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No. 38 – Social Systems Determine Other’s Views

August 24, 2011

Every message we communicate is interpreted according to our perceived place in a social system. Our audience, whether one person or many, will “pigeonhole” us in a perceived social role. We will then be heard or understood according to the previous experience that the audience has had with that social role. As an example, consider the following organizational social system.

—- self —-

—— team——

——— section ——–

———— branch ———–

————- department ———–

———- corporation or agency ———

———- all corporations or agencies ———

————————– world ————————-

In this system, you are a member of every level. However, only you can speak to the details of your job as a health physicist, since only you do the job. If your audience perceives you speaking in the role of your job, then your message will be interpreted according to the motivations or expectations that others have about your job as a health physicist.

If you are perceived as speaking for the social level of corporation or agency, such as the NRC or the EPA, then a different set of motivations or expectations will become automatic. For example, when we know a spokesperson is from the EPA, we automatically assign this person to certain expectations for scientific knowledge, credibility, integrity, ethics, caring, reasonableness, politics, biases, and motivations. These and many other expectations are the result of our previous dealings with the EPA. Anyone from the EPA will forever be categorized as “one of them.”

The result of automatic expectations related to perceived social roles is that we no longer see people as individuals. We see them as reflections of higher level social roles.

One time a colleague was criticizing the HPS. I pointed out to this person that I was a member of the HPS and asked if he saw me that way. He reflected a moment and then said, “No.” He later concluded that perhaps the HPS was not so bad after all and decided to become a member. If we take the time to look at individuals instead of agencies we may see that we are more alike than different.

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