Communication Dimensions


According to Family Communication Patterns Theory (Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2006), two dimensions underlie the communication between family members. The first is conversation orientation: the degree to which family members are encouraged to participate in unrestrained interaction about a wide array of topics. Families high on conversation orientation are like the Weasleys: they believe that open and frequent communication is essential to an enjoyable and rewarding family life. Consequently, they interact often, freely, and spontaneously without many limitations placed on time spent together and topics discussed.

In contrast, families with a low conversation orientation are like the Dursleys; they view interpersonal communication as something irrelevant and unnecessary for a satisfying, successful family life. Such families interact only infrequently and limit their conversations to a few select topics—weather, daily activities, current events, and the like. Disclosure of intimate thoughts and feelings between family members is discouraged, as is debate of attitudes and perspectives.

The second dimension is conformity orientation, the degree to which families believe that communication should emphasize similarity or diversity in attitudes, beliefs, and values. Like the Dursleys, high conformity families use their interactions to highlight and enforce uniformity of thought. Such families are sometimes perceived as more “traditional,” because children are expected to obey parents and other elders, who (in turn) are counted on to make family decisions. Members of these families tend to prioritize family relationships over outside connections such as friendships and romantic involvements. Moreover, they are expected to sacrifice their personal goals for the sake of the family.

Low conformity families like the Weasleys communicate in ways that emphasize diversity in attitudes, beliefs, and values, and that encourage members’ uniqueness, individuality, and independence. These families typically view outside relationships as equally important to those within the family, and they prioritize individual over family interests and goals. In low conformity families, children contribute to family decision making, and members view the family as a vehicle for individual growth rather than a collective in which members must sacrifice their own interests for the good of the whole.