob, participate in small group communication. This type of communication is, “the process by which three or more members of a group exchange verbal and nonverbal messages in an attempt to influence one another” (Tubbs & Moss, 2003, p.18). While the women are not really concerned about teamwork, which is a key factor of this form of communication (Tubbs & Moss, 2003, p.19), they participate in an abridged form of it while actively sending messages to both their competitors and Bob in order to give themselves the advantage, thus attempting to influence the outcome of the game.
This is clearly exemplified as the women are dancing on the stage. In one instance the women step in front of each other while they are dancing so as to place themselves at the center of Bob’s attention. This simple action also serves as a nonverbal warning to the other women demonstrating the power play inherent within this group. It also demonstrates both confidence and authority, which are both positive forms of expressiveness. Expressiveness, according to Tubbs and Moss (2003) convey higher levels of attractiveness, which in turn, attract more attention from a particular subject.
The small group dynamic is also prevalent in the conversation that takes place when Lee-Ann takes Bob away from the group. The women, who place themselves in a quasi huddle while waiting for the two to emerge, begin to demonstrate a form of teamwork as they collectively speak about how to get Bob back to the group and away from Lee-Ann. While the reality is they only wish to bring him back so that they can steal him away themselves, for that particular instance they are collectively problem solving. The small group form of communication is expressed through the women’s attempt to influence the situation in their favor.
While it may not be instantly apparent, this group is also participating in organizational communication. This form of communication occurs within members of an organization, organized and influenced by rank and whose members follow a set of formal and informal networks, rules and norms (Mullin, 2003, September 25). And as Tubbs and Moss claim, it is also classified as a “…network of interdependent relationships” (p.19). As for rank, Bob is at the top of the ladder and the women, who can be viewed as the members of this organization all succumb to his “authority” in an attempt to gain favor and move up the ladder. The women must follow the rules of this game (or organization) or else be eliminated (or fired). They also depend on each other for information and in a sense use each other to better their chances of winning.
This fact is illustrated in what is known as “grapevine” or “water cooler” talk where the women share and interpret information in order to gain a better understanding of their position in the game. In this way, they are intimately intertwined with each other as a source of valuable information thus demonstrating their interdependence. Synonymous to employees whispering about what is going on behind the boss’s closed doors, the women also gossip about the interaction of Bob and Lee-Ann when they separate from the rest of the group.
Lastly, we may also attribute one final characteristic of organizational communication to this group and that is the idea of kaizen or change for the better functioning of the entire organization (Tubbs ; Moss, 2003, p.19). This group, however, uses this trait a bit differently. In this case the women are concerned with kaizen solely for themselves and assuming greater levels of effectiveness within the eyes of Bob, who in this case can be seen as the consumer instead of the boss. Their emphasis lies in their own personal continued improvement, so that their “services” continue to be beneficial to Bob, in hopes of extending their time in the game. These women, as a group, operate within an organizational context to convey their personal messages in order to advance their own agenda within the game.
Powerful speech styles are a verbal expression that establishes dominance within a group setting. In the burlesque scene, this type of speech is quite prevalent among the women. In one instance Lindsay, a competitor, says that she wants to “kick her ass and wring her neck” referring to Lee-Ann after she takes Bob away from the group. This is clearly a mechanism to regain a dominant position after she feels threatened by Lee-Ann’s act of dominance. However, this behavior is atypical of the connection between gender and language styles. According to Tubbs and Moss (2003), “feminine style of speech [is] characterized by politeness [and] hedging” (p.96), however if these women were to demonstrate those characteristics, it may be perceived as weakness, which may limit the power they are able to gain within the group.
Since men enjoy greater social power within most communication settings (Tubbs & Moss, 2003, p.94), the women must exhibit a more masculine linguistic style in order to gain an advantage over this social circle. This style of speech, however, is not limited to the confines of the female group. When Lee-Ann and Bob first enter the private room together, Lee-Ann immediately tells Bob to sit on the bed as well as reveals how infatuated she is with him. In this situation, Lee-Ann is exhibiting control and confidence, which again are both forms of expressiveness meant to display intelligence and attractiveness. The competitors in this game use a powerful language style in order to ascertain a higher position among the other players as well as with Bob.
Speech accommodation, which is adjusting speech towards or away from another person’s speech, is used to gain acceptance or to distinguish oneself or group from others (Mullin, 2003, October 8). In this circumstance gaining acceptance from both the other players and Bob is vital to success. For one reason alienating yourself from the rest of the players may leave you vulnerable to attack and thus limit your abilities to play the game well, so making allies is necessary for survival. Speech accommodation is apparent in this scene when the women are gathered at the bar. The women, who were upset at Lee-Ann, began to speak very similarly to each other. There voice levels, intonation, and grammar all seemed to mirror each other. In their comparable sarcastic and bitter tones they shouted, “Where are they?” and “He needs to come back here and pay attention to the rest of the girls!” Tubbs and Moss (2003) claim that women use conversation as a means to attain status goals and achievement and this convergence of speech between the women allowed them to bond with each other making Lee-Ann, who has just gained an advantage with Bob, to be the outsider.
In essence they are limiting her dominance. However, Lee-Ann is also using speech accommodation with Bob. In order to establish more intimacy with Bob, she mimics his tone of voice during the conversation. When he is excited about a topic, she is excited and when he becomes serious, her tone also follows. According to Professor Mullin, she is attempting to influence the attributions he is making about her and her particular traits (Mullin, 2003, October 8). In this way, she is also distinguishing herself from the other women. Speech accommodation builds relationships and establishes outsiders and it is a verbal technique employed by all of the contenders.
Similar to Lee-Ann’s use of speech accommodation is paralanguage. It includes the vocalizations and voice qualities that accompany our spoken language (Mullin, 2003, October 8). This technique is most used by the women to hold Bob’s attention. It is apparent while the women are dancing on stage. To accompany their dances, they giggle and laugh to display characteristic feminine qualities to trigger emotional responses in Bob. This addition is used to seduce Bob and perhaps leave a lasting impression on him.
Competitors, Lindsey and Jenny, continuously make semi-moaning noises accompanied by giggles throughout their performance and it is quite apparent that they are flirting with Bob to gain attention. They are not alone on this venture however. As illustrated in the previous paragraph, Lee-Ann uses paralanguage with Bob when they are alone. To convey sincerity when she is telling him how she feels, she softens her voice, controlling the rate, airflow and overall quality of her voice. According to Tubbs and Moss (2003), she is doing this in order to be more persuasive and to demonstrate honesty. Paralanguage attempts to elicit a connection with Bob in order to retain his interest.
Kinesics is the study of movement and gestures as a means of nonverbal communication (Mullin, 2003, October 8). This particular scene is a virtual cornucopia of this as the women seductively touch their lips, lift their skirts and fondle each other during their dance and is also evident when Bob and Lee-Ann are making out and their hands slide down each other’s sides. The meanings inherent in these actions are quite obvious. They are used as affect displays through emotional non-verbal exhibits (Mullin, 2003, October 8). When Mary lifts her skirt up in front of Bob, she is sending a message of sexual vigor and may also send a message to the other players demonstrating her confidence.
Tubbs and Moss (2003) refer to this as a demonstration of courtship readiness as well as actions of appeal signaling sexual invitation and interest. Another example of this is when Lee-Ann and Bob are making out in the private room. With their bodies facing each other and their hands caressing one another’s, they are sending nonverbal invitations to continue the flirtation. They are also expressing interest when they tilt their heads toward each other, which suggests, “what emotion is being experienced” (Tubbs ; Moss, 2003, p.124). Their exchange of glances and facial cues lead to kissing where their hands express nonverbal messages of pleasure as they slide down each other’s arms. Nonverbal messages are prevalent in any relationship and the women use it to intimidate each other, as well as to seduce and lure Bob in order to arouse him sexually.
The women employ various strategies to convey their personal messages to Bob in their hopes that he will choose them. Viewing this situation from both a small group context as well as an organizational level, we see that there are certain rules to the game that allow them to influence the outcomes. They must establish dominance while still upholding typical female qualities, which includes being polite – a trait that seems contradictory among this group but nevertheless necessary. The venues they use for their messages range from the verbal to the nonverbal and include their speech styles, paralanguage and kinesics. Each is equally important because they are necessary for establishing the intimacy with Bob that they will need to win. In this situation where competition is a direct factor, establishing a sound communication base with Bob and their opponents is key to winning this twisted game of love.
ABC.com: ABC’s ‘The Bachelor’ Wednesdays 9/8c. (n.d.) Retrieved October 13, 2003, from
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