Fordham University: Michael D. High's "Coordinated Management of Meaning"

This article gives summaries of several common human communication theories that will be applied throughout this course. Theories like this one help us understand how different individuals make sense of the world around them and how we share these messages with others.


Coordinated Management of Meaning is a theory that helps to explain how individuals co-create meaning in a conversation through the establishment of rules. It also explains how those rules are enmeshed in conversation where meaning is constantly being coordinated. Theorists W. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen researched behavior during a conversation intensely and forged rules and patterns that govern interaction between individuals. This theory is important because it focusses on the relationship between an individual and his or her society.

Assumptions of Coordinated Management of Meaning:

Assumptions about CMM include the following: human beings live in communication (social constructionism), human beings co-create a social reality, and information transactions depend on personal and interpersonal meaning. CMM theorists propose the idea that social situations are created by interactions. The belief that people in conversations co-construct their social reality is called social constructionism. Rather than the question "What did you mean by that?" the real questions to ask are "What are we making together?" How are we making it?" and "How can we make better social worlds?" The third assumption of CMM relates to the way in which people control conversation through personal and interpersonal meaning. Personal meaning is defined as meaning achieved when a person interacts with another and brings into the interaction his or her unique experiences while interpersonal meaning is said the be achieved when two people agree on each other's interpretation. Meaning in a conversation is reached without any thought what-so-ever. If no type of meaning is reached, there is a lack of communication.

Hierachy of Organized Meaning:

There is a hierarchical manner in which human beings organize meaning (see the graphic below to further understand this concept). They determine how much weight to give to a particular message they are trying to send. At the bottom of this hierarchy is content which specifies the first step of converting raw data into some meaning. This shows that the content does not have any inherent meaning until the human beings interpret it. The level above content is speech act. Speech acts are actions we perform by speaking such as promises, threats, insults, speculations, guesses and compliments. The level above speech act includes episodes, which are communication routines that have definable beginnings, middles, and endings. Relationship is the fourth level which describes two people recognizing their potential and limitations as relational partners. This level suggests boundaries for behavior and how two people should behave in front of each other. The fifth level consists of life scripts which are clusters of past and present episodes that help an individual create a sense of self that guides future forms of communication. The highest level of the hierarchy contains cultural patterns which consist of the values each of us were raised with and how we portray them through communication. This hierarchy acts in a loop (the reflexiveness of levels in the hierachy of meaning) because the lower levels can reflect back and affect the higher levels.


Individuals aim to achieve perfect coordination in meaning, but often achieve no coordination or partially achieved coordination because of different interpretations. Specific rules such as constitutive rules and regulative rules help guide communication and prevent unwanted repetitive patterns.

Problems/Critiques with Coordinated Management of Meaning:

The theory is too broad and unclear in terms of definitions.

Works Cited:

West, Richard L., and Lynn H. Turner. Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and
Application. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

Key Terms and Definitions

  1. personal meaning- the meaning achieved when a person brings his or her unique experiences to an interaction
  2. interpersonal meaning- the result when two people agree on each other's interpretation of an interaction
  3. content- the conversion of raw data into meaning
  4. speech act- action we perform by speaking (examples: questioning, threatening, complimenting, etc.)
  5. episodes- communication routines that have recognized beginnings, middles, and endings
  6. relationship- agreement and understanding between two people
  7. lifescripts- clusters of past or present episodes that create a system of manageable meanings with others
  8. cultural patterns- images of the world and a person's relationship to it
  9. coordination- trying to make sense of message sequencing what someone is saying to you
  10. unwanted repetitive patterns- recurring, undesirable conflicts in a relationship

Hierarchy of Meaning


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Last modified: Friday, August 31, 2018, 2:08 PM