CMM theory helping to elevate military cultural competence

CMM theory helping to elevate military cultural competence


This story begins when three educators who work primarily with military- connected students discovered by comparing notes that each had independently applied concepts of the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) theory—particularly “Cosmopolitan Communication” (Pearce, 1989)—to their work with this audience and they had done so for similar reasons. This realization led to the development of a panel presentation at the 2016 conference of the National Communication Association (NCA and is now being further developed as a chapter in a handbook on best practices for communication training for educators and coaches.

The educators are Susan Steen, Ph.D., Lauren Mackenzie, Ph.D., and Barton Buechner, Ph.D. Susan is Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication at the Air Force Culture and Language Center, Lauren is Professor of Military Cross-Cultural Competence at the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, and Bart is a Professor and assessor in the Adler University Masters in Psychology with Emphasis in Military Psychology (MAMP) program.

The focus of their NCA presentation was on the ways that CMM is helping to elevate military cultural competency in the three contexts in which they are directly engaged. These contexts are respectively an in-resident Professional Military Education (PME) program, an online culture education program and a Master’s Psychology program directed towards service members, veterans, their family members, and therapists. All three of these programs were created to assist in developing intercultural competence and communication proficiency for military and veterans as an acknowledgement of the psychological impact and political implications of complex and emotionally-charged environments in which they perform their global missions.

Although relatively little has been written to date in academic literature from a communication perspective about military and veterans issues (Sahlstein Parcell & Webb, 2015) it is an increasingly relevant subject for those involved in teaching and training within this context. Moreover, we also believe that what is being learned working with service members operating under extreme conditions of intercultural interaction may be useful to others whose work involves diverse groups that sometimes come into conflict.

Therefore, while the NCA presentation was constructed as an exploration of the ways that CMM and cosmopolitan communication theories were useful in teaching military and veteran students to be more construct-aware and culturally competent in the operating environment, the book chapter expands this concept further to explain how these same approaches serve as a “best practice” model for possible use by communication educators and coaches. As Susan, Lauren and Bart point out in their introduction, cosmopolitan communication, as originally defined by Barnett Pearce in Communication and the Human Condition (1989) is “a particularly useful concept to be taught to military members, as preparation for work with and among populations where diversity and complexity of experience—and potential for conflicting worldviews—are considerations.”

The handbook chapter contains illustrations of how cosmopolitan communication principles have been applied in teaching and training experienced service members and veterans as “adult learners” in combination with “andragogical principles” (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2015), as a way to help them with making shared meaning of personal and collective experience. The chapter also shows how critical incident methodology (Storti, 2015), commonly used in military planning and assessment, can be used in other communication learning environments and discusses the application of “circular questioning” as a way of shifting attention to multiple perspectives and systemic communicative forces, instead of individual differences or roles (Rossmann, 1995).

While the current handbook chapter does not specifically address this usage, the authors have also discussed the possibility that cosmopolitan communication concepts could be further engaged in addressing “moral injuries,” or damage to the belief systems of individuals that sometimes accompanies traumatic experience. (Jinkerson & Buechner, 2016). Further work in this area may also be forthcoming. More information about the handbook will be made available through the CMM Institute website as the publication is readied for release. Those interested in connecting with the authors about the subject matter are welcome to email Barton Buechner at


Jinkerson, J. & Buechner, B. (2016). Are Moral Injury and PTSD distinct syndromes?: Conceptual differences and clinical implications.  In M. Guilarte, and B. Buechner (Eds.) Veteran and family reintegration: Identity, healing, and reconciliation. Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University Press.

Knowles, M.; Holton, E. F. III, & Swanson, R. (2015).  The adult learner (8th ed). Routledge: New York, New York.

Matoba, K. (2013), Global Integral Competence for Cosmopolitan Communication, CMM Institute Fellows Paper. Retrieved from:

Pearce, W. B. (1989). Communication and the Human Condition. Carbondale, IL: Southern  Illinois University Press.

Pearce, W. B. & Littlejohn, S. (1997). Moral conflict: When social worlds collide (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Mackenzie, L. & Miller, J. (2017).  Intercultural training in the military.  In Y. Kim (Ed.) International encyclopedia of intercultural communication.  Maiden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Rossmann, L. (1995). What if we asked circular questions instead of “rhetorical questions?”: Possibilities for the classroom and daily interactions. Retrieved from

Sahlstein Parcell, E., & Webb L. Eds. (2015).  A communication perspective on the military. New York, New York:  Peter Lang.

Storti, C. (2015). Critical incident methodology. In J. Bennett (Ed.) Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence (pp. 136-138). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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