mu·tu·al·i·ty (mych-l) adj .


Mutuality is a type of relationship characterized by positive mutual intersubjectivity in which individuals relate to one another based on an interest in each other as whole, complex people.[i] In these relationships, individuals are both affecting and being affected emotionally and physically by one another.[ii] In nature, the purpose of this type of relationship is to obtain correlated benefits through interplay.[iii]


In an article entitled Information, influence, and communication: A reader in public relations, Albert J. Sullivan, coined the term “Principle of Mutuality” which stated: “If one has a right, another…has an obligation to respect that right, to fulfill that right.” Innate in the principle was “rationality”. Sullivan argued that individuals engaged in mutuality must take mutual values[iv] into account in order to retain a balance in the relationship.[v]In other words, individuals must be able to rationally establish an equilibrium between their own wants and needs and the interests and values of others in the relationship.

Examples of Mutuality

  • People living together.
  • Many businesses and organizations and their clients.
  • The government and its citizens.

These examples are organized around the discourses of mutuality, empathy, trust and solidarity.[vi]

Mutuality and Public Relations Efforts

In public relations, although the dialogue created by practitioners is experienced between an organization and its publics rather than specific individuals (as in the situations above), mutuality is still present.[vii]

It has been argued that philosophers and rhetoricians throughout history have considered dialogue the most ethical form of communication. The reason for this is the inherent ability of the individual to separate truth from falsehood through dialogue.[viii]

In the practice of public relations, dialogue is best exemplified by what James E. Grunig deemed “two-way symmetrical communication .” Through two-way symmetrical communication, which is characterized by negotiation, conflict resolution and respect, we can see how this type of relationship can be created between an organization and its publics.[ix]

Organizations have found that in being active in the communities they serve, they can boost mutuality between themselves and their publics. In an attempt to build brand power and brand recognition organizations have engaged efforts such as: group volunteering and other charitable activities, improving relationships between their employees and the public, and creating mechanisms to demonstrate their listening skills as a means to resolve conflicts and promote mutual understanding.[x] These types of efforts enhance human contact and foster “a mutual, strong relationship between the organization and its [publics]”.[xi]


Mutuality, Albert J. Sullivan, intersubjectivity, correlated benefits, rationality, relationship, wants, needs, interests, values, two-way symmetrical communication

[i]Jordan, J. V. (1986). The meaning of mutuality. Wellesley, Mass.: Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies, Wellesley College.
[ii] ^Jordan.
[iii]Good, J. M. (2007). The affordances for social psychology of the ecological approach to social knowing. Theory & Psychology, 17(2), 265-295.
[iv] Grunig, quoting Sullivan, contents that mutual values are one in the same with partisan values and offers the following definition:
Partisan values are deeply human at their source. They flow from a belief in the essential rightness of some person or party or idea, and they underlie the willingness to champion the object of this belief, to further its cause, to defend it, to fight for it.
Grunig, J. E. (2000). Collectivism, collaboration, and societal corporatism as core professional values in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 12(1), 23-48.
[v]Sullivan, A. J. (1965).Values in public relations. In O. Lerbinger&A. Sullivan (Eds.), Information, influence, and communication: Areader in public relations. (pp. 412–439) New York: Basic Books.
[vi] Kenny, Sue. (2002). Tensions and dilemmas in community development: new discourses, new trojans?. Community Development Journal, 37, 4, 284-299.
[vii]Kent, M. & M. Taylor. (1998). Building dialogic relationships through the World Wide Web. Public Relations Review 24(3), 321-334.
[viii] Kent, M. L., & Taylor, M. (2002). Toward a dialogic theory of public relations. Public Relations Review, 28(1), 21-37.
[ix]Vaccari, C. (2010). “Technology is a commodity”: the internet in the 2008 United States Presidential election. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7(4), 318-339.
[x]Brunner, B. (2008). Listening, Communication &; Trust: Practitioners' perspectives of Business/Organizational relationships. International Journal of Listening, 22, 1, 73-82.
[xi] ^Brunner.