Theories meso level

Contingency Theories

influences of internal and external constraints in organizations

History and Orientation

To be added.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Core: Wiio and Goldhaber (1993) concluded that differences in communication effectiveness are a function both of type of organization and composition of work force (age, sex, education, tenure). The communication process is influenced by many internal and external constraints from the organization and its subsystems. The constraints determine the status of the organization of the environmental suprasystem and the state of each subsystem. The communication process is thus contingent upon external and internal stimuli and upon the degree of freedom of states within the system allowed by the organizational constraints. Some internal contingencies are: structural contingencies, output, demographic, spatiotemporal and traditional contingencies. External contingencies are: economic, technological, legal, sociopoliticocultural and environmental contingencies. Persons interested in organizational communication should consider such questions as the following. What are the contingencies under which organizations communicate best when confronting their environment? Specifically, do different types of organizations have different communication needs? Do organizational internal contingencies (demographics such as age, sex, education, seniority, management level, and amount of communication training) affect communication needs? Are different demographics better predictors of communication need in types of organizations? Etc.

Statement: Wiio stated “In different organizational contingencies, different demographic variables showed significant relationships with communication variables.” (p. 93).

Examples of contingency theories are:

Contingency theory of leadership

In contingency theory of leadership, the success of the leader is a function of various contingencies in the form of subordinate, task, and/or group variables. The effectiveness of a given pattern of leader behavior is contingent upon the demands imposed by the situation. These theories stress using different styles of leadership appropriate to the needs created by different organizational situations. No single contingency theory has been postulated. Some of the theories are:

  • Fiedler’s contingency theory:

Fiedlers theory is the earliest and most extensively researched. Fiedler’s approach departs from trait and behavioral models by asserting that group performance is contingent on the leader’s psychological orientation and on three contextual variables: group atmosphere, task structure, and leader’s power position.

  • Hersey & Blanchard’s situational theory

This theory is an extension of Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid Model and Reddin’s 3-D management style theory. With this model came the expansion of the notion of relationship and task dimensions to leadership and adds a readiness dimension.

Contingency theory of decision making

  • Vroom and Yetton’s decision participation contingency theory or the Normative decision theory

According to this model, the effectiveness of a decision procedure depends upon a number of aspects of the situation: the importance of the decision quality and acceptance; the amount of relevant information possessed by the leader and subordinates; the likelihood that subordinates will accept an autocratic decision or cooperate in trying to make a good decision if allowed to participate; the amount of disagreement among subordinates with respect to their preferred alternatives.

Contingency rules theory

  • Smith’s contingency rules theory is an example of a rules approach to persuasion. Smith utilizes the idea of cognitive schemas, expectations about the attributes that a given person or policy will have or expectancies about the consequences of behaving in a particular manner. These schemata function as contingency rules that both shape the way something is viewed and structure behavior. Smith suggests that rules and schemata explain persuasion better than the traditional concept of attitude. According to Smith’s contingency rules theory, rules are used to create responses to persuasive messages. Self-evaluative rules are associated with our self-concept and our image. Adaptive rules are those that will apply effectively in a particular situation – the rules most likely to generate a positive outcome. Behavioral contingency rules are contextual. In some situations, certain consequences are considered and certain rules are activated which guide behavior. In other situations, other rules are activated. External threats and rewards are meaningful only if they apply to one’s personal goals.

Conceptual Model


Tocom model.
Source: Woudstra E., & Gemert, L. van. (1994)

Favorite Methods

General social science methods.

Scope and Application

Organizational communication.


To be added


Key publications

  • Barney, J.B. (1985). Dimensions of Informal Social Network Structure: Toward a Contingency Theory of Informal Relations in Organizations, Social Networks, 7, 1-46.
  • Goldhaber, G.M. (1993). Organizational communication. Sixth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Heath, L.R. (1994). Management of corporate communication. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K.H. (1974). So You Want to Know Your Leadership Style? Training and Development Journal, February 1974, 1-15.
  • Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K.H. (1993). Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, 6th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Pugh, D.S. (1990). Organization Theory - Selected Readings (417-424), 3rd Edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • Vecchio, R.P. (1988). Organizational Behavior (286-304). Chicago: Dryden Press.
  • Vroom, V.H., & Jago, A.G. (1988). The new leadership: Managing participation in organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
  • House, R. (1997). Path-goal theory of leadership: Lessons, legacy, and a reformulated theory. Leadership Quarterly, 7 (3), 323-352. 
  • Smith, M. J. (1984). Contingency rules theory, context, and compliance behaviors. Human Communication Research, 10, 489-512.
  • Woudstra, E. & Gemert, L. van (1994). Planning van de interne communicatie: een kader. In
  • J. Jaspers e.a. (Eds.). Handboek interne communicatie. (C5.2.3-C5.2.28). Houten: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

See also Organizational Communication