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Power and politeness: a study of social interaction in business meetings with multicultural participation

Victoria, Mabelle



In today's increasingly global economy, members of the same work team do not necessarily work in the same country or on the same continent. They speak different mother tongues and belong to different cultural backgrounds. Yet they are faced with the task of collaboratively working as a unified team in order to achieve the company's goals. Drawing upon naturalistic data from meetings of a multinational corporation in Zurich and Amsterdam, this study aims to expand current understanding of workplace communication by exploring how two chairpersons and meeting participants use linguistic resources to contest and negotiate power relations without severely straining the corporate ties that bind them. Selected excerpts from the corpus illustrate the dynamic quality of power which can be emphasized or down-played with the use of linguistic politeness. Polite language, as the data suggest, is not an add-on or a cushioning device to pave the way for the smoother application of power; in workplace interaction, it is a precondition within which power can be exercised. High-ranking chairpersons may have the power to control the content, structure and direction of the meeting but they are constrained by the very same institutional authority from which they draw power. Lower-ranking group members can and do contest power but only do so without tearing at the walls that make the team a unified whole. Indeed, since it is what happens after the meeting that is the bottom line for most companies, it seems in the best interest of leaders and members to cooperate for the sake of the common goal, and consequently for the very survival of their organization.


Victoria, M. (2009). Power and politeness: a study of social interaction in business meetings with multicultural participation. ESP Across Cultures, 129-140

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2009
Online Publication Date Dec 31, 2009
Publication Date Dec 31, 2009
Deposit Date Sep 15, 2016
Publicly Available Date Sep 15, 2016
Journal ESP Across Cultures
Publisher Università di Foggia
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Issue 40
Pages 129-140
Keywords Global economy, workplace communication, power, linguistic politeness, language barriers,
Public URL


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