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Communication Privacy Management Theory
Sandra Petronio

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction.
  1. Petronio sees communication privacy management theory as a description of how people handle their private information.
  2. Instead of talking about self-disclosure as many relational theorists do, Petronio refers to the disclosure of private information.
  1. A lot of private information we tell others is not about ourselves.
  2. Self-disclosure is usually associated with intimacy, but there can be other motives for disclosure.
  3. It has a neutral connotation, whereas self-disclosure has a positive feel.
  4. It draws attention to the content of what is said and how the confidant responds.
  1. Ownership and control of private information: People believe they own and have a right to control their private information.
  1. We regard private information as something we own.
  1. Petronio defines privacy as “the feeling one has the right to own private information.”
  2. It doesn’t matter if the perception of ownership is accurate.
  1. Ownership conveys rights and obligations.        
  1. Privacy boosts our sense of autonomy and makes us feel less vulnerable.
  2. Our sense of ownership motivates us to create boundaries that will control the spread of what we know.
  1. Rules for concealing and revealing: People control their private information through the use of personal privacy rules.
  1. An easy way to grasp what she means is to remember that people usually have rules for managing their private information.
  2. Five factors play into the development of a person’s unique privacy rules including culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk/benefit ratio.
  1. Cultures differ on the value of openness and disclosure.
  2. With regards to gender, popular wisdom suggests that women disclose more than men, yet research on this issue is mixed at best. Both men and women would more easily reveal private information to a woman.
  3. Petronio emphasizes attraction and liking as interpersonal motives that can loosen privacy boundaries that could not otherwise be breached.
  4. Traumatic events can temporarily or permanently disrupt the influence of culture, gender, and motivation when people craft their rules for privacy.
  5. Risk/benefit ratios do the math for revealing as well as concealing private information.
  1. Disclosure creates a confidant and co-owner: When others are told or discover a person’s private information, they become co-owners of that information.
  1. The act of disclosing private information creates a confidant and draws that person into a collective privacy boundary whether willingly or reluctantly.
  2. Disclosing information to another person results in co-ownership.
  1. The discloser must realize the personal privacy boundary has morphed into a collective boundary that seldom shrinks back to being solely personal.
  2. As co-owners, people tend to feel responsibility for the information, though not always equally.
  3. Those who had the information foisted upon them may be more casual about protecting it.
  1. Coordinating mutual privacy boundaries: Co-owners of private information need to negotiate mutually agreeable privacy rules about telling others.
  1. This pivotal fourth principle of CPM is where Petronio moves from being descriptive to prescriptive.
  2. Assuming the privacy boundaries co-owners place around the information are different, co-owners must negotiate mutual privacy boundaries—collective boundaries that people shape together.
  3. Boundary ownership is the rights and responsibilities that co-owners of private information have to control its spread.
  1. Not all boundary ownership is 50-50.
  2. A deliberate confidant is someone who intentionally seeks private information, and often the more eager they are to be confided in, the less control they have over what they hear.
  3. A reluctant confidant doesn’t want the disclosure, doesn’t expect it, may find the revealed information an unwelcome burden, and often feels only a vague sense of responsibility to disclosed information, resulting in less of an obligation to follow the privacy guidelines of the discloser.
  4. A shareholder is someone fully vested in keeping the information according to the original owner’s rules.
  5. A stakeholder is someone deemed to deserve access and control.
  1. Boundary linkage is the process of the confidant being linked into the privacy boundary of the person who revealed the information.
  1. When the revealer and recipient have a close relationship, the recipient is more likely to deal with the new information the way the revealer wants.
  2. One motive to create further boundary linkages is a desire for social support to cope with difficult information.
  1. Boundary permeability—How much information can flow?
  1. Informational barriers can be closed, thick, or stretched tight allowing little information to pass through, or boundaries can be open, thin, or loosely held allowing information to easily pass through.
  2. Permeability is a matter of degree.
  1. Boundary turbulence - Relationships at risk: When co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow jointly held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  1. Boundary turbulence is “disruptions in the way that co-owners control and regulate the flow of private information to third parties.”
  2. Turbulence can radically alter our relationships by the way it affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  3. Petronio predicts that people react to turbulence in attempts to regulate the disturbed relationships that it creates. 
  4. Fuzzy boundaries occur when there are no recognized mutual boundaries, in which case a confidant resorts to using their own privacy rules to guide what they say to others.
  5. Intentional breaches occur when a confidant purposefully reveals a secret they know the original owner does not want shared.
  1. They may do so to intentionally hurt the original owner or simply because to do so works to their personal advantage.
  2. A confidentiality dilemma occurs when a confidant must breach a collective privacy boundary in order to promote the original owner’s welfare
  1. Not all boundary and relational turbulence comes from privacy rules out of sync or the intentional breach of boundaries.
  1. Sometimes people create turmoil by making mistakes, such as letting secrets slip out when their guard is down or simply forgetting who might have access to the information.
  2. Errors of judgment occur when someone discusses private cases in public places.
  3. A miscalculation in timing can cause turbulence when information is revealed at a bad time.
  1. Critique: Keen diagnosis, good prescription, cure in process?
  1. CPM nicely meets five of the six criteria for a good interpretive theory.
  2. It scores well on providing a new understanding of people, backing that up by sound qualitative research, the support of a community of agreement, clarifying privacy as a value, and calling for reform (though that is a bit of a stretch). 
  3. CPM lacks aesthetic appeal, in both style and clarity.
  4. A gap in the theory is that Petronio does not offer insight on how to conduct negotiations or offer solutions for when boundary turbulence occurs.
  5. Over the 35 years in working with the theory, she’s acknowledged the theory’s ambiguities and repackaged things for improved clarity.

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see View by Type

Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more













Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Communication Privacy Management Theory
Sandra Petronio

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction.
  1. Petronio sees communication privacy management theory as a description of how people handle their private information.
  2. Instead of talking about self-disclosure as many relational theorists do, Petronio refers to the disclosure of private information.
  1. A lot of private information we tell others is not about ourselves.
  2. Self-disclosure is usually associated with intimacy, but there can be other motives for disclosure.
  3. It has a neutral connotation, whereas self-disclosure has a positive feel.
  4. It draws attention to the content of what is said and how the confidant responds.
  1. Ownership and control of private information: People believe they own and have a right to control their private information.
  1. We regard private information as something we own.
  1. Petronio defines privacy as “the feeling one has the right to own private information.”
  2. It doesn’t matter if the perception of ownership is accurate.
  1. Ownership conveys rights and obligations.        
  1. Privacy boosts our sense of autonomy and makes us feel less vulnerable.
  2. Our sense of ownership motivates us to create boundaries that will control the spread of what we know.
  1. Rules for concealing and revealing: People control their private information through the use of personal privacy rules.
  1. An easy way to grasp what she means is to remember that people usually have rules for managing their private information.
  2. Five factors play into the development of a person’s unique privacy rules including culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk/benefit ratio.
  1. Cultures differ on the value of openness and disclosure.
  2. With regards to gender, popular wisdom suggests that women disclose more than men, yet research on this issue is mixed at best. Both men and women would more easily reveal private information to a woman.
  3. Petronio emphasizes attraction and liking as interpersonal motives that can loosen privacy boundaries that could not otherwise be breached.
  4. Traumatic events can temporarily or permanently disrupt the influence of culture, gender, and motivation when people craft their rules for privacy.
  5. Risk/benefit ratios do the math for revealing as well as concealing private information.
  1. Disclosure creates a confidant and co-owner: When others are told or discover a person’s private information, they become co-owners of that information.
  1. The act of disclosing private information creates a confidant and draws that person into a collective privacy boundary whether willingly or reluctantly.
  2. Disclosing information to another person results in co-ownership.
  1. The discloser must realize the personal privacy boundary has morphed into a collective boundary that seldom shrinks back to being solely personal.
  2. As co-owners, people tend to feel responsibility for the information, though not always equally.
  3. Those who had the information foisted upon them may be more casual about protecting it.
  1. Coordinating mutual privacy boundaries: Co-owners of private information need to negotiate mutually agreeable privacy rules about telling others.
  1. This pivotal fourth principle of CPM is where Petronio moves from being descriptive to prescriptive.
  2. Assuming the privacy boundaries co-owners place around the information are different, co-owners must negotiate mutual privacy boundaries—collective boundaries that people shape together.
  3. Boundary ownership is the rights and responsibilities that co-owners of private information have to control its spread.
  1. Not all boundary ownership is 50-50.
  2. A deliberate confidant is someone who intentionally seeks private information, and often the more eager they are to be confided in, the less control they have over what they hear.
  3. A reluctant confidant doesn’t want the disclosure, doesn’t expect it, may find the revealed information an unwelcome burden, and often feels only a vague sense of responsibility to disclosed information, resulting in less of an obligation to follow the privacy guidelines of the discloser.
  4. A shareholder is someone fully vested in keeping the information according to the original owner’s rules.
  5. A stakeholder is someone deemed to deserve access and control.
  1. Boundary linkage is the process of the confidant being linked into the privacy boundary of the person who revealed the information.
  1. When the revealer and recipient have a close relationship, the recipient is more likely to deal with the new information the way the revealer wants.
  2. One motive to create further boundary linkages is a desire for social support to cope with difficult information.
  1. Boundary permeability—How much information can flow?
  1. Informational barriers can be closed, thick, or stretched tight allowing little information to pass through, or boundaries can be open, thin, or loosely held allowing information to easily pass through.
  2. Permeability is a matter of degree.
  1. Boundary turbulence - Relationships at risk: When co-owners of private information don’t effectively negotiate and follow jointly held privacy rules, boundary turbulence is the likely result.
  1. Boundary turbulence is “disruptions in the way that co-owners control and regulate the flow of private information to third parties.”
  2. Turbulence can radically alter our relationships by the way it affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  3. Petronio predicts that people react to turbulence in attempts to regulate the disturbed relationships that it creates. 
  4. Fuzzy boundaries occur when there are no recognized mutual boundaries, in which case a confidant resorts to using their own privacy rules to guide what they say to others.
  5. Intentional breaches occur when a confidant purposefully reveals a secret they know the original owner does not want shared.
  1. They may do so to intentionally hurt the original owner or simply because to do so works to their personal advantage.
  2. A confidentiality dilemma occurs when a confidant must breach a collective privacy boundary in order to promote the original owner’s welfare
  1. Not all boundary and relational turbulence comes from privacy rules out of sync or the intentional breach of boundaries.
  1. Sometimes people create turmoil by making mistakes, such as letting secrets slip out when their guard is down or simply forgetting who might have access to the information.
  2. Errors of judgment occur when someone discusses private cases in public places.
  3. A miscalculation in timing can cause turbulence when information is revealed at a bad time.
  1. Critique: Keen diagnosis, good prescription, cure in process?
  1. CPM nicely meets five of the six criteria for a good interpretive theory.
  2. It scores well on providing a new understanding of people, backing that up by sound qualitative research, the support of a community of agreement, clarifying privacy as a value, and calling for reform (though that is a bit of a stretch). 
  3. CPM lacks aesthetic appeal, in both style and clarity.
  4. A gap in the theory is that Petronio does not offer insight on how to conduct negotiations or offer solutions for when boundary turbulence occurs.
  5. Over the 35 years in working with the theory, she’s acknowledged the theory’s ambiguities and repackaged things for improved clarity.

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