In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Small-Group Communication

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Teaching, Pedagogy, And Education
  • The Communication Approach
  • Theories
  • Methods
  • Group Members and Composition
  • Group Communication Technology
  • Intergroup Communication
  • Facilitation

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Communication Small-Group Communication
Lawrence R. Frey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0037


The study of small-group communication investigates: (a) the nature and effects of members of small collectives (a minimum of three people) using verbal and nonverbal messages to share and create meaning (referred to as a symbolic-management focus) and (b) how groups and their processes and products result from message activity (referred to as a symbolic-constitutive focus). Scholarship on small-group communication emerges from the general study of group dynamics and, thus, has important grounding in, and ties to, research conducted in social psychology. However, in contrast to a psychological focus on members’ traits and cognitive processes, a communication approach explores what and how members communicate, how various factors (e.g., the context) affect that communication, and the resulting consequences of that communication (including members’ shared conception of being a “group”). Within the academic, disciplinary study of communication (that took place circa 1910), small-group communication was one of the earliest foci (after public speaking), but institutionally (e.g., in professional associations) such scholarship initially was connected to the study of interpersonal (dyadic) communication. Although scholarship on small-group communication has historically privileged the study of task groups (in specific, decision-making and problem-solving groups), fueled most recently by the growth of organizational communication scholarship on work groups and teams, in the early 21st century, communication is studied in a wide range of group contexts (e.g., families, peer groups, work groups/teams, support groups, political groups, and community groups).

Reference Works

There are few reference works regarding small-group communication and none that address research conducted from 2000 to 2011. Frey, et al. 1999, however, provides an extensive overview of group communication research conducted during the second half of the 20th century; Mabry and Barnes 1980 situates research findings within a theoretical perspective (systems) that cuts across disciplines; and Hare, et al. 1994 is a handbook that offers a wealth of references on group interaction.

  • Frey, Lawrence R., Dennis S. Gouran, and Marshall Scott Poole, eds. 1999. The handbook of group communication theory and research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Comprehensive coverage of group communication scholarship, from its beginning in pedagogy to its current status as a mature field. The text is divided into six sections (foundations, individuals and group communication, task and relational communication, processes, facilitation, and contexts and applications), with leading scholars summarizing research and proposing agendas.

  • Hare, A. Paul, Herbert H. Blumberg, Martin F. Davies, and M. Valerie Kent. 1994. Small group research: A handbook. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

    An extensive sourcebook, with over 200 reference pages, that addresses a wide range of topics that are more sociological or psychological in orientation (e.g., groups’ physical contexts and members) but also includes substantial research about verbal and nonverbal communication, communication channels/modalities, and communication networks and patterns in groups.

  • Mabry, Edward A., and Richard E. Barnes. 1980. The dynamics of small group communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Although written as a textbook, this is a useful reference work, especially for early group communication scholarship and relevant research in other disciplines. Authors adopt a systems perspective to review what research reveals about group inputs, throughputs (e.g., verbal and nonverbal group communication, communication networks), and outputs.

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