The Control Factor
In Pragmatics of Communication (1967), Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin and Don Jackson present five basic axioms of interpersonal communication. The fifth axiom of communication expresses a difference between symmetrical and complementary interaction. The Control Factor.
When two communicators in a relationship behave similarly, the relationship is said to be symmetrical; differences are minimized…but, when communicator differences are maximized, a complementary relationship is said to exist. Ideally, an ongoing relationship includes an optimal blend of complementary and symmetrical interactions. Flexibility is the key.
Frank Millar and Edna Rogers define control in terms of complementary and symmetry. Control is best examined by looking at the pattern of messages and responses over a lengthy period of time. Not isolated instances. Thus “Every message is a stimulus for the next message in the sequence.”
One-up behavior—When “A” makes a statement, “B’s” response defines the nature of the relationship at that moment. If “B” responds in a way that asserts control, “B’s” message is said to be ONE-UP.
One-down behavior—If “B” responds in a way that accepts “A’s” assertion of control, “B’s” message is said to be ONE-DOWN.
One-across behavior—If “B’s” response neither asserts control nor relinquishes it, the message is said to be ONE-ACROSS.
Neutralize behavior—natural blending of assertion and relinquishment between partners
COMPLEMENTARY EXCHANGE—Occurs when the partner asserts a “one-up” message and the other responds “one-down.” In a complementary relationship this kind of transaction predominates.
SYMMETRICAL EXCHANGE—Involves both partners presenting “one-up ” or “one-down” messages.
TRANSITION EXCHANGE—Exists when the partner’s responses are different but not opposite.
Malcolm Parks derived fifteen axioms from the Control Configurations of Millar and Rogers and are an extension of the Control Dimension.
- The greater the competitive symmetry, the greater the frequency of one-sided action in a relationship.
- The greater the competitive symmetry, the lower the probability of relationship termination.
- The greater the role discrepancy, the greater the competitive symmetry.
- The greater the competitive symmetry, the greater the frequency of open conflict.
- The greater the competitive symmetry, the greater the frequency of threat and intimidation messages.
- The greater the competitive symmetry, the greater the frequency of messages of rejection.
- The less competitive symmetry, the greater the satisfaction with communication (neutralized relationship).
- The greater the external threat (violence/abuse), the less the competitive symmetry.
- The greater the role discrepancy, the less frequent is communication about feelings toward the other.
- The greater the complementarity, the less empathy (understanding).
- The greater the complementarity, the greater the role specialization.
- The greater the complementarity, the greater the mutual envy.
- The greater the rigidity, the greater the frequency of disconfirming messages.
- The greater the rigidity, the greater the probability of psychopathology (mental disorders/diseases of the mind).
The greater the rigidity, the less frequent are attempts to explicitly define the relationship.