William Rosenthal COMM 4255 14 July 2011 Identity Theory and Negotiation In negotiation(s), people have different ideas and beliefs that carry weight or significance for them when they negotiate their identity through various stages of negotiations. For some people, the key to these negotiation(s) could be how their credibility, their power, or their self-‐image is viewed during the negotiation process, which directly correlates with identity theory, yet those with whom one may negotiate may have a different set of ideas and beliefs that may be quite different. Identity theory is prominent in every negotiation we enter into in our lives, whether one realizes it or not, as when we negotiate, we also negotiate with ourselves throughout the process, not wanting aspects of ourselves to be scrutinized unnecessarily or brought into question by others as a result of the decisions we make and how we look when we make these decisions. Most people do not desire to be viewed as bad or looking “bad” when making decisions. Identity theory can even extend to one’s possessions others may view, whether at home or at the office, as possessions can also be revealing in discerning one’s identity. In this paper, I will discuss and critique identity theory and how it is relates to negotiation(s) that we as individuals undertake in our daily lives whether it is individually, culturally, or through our possessions or that displays one’s identity. One way to examine identity theory and the negotiation of it is to examine the movie, Death of a Salesman, and the main character Willy Loman, which was created in 1986, based on a play from Arthur Miller. This movie illustrates individuals enacting a
variety of roles or identities within the confines of a day (Zorn, 1991). Those identities and roles can be conflictual in nature, as illustrated by Willy, who perceives the world to consist of those that either like or hate you and that the more refined and polished you appear to be physically, the more people will like you, thus you will be deemed successful. Individually, we choose to enact specific roles that illustrate the desired way that we prefer to be thought of or are viewed through the demonstration of our roles (as cited in McCall and Simmons, 1978), as we seek legitimacy for the various roles we enact within our lives from those who are around us. In many ways, this movie demonstrates the blur between fantasy and reality in regards to one’s identity, as perception and reality become intertwined. We want to please or disprove people and their perception(s) of us. There is no set right or wrong answer in being who you are and how that is represented or viewed by others. Identity negotiation is an on-‐going process that truly knows no end. Identity theory is an ever-‐evolving theory that constantly changes throughout the passing of time. According to Kraus (2006), the development of identity is an ever continuing process that has no closure, but is open to change that is constant. It is not a matter of creating and realizing one specific identity that one may consider to be their own, but rather it is the reframing of ourselves as an individual within a society in which circumstances require us to re-‐consider our identity, as we have numerous selves which can not be comprehended as a single entity, which requires an understanding of the self-‐ other relationship and how we negotiate our identity. Negotiating one’s identity is a process in which those who are identified as perceivers or targets agree in regards within the interaction, in which one’s self-‐views of individual identity are verified (Swann, 2005). This validation is generally accomplished through the solicitation of opinions from others,
which can include, but are not limited to spouses or employers, who may re-‐enforce or validate views one may already believe to be truths, whether it be positive or negative. The outcomes of this validation can have positive and negative ramifications on an individual’s identity, in which individuals may choose to negotiate and change their behavior(s) in an effort to confirm or deny the perception or belief of another. If there is no one who confirms one’s identity, then individuals may choose to self-‐verify, in that they may choose to remove themselves mentally or actually. People tend to accept those who are perceived to be of similar minds in their own beliefs, as if their perception of self is negative, they will gravitate to a person who has a similar perspective, as it is viewed to be more realistic (as cited in Swann, Wenzlaff, & Tararodi, 1992). Individual identity is only a part of the equation that one must negotiate, as the cultural identity of someone also has an impact upon one’s self identity. Individuals identify with a culture and that culture can create conflict(s) within and for one’s self, as members of different cultures attempt to reach out, yet hold back in an effort to secure mutual validation, all the while protecting their vulnerabilities (Jackson, 2002, as cited in Ting-‐Toomey, 1986). This interaction primarily occurs between those that are white and those who are not white and exist inside of every cultural or conversational encounter people have with one another. (as cited in Giles & Johnson, 1987; Hecht, Jackson, and Ribeau, 2003). Pieces of our cultural identity are largely non-‐ negotiable, though belief(s) can be swayed within a persuasive dialogue or a maintained relationship that plays a significant role in how we, as individuals, see and identify ourselves as we choose to, as we deal with other people in which we may give or lose face in communicating our beliefs, values, and ideas and accepting potential wins, losses, all the
while being able to construct our own reality (as cited in Ting-‐Toomey, 1999). For one’s individual identity to take root, that identity has to have meaning when it is initially negotiated personally, meaning one has to accept the meaning of their own identity before they believe it to be true, and recognize there are differences, whether those differences are individual or cultural. Being able to recognize difference(s), is important to understanding one’s identity and relating to it, as it can have the ability to directly relate to those with not only whom one interacts with, but it one’s identity can even be on display through the possessions we own and display for others to view, many of which we take to our jobs or place in our homes. One’s home or office space is an extension of one’s identity, specifically with the possessions one might choose to display, which can be quite revealing, such as family photos. Possessions can say a lot about someone and their identity without the individual so much as uttering a single word. What we see and what another might see by looking at one’s possessions brings about a totally different perspective(s) that one must negotiate in regards to their identity and how one chooses to display it. (Tian and Belk, 2005). Possessions can also be viewed as an invitation to understand someone, though that person may not realize that displaying personal items in a working environment might convey that message, thus we also conceal parts of ourselves when at work. These displays are also can be viewed as attempts for employees to reduce the guilt they feel by having those photos on display, reminding them of their identity beyond the job and the “sacrifices” they are making, justifying it as necessary to better the lives of themselves and their families. These displays also help one think of work as an extended family environment in which co-‐ workers take on the role of being extended family members. The extended self is also a
continually evolving process that changes as well (as cited in Mick and Buhl, 1992, and Belk and Watson, 1998). In closing, everyday there are challenges as it pertains to our identity that we have whether it is individually, culturally, or through our possessions that display one’s identity. People perceive identity and the negotiation(s) of their identities differently, as people have different ideas and interpretations that may carry more weight or significance for them when they negotiate their identity as compared to others. Identity theory is prominent in every negotiation we enter into in our lives, whether one realizes it or not, as its’ influence is not always readily apparent. Individuals, for a myriad of reasons, negotiate their identity utilizing different methods, as everyone have different wants, needs, and desires that they have to determine within themselves throughout the process as to what is important to them and how those decisions may be perceived, not wanting specific aspects of one’s self to be overly scrutinized, unnecessarily criticized, or the decisions we chose to make questioned, especially for the majority of people if it paints them in a negative light. It is important for most people that their appearance not be tarnished, as how they look when making decision(s) or expressing their beliefs is important to them. Most people do not wish to be viewed negatively nor do they desire to look “bad” when making decisions. Identity theory can extend to one’s possessions others may view, whether at home or at the office, as those possessions can be open to interpretation by others, personally or professionally. Cultural relations challenge our identity as well, as there can be numerous individual identity hurdles to overcome when dealing with other cultures, as those hurdles challenge our beliefs and values that we have had instilled in us through our own culture. Accepting and understanding our identity can help us understand the identity of others as
well. We might be different as individuals through our identities, but ultimately we are all people.