Accommodation theory sounds impressive but does it inform the mundane world of law departments and their operations?

A.C. Grayling, Ideas that Matter: the concepts that shape the 21st century (Basic Books 2010) presents the venerable British philosopher’s summaries of 130 major concepts. Most covered in 2-3 pages, approximately 30 of them have already appeared on this blog.

One that has not is accommodation theory, devised in the early 1970s by Howard Giles. “Accommodation theory states that when people talk to each other, they adjust their behavior and manner of speech to take account of (to accommodate themselves to) the topic, the circumstances, and the other people engaged with them in the conversation” (at 2).

Grayling observes that the theory sounds simple on its surface, but he claims it gives profound insights into how miscommunication and misinterpretation can happen, such as within the legal departments and with clients and outside counsel. The theory has to do with information transmission. Whether the topic belongs in Grayling’s list is a hard question. Whether it can guide general counsel is an easier question.

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