Relational Control Essay

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Frank E. Millar University of Wyoming Relational control is the most dynamic of the three dimensions of social relationships proposed by Millar and Rogers (1987) – the other two are trust and intimacy. Control represents the vertical “distance” between the persons in an ongoing interaction; it refers to the pattern of rights and obligations to define or direct and to defer or accept the other’s assertions while constructing the continually re-produced form of any interpersonal relationship. The temporal relevance of control is the present, since the right to direct and the obligation to accept the dyad’s form varies by topics, social roles, and social settings.

Functionally, control structures serve to regulate how each person acts toward and with the other and the dyad’s ability to accomplish interdependent and individual goals subjective judgments about the vertical distance between persons are encapsulated in the notions of freedom and equity. Freedom concerns the possibility of one’s own actions affecting the forms and outcomes of the relationship, while equity judgments concern the fairness of one’s own rewards in comparison to the other’s, considering the amount and type of one’s contributions to the relationship.

Relational control has been most frequently measured with the Relational Communication Control Coding System (RCCCS ), or some modification of it (Rogers and Escudero 2004). Briefly, the RCCCS uses a three-digit code to categorize any speech turn; the first digit codes the speaker, the second codes the verbalization’s format, and the third classifies the turn’s response mode relative to the prior statement from the previous speaker.

Two measures of the relational control dimension have received a fair amount of empirical attention. Dominance is operationally defined as the number of one-up moves responded to with a one-down maneuver. Dominance is a momentary outcome in an ongoing conversation where one person asserts a definition of the relationship and the other accepts that assertion. Redundancy is operationally defined as the sum of the absolute deviation from random use of the nine transactional configurations indexed by the RCCCS . Either highly redundant or highly chaotic patterns are problematic for the relationship.


  1. Millar, F. E. & Rogers, L. E. (1987). Relational dimensions of interpersonal dynamics. In M. E. Roloff & G. R. Miller (eds.), Interpersonal processes: New 528 relational control directions in communication research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 117–139.
  2. Rogers, L. E. & Escudero, V. (eds.) (2004). Relational communication: An interactional perspective to the study of process and form. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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