June 3, 2023

Theory Report: Uncertainty Reduction Theory
Aaron McInelly

This paper shows a comparison to the Uncertainty Reduction Theory and experiences as a salesman. It will observe a few other articles in order to show how we can reduce “uncertainty” through communication and body language, or nonverbal cues. Communication is typically defined as the imparting or exchanging of information. How we initiate communication with individuals will also determine how they interact with us in return.
Using the Uncertainty Reduction Theory explains how we can bridge that gap that separates us and seems to help with the process of getting to know the person with whom we are communicating with. This also helps predict future interactions.

Initial Interaction Theory

Uncertainty reduction theory (otherwise known as initial interaction theory) is something that was introduced in 1975 by Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese. They wanted “to explain how communication is used to reduce uncertainties between strangers engaging in their first conversation together”.

“The theory asserts the notion that, when interacting, people need information about the other party in order to reduce their uncertainty.” – Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese

Which indicates how we interact, body language and words we use with individuals within our first meeting is more important than what we are actually saying. We reduce that feeling we get of not knowing who we are talking too as the conversation goes on.

Types of Uncertainty

The theory consists of two types of uncertainty.
Cognitive Uncertainty
Our individual beliefs and understanding of each other in the situation. I have developed a habit to always think of what I am saying before I actually say it.
Behavioral Uncertainty
Typically adopts the norm within societies or “the extent to which behavior is predictable in a given situation”.

American Uncertainty

American society usually has more than one norm, depending on geographic location. There are many different cultures that exist within The United States, so determining what is “the norm” for this ‘society’, in particular, is hard. The theory has everything to do with communication, the way we initially interact with individuals determines if communication will occur in the future and is the process of building meaningful relationships. How we interact on the first meeting, is usually a good indicator of how future meetings will occur in the future; if at all.

“Studies of impression formation have found that negative personality traits generally outweigh equally polarized positive traits in the formation of an overall impression of a stimulus person”. (Yoo, 2018).

Communication Stages

Along the axioms proposed by Berger and Calabrese, there are three stages that we enter and exit as we communicate.
Entry Stage
This phase focuses on using social norms, things that become acceptable over time because the majority of people have agreed upon it within the communication context (politely greeting someone or smiling).
Personal Stage
When individuals get to know each other and start to understand one another on a more intellectual and emotional level.
Exit Stage
Where the decision is made to either continue or stop talking altogether.

Stages In Practice

The process I have used for sales was always the same, the thing that changes consistently is “how” I am either initiating the first contact, or what I am saying. My goal of course is to reduce uncertainty the customer has for me, which would increase the likelihood that they will do business with me.

Uncertainty Reduction Theory also seems to correlate with Impression Formation or the process by which individual pieces of information about someone else are integrated to form an overall impression of the individual. Using this I would always give a personal story about myself to the prospect so they would feel like they know me more. Sometimes, with the limited time people have now-a-days you have to introduce yourself only to set up a future appointment.

Choose Them Carefully

Michael Sunnafrank pointed out that “…the expectation of future interaction may not always produce greater efforts to reduce uncertainty.” (Sunnafrank, 1986) Sunnafrank spoke about how certain communication could increase uncertainty, so being mindful of the words you are using and how you are saying them is proven to be even more important than previously thought.
To formulate a meaningful relationship we need to have a commonality with the individual with whom we are communicating or wish to communicate with. The way we usually create a commonality or reduce uncertainty of others is by our initial interaction.

More Than Words

How we behave and the things we say, focusing on how we are saying things to the person we are talking with and the actions we take. As stated earlier, I have been in sales for the better part of a decade and unknowingly used this theory in a lot of my processes.
When you first knock on a stranger’s door with the intention to sell them something there is a lot of uncertainty, not only in your mind but more so in the mind of the prospect. Utilizing the Uncertainty Reduction Theory will improve sales and this paper has shown good indication on how.

Building Comfort

The entry phase is very important for anyone to be successful, you want to smile and greet them politely. This is something that takes a lot of practice. Ways in reducing uncertainty are also found through familiarity and saying things in a particular order. That way you can build a relationship, which was shown by Berger and Calabrese in their axioms.
People are more comfortable with people they like, or feel as if they know, so initial interaction should always be to introduce yourself and build commonality. Avoiding provocation or things that might make the person uncomfortable, such as negative information as Jina H. Yoo pointed out, “…that when negative information is perceived as negative, the uncertainty level will increase more than if no information is given.”(Yoo, 2018)

On the Bright Side

People should practice not being negative in any communication, but focusing more so on the first interaction with individuals to reduce the uncertainty they might have. Noticing subtle cues has also been a key indicator of how the interaction is usually going. So if the person is interacting and asking questions, then you should feel as if you are making progress and keep moving forward. The theory proves that as communication progresses, people become more familiar with the type of person we are and what we believe which in turn reduces how uncertain they feel about us.
I would argue that this theory is something everyone should incorporate into their daily lives, in order to have a better overall interaction with every individual they communicate with. Communication is something that looks to be dying out, people seem more privy to their Facebook status update or how many likes they received on an Instagram post. So I try to focus more on communication with people and of course always trying to build meaningful relationships with everyone I meet.


Yoo, J. (2018). UVU Login Service. [online] Eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uvu.edu. Available at: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uvu.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=19bf8079-faef-44f9-b4a7-27b2b4bb9baa%40pdc-v-sessmgr04 [Accessed 7 Sep. 2018].
Sunnafrank, M. (1986). Predicted outcome value during initial interactions: A reformulation of uncertainty reduction theory. Human Communication Research, 13, 3-33.