QC Program Manager Takes a Different Approach to Communication Research

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Here in the QC office, we’re hyper focused on studying communication through the lens of leadership. How can our leaders and aspiring leaders develop the communication skills they need to achieve their professional goals and improve their organizations’ reputations, positioning, and bottom line?

But one of the biggest strengths of the QC team is the learning we do outside of the office. We all have passions and pursuits outside of work, and those varying interests allow each team member to bring incredible new perspectives that contribute to the depth and breadth of Quantified Communications’ work.

This week, we’re especially proud of our program manager, Emily Kaiser, who is presenting her paper, The Dark Triad as a Predictor of Obsessive Relational Intrusion at the International Communication Association Conference in Prague. The paper, which started as a Master’s thesis and grew into something even bigger and more exciting, studies a darker side of communication.

Before she headed to the conference, I sat down with Emily to learn more about her research.

Emily Kaiser - QC Program Manager

Noah: You studied the link between Dark Triad traits and Obsessive Relational Intrusion. Can you give us a quick lesson on what all those things mean and what you were looking for?

Emily: Absolutely! The Dark Triad traits, which are the distinct but overlapping personality dimensions of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, are viewed as a complex personality profile. In the case of my research, these traits are subclinical, meaning the features are not severe enough to be clinically diagnosed as personality disorders.

Subclinical narcissism includes demonstration of entitlement, perceived superiority and dominance, and grandiosity. Subclinical psychopathy manifests as impulsivity, lack of affect, aggression, and sensation seeking. And subclinical Machiavellianism refers to a cold, deceptive, and manipulative nature.

ORI, obsessive relational intrusion, is repetitive invasion and pursuit of a person’s physical or symbolic privacy by another person. The key is that the person being pursued does not want or appreciate the pursuit. Stalking is the most severe form of ORI.

I was curious about whether the presence of Dark Triadic traits in a person could predict engaging in ORI against another person. However, there are very successful Dark Triadic individuals—for example, CEOs have a higher rate of Dark Triad traits. So I suspected (and found) that there might also be moderating factors like a perpetrator’s communication competence or attachment style with their parents as a child.

Noah: What drew you to the topic?

Emily: I had heard of stalking, of course, but hadn’t thought of it as a communicative act until I met Dr. Brian Spitzberg, who is known as one of the fathers of the “dark side” of communication. Once I learned about ORI, I was hooked. I am fascinated by interpersonal conflict, and ORI certainly counts. With all of the ways to contact and follow people in person and online, this topic struck a chord with me.

Noah: And how does communication play into all this?

Emily: Communication is a huge part of this study in a couple ways. First, ORI is a communicative act! The perpetrator is persistent about trying to interact with the victim. As a relatable example, a man leaves flowers on a woman’s car each day while she’s at work. He might be trying to communicate his affection for her, but she might not interpret it that way; she might find it disturbing, especially if she has told him in the past that she’s not interested.

Another way communication plays into my research is that I specifically measured the communication competence of the participants. Communication competence is the degree to which social interaction is appropriate and effective for a given context. If a person has low communication competence, they might believe it is okay to send 65,000 texts in one month to an uninterested person.

Noah: Without getting too dark, does anything in your research stand out that we ought to consider in our own, everyday communication?

Emily: Yes, and I’ll say that my research supports an idea that is common in the study of communication and something we emphasize at QC: you need to tailor your communication to your audience. Think about who your audience is, and find the best way to help them understand you. If one communication style isn’t yielding the desired results, try another. If you find yourself in the position of constantly contacting someone (regardless of the method of contact), and they don’t reciprocate or they flat out reject you, you need to stop and wait for them to reach out.

Noah: You mentioned that this started as a thesis and morphed into something bigger. Can you elaborate?

Emily:This is now a co-authorship with Dr. Brian Spitzberg, and we’ve added a few more discussion points and thoughts about future research building off of this piece. I’d love to be a part of that. With every study about ORI, we not only get better at helping victims, but we get closer to better prevention of ORI as well. We are thrilled that our research was accepted to the International Communication Association Conference in Prague, and we are looking forward to sharing our knowledge with researchers from all over the world.

Noah: Speaking of Prague, tell us a little bit more about the International Communication Association Conference. What are you most excited about, other than presenting?

Emily: The ICA is interested in all aspects of interpersonal and mediated communication. This year, the theme is Voices. The association argues, “The study of voice can shed light on the process by which it impacts behaviors, defines relationships, influences policies, and shapes the world in which we live.” Voice represents both a person’s voice and discourse across groups, and my panel focuses on the latter. I’ll be discussing my research in a session called “Managing Conflict and Negative Events.”

When I’m not presenting, I’m most excited about hearing perspectives from around the globe. I am also thrilled to experience this conference among talented and driven scholars like Nathan Woo, Joshua Santiago, and Katie Harrison.

Congratulations to Emily! When she returns from the conference, we’ll share some of her favorite learnings about the power of voice. In the meantime, you can read her full paper on ProQuest.