PRINT BY SECTIONS
A Study Examining
Demographic Factors and Personality Traits
that Influence Military Public Affairs' Credibility
Rationale (Research Questions)
Researchers have studied the complex intricacies of credibility for decades. Studies have focused on how the perceived credibility of an individual influences their effectiveness when using persuasive communication. Studies have also looked at communicative, nonverbal behaviors, such as facial expressiveness, speaker’s posture and voice inflection to see how they influence credibility (Heath & Bryant, 2000). Another complicated factor associated with credibility is that it constantly fluctuates with time. It is not static during any communicative process or in any situational context. For example, many news organizations may have been perceived as highly credible before the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. After the election, the public’s perception of the media’s credibility may have drastically changed. Moreover, this credibility issue seems to have even more relevance for the organizational or corporate spokesperson.
We suggest that most effective communication practitioners would agree there is no other personal characteristic more important than establishing and maintaining credibility. From the American public’s perspective, there seems to be a higher expectation for military PAOs and other government information spokespersons to function as highly credible sources. For example, despite several government public relations fiascos like the Nixon Administration’s decision to invade Cambodia or the Clinton Administration’s infidelity scandal, the press seems to place great reliance on government information for reporting public affairs issues. This warrants academic research in trying to unravel which factors are associated with high credibility.
In this study we identified variables that seemingly have an impact on perceived credibility. Demographically, we looked into each service branches’ PAO accession program in order to compare the demographic differences. Research indicates that two branches (Army and Navy) insist their PAOs have at least two years of active duty experience before entering the public affairs field. A study by Hurley and Fagenson-Eland (1997) looked extensively at the differences and advantages between employees that have X years of experience versus those with a breadth of experience. Their findings concluded that managers with a wide range of corporate knowledge had more successful careers, rising to top management positions faster than those that developed more specific line skills. Conversely, those managers who worked totally in a specific department or field were less likely to be promoted to top management positions. “Organizations need to develop generalists. These individuals should have core skills, flexibility and breadth of experience relevant to the company” (Hurley & Fagenson-Eland, 1997, p. 68). Relating this information to our study we wondered if this insight was true for successful PAOs. If so, why do some service branches (Marine Corps and Air Force) access many of their PAOs at the 0-1 (second lieutenant) grade level.
The differences in accession programs led us to question if public affairs training was an equally influential, source variable of credibility. As discussed earlier, DINFOS is the primary school that most new PAOs attend sometime early in their career. Regardless of the PAO’s background, the school’s mission is to teach the technical skills of communication. Analyzing both of these factors from a systems perspective, the interaction between accession and training seemingly works to achieve the DoD’s end state or goal—develop qualified, technically-proficient service spokespersons and assimilate them into their respective public affairs communities. Therefore the training factor seems to give the overall accession system an equifinal property. However, what about credibility? The question stems from the recognized complex accession system just discussed. If achieving career success has been associated with a person acquiring a substantive amount corporate knowledge, perhaps the same is true when discussing credibility.
Recognizing the elusiveness of credibility and the importance PAOs place on establishing and maintaining it, we felt the need to define some traits unquestionably related to credibility. Looking at Infante et al.’s (1997) categorization of trait approaches, we found three variables to analyze. Under the grouping of adaptive traits, we feel these variables are common to most effective communicators.
The first adaptive trait we conceptualized is communication “ability.” A person’s ability to communicate effectively, in writing or verbally, is essential for communication practitioners. PAOs, from their first day at DINFOS, learn to refine these communication skills. These skills become their ‘tools of the trade.’ Any normal work day for a PAO includes writing press releases, editing the installation newspaper, or conducting on-camera interviews. This leads us to believe that communication ability is a necessity rather than a luxury. We conceptualize the idea of ability as a behavior trait labeled communication competency.
The second personality trait we conceptualize is “confidence.” Sometimes situations dictate a PAO’s need to confidently address their senior leadership concerning sensitive issues or situations. This invaluable trait can help the command see certain issues from the public’s perspective. Therefore, a PAO’s level of confidence is vital, especially when the command is dealing with a sensitive or damaging situation that can ultimately harm their public image. For this study we associate confidence with the adaptive trait labeled assertiveness. Assertiveness is a constructive trait that we advance as another essential trait for PAOs.
The last adaptive trait we selected can be referred to as “communicative intuition.” On a daily basis, PAOs deal with internal and external audiences, each having a unique personality. Perhaps the real crux of this issue is the PAO’s willingness to accurately decode the audience’s messages before encoding an inappropriate response. Also considered to be a highly adaptive trait, intuition will enable PAOs to assess the predominant feelings, emotions or beliefs of each audience. Another defining term for this trait is “common sense.” We associate this personality trait with interaction involvement. Based on the above reasoning the following research questions are advanced:
RQ1: What are the effects of the adaptive behavior traits—communication competence, assertiveness, and interaction involvement on a PAO’s credibility?
RQ2: Is the number of years of military service correlated to credibility?
PRINT BY SECTIONS