The basic definition of expectation violations theory concerns how an individual reacts to behavior that is unexpected. Essentially, the behavior that occurs is unexpected and in violation of the individual's personal or private space. The violation can be a variety of different types of communication exchanges. The overall underlying factor here is that each individual responds either positively or negatively to unexpected acts and that the act or rather violation is done on the basis of the violator's free will.
One scenario where expectancy violation theory can be explained is when two individuals are in the workplace in a meeting and one of the individuals gets too close to the other. There is a reasonable understanding among most people that personal space is the amount of area that surrounds them in relation to others. In other words, a certain proximity. Therefore, the scenario here would be two individuals - one referred to as person A (a male) and another referred to as person B (a female). The scenario is person B gets too close to person A where person A becomes uncomfortable. Person B is threatening person A because she feels that she was more qualified for a job position than the individual who received it, and person A was the deciding factor. Person A does not have the expectancy that person B would react in such a volatile and threatening manner because it is out of character.
To make the scenario a bit more intricate, person A is an older male (approximately age 32) and person B is a younger female (approximately age 20). The younger female assumes that she was not chosen because she was young, but the older male denies the allegations and this in turn leads to the personal space violation. As aforementioned, the younger female's personality and overall demeanor has not exhibited this type of communication before. The male assumed that the female would be happy with the decision of who received the position. This assumption was made merely due to the timeframe in which the younger female had been working for the company versus the time the individual who received the position had been working.
Bartsch and Hubner highlight that at the core of the theory is emotion. They diagnose that communication is emotional and that often situations are assessed and examined purely on gender differences and the emotion words and expressions concerning that circumstance (Bartsch and Hubner 3). Essentially, their argument states that each individual when violated offers a particular emotional stance on that violation whether the behavior is typically a part of the behavioral script or not. This would echo the scenario in that person A was shocked at person B's reaction to not being offered the position. Moreover, the words and expressions that the younger female projected to the older male further add to the theory's perception based framework.
In this particular scenario, person A happened to be myself and while there was a sense that person B was just venting, the situation was observed as negative in terms of reward because she did most of the talking. While there was belief that she was qualified for the position, the candidate that was selected had been at the company longer and knew the aspects of the job more closely than the young woman. The individual that was selected for the job was a female also. It was out of character for the young woman who had up until that point complied with all of the duties and requirements for the job she had been working currently in order to qualify for the position she applied for.
The expectancy violation did not result in a disliking of the person because having been in her shoes before in terms of missing out on positions, there is an emotional dynamic that underlies in that no one likes to be rejected or feel slighted. Furthermore, her assumption was that the decision on my part not to choose her was because she was too young, but that was not the reason. I was able to understand her position and how she felt. As a result of the violation, she later apologized for her behavior and I informed her that other positions would be opening up that she could apply for. She ended up opting to leave the company still feeling slighted but in the end, it did not alter my opinion of her nor did her behavior cause me to give her a negative reference. This scenario quite possibly plays out more often than not in companies and organizations. Expectancy violations theory then is a concept that can be used to explain a multiplicity of different situations and circumstances as well as why individuals act the way they do whether or not their behavior is typical of them or not.
Bartsch, Anne, and Susanne Hübner. "Towards a Theory of Emotional Communication." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, vol. 7, no. 4, 2005, pp. 1-8.