Meetings are the backbone of organizational life and as such constitute an important component of workplace discourse. We expand here upon earlier work which suggests that a meeting constitutes a distinct genre, taking informal rather than formal meeting talk as our focus. To further explore the genre theory perspective, the analysis draws on theoretical and analytical tools deriving from work on “activity types” (Levinson, Activity types and language, Cambridge University Press, 1992 ) by concentrating on the role of the meeting chair which is characterized as a structural device for managing these interactions. Acts that index “chairing” are analyzed as discourse types (Sarangi, ATs, DTs and interactional hybridity: The case of genetic counselling, Harlow, 2000) enacted in the context of the corporate (informal) meeting activity type.
We analyze data from two comparable data sets, one recorded in Europe and one in New Zealand. Despite the effect of local context on the instantiation of the meeting event, there seem to be generalizable features (e.g., the chair's function in openings and closings and the agenda) which make meetings recognizable to participants. The findings indicate striking similarities across the organizations, lending support to the existence of a meeting genre, and emphasizing the significance of the chair role which shapes and is shaped within the context of the genre. We close the paper by discussing how the activity- and discourse-type approach can contribute to the study of spoken business genres.
One important function of narratives in workplace interaction is the valuable contribution they make to the construction of complex social identities. These identities typically include a professional or workplace identity, but may also include other facets of self. In the New Zealand workplace, a mainstream ‘white’ identity can be considered the unmarked, communicative cultural norm. In this context, storytelling provides a creative and socially acceptable strategy for constructing a contrasting ethnic identity. This paper explores the ways in which ethnicity is constructed in a New Zealand Māori organization that comprises an ethnically distinct community of practice. An extended narrative sequence (extracted from a naturally occurring meeting) is analyzed in detail for this purpose. Despite the predominance of English as the language of work in this organization, there is abundant evidence of the pervasive relevance of Māori cultural principles. For these workers, ethnicity acts as a backdrop for all their workplace communication; well-established culturally based norms underpin the ways in which they interact, and the ways in which they construct their social (including ethnic) identity. In this context, the stories told at work contribute not only to the construction of the ethnic identity of individual speakers, but also provide a means for co-constructing a distinctive Māori identity for the group.
In New Zealand, as in many other post-colonial societies, biculturalism is a one-way street: Māori New Zealanders are more likely to be bicultural than are Pākehā New Zealanders. Consequently it is Māori norms, including discourse norms, which are more likely to be ignored in most New Zealand workplaces, with the potential for misunderstanding, and even for offence and unintended insult.
Our research in Māori and Pākehā workplaces suggests that unintended impoliteness can subtly infiltrate the core activities of workplaces, namely workplace meetings. We illustrate this by examining differences in the ways in which Māori and Pākehā New Zealanders open and close meetings, and the ways in which Māori and Pākehā make critical comments about the behaviour of workplace employees, relating these discourse moves to considerations of politeness and impoliteness. Our data suggests that while Māori meeting openings tend to be direct, explicit, and elaborated, Pākehā meeting openings are brief and minimal. On the other hand, Māori critical comments in the workplace tend to be indirect, implicit and generalized, while at least in some Pākehā workplaces, criticism can be direct, contestive, and confrontational. The paper concludes by emphasizing that the tendencies identified are based on exploratory research, and that further research is needed to confirm or contest our tentative generalizations.
This paper explores a specific dimension of intercultural interaction by examining how leadership is enacted specifically through talk by two Māori male managers in New Zealand professional organizations. Any effective leader must be able to provide strong direction to his or her team, as well as having well-developed relational skills, and examples are provided to show how each leader achieves these facets of leadership in a very specific intercultural context. Both leaders work in organizations within a society with predominantly western (Pākehā) values, but which are nevertheless committed to promoting Māori values and furthering Māori goals; ethnicity is thus an important and omni-relevant aspect of interaction in these workplaces. Their Māori values and identity are salient features of the managers' interactions, and integral to their leadership styles and the way they each enact their roles as leaders. Māori concepts such as tikanga (customs), kawa (protocols) and whakaiti (humility), along with the importance given to family and looking after people in Māori culture, are evident. Although some of these values are shared by Pākehā, the analysis highlights areas which contrast with the way Pākehā managers lead in majority group organizational contexts.
Drawing on authentic workplace interactions, this paper examines the ways in which effective leaders use humor as a discursive resource to construct particular aspects of leadership style. The conventional wisdom in leadership studies suggests that humor is an important tool for “good” leaders who inspire and challenge their subordinates. The management studies literature suggests a basic distinction between a traditional transactional style, which is rule-driven and task focused, and a more favored transformational style, where leaders encourage creativity and innovation, and are characterized as inspirational. Using data collected in a range of New Zealand organizations, this paper explores and illustrates the wide range of functions served by humor, and the ways in which humor contributes to aspects of the construction of leadership styles. Our analysis supports recent proposals that many effective leaders combine aspects of both transactional and transformational styles of leadership.