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Conference Paper: "I can't remember them ever not doing what I tell them!" Negotiating ‘upward’ refusals in multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong
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Title"I can't remember them ever not doing what I tell them!" Negotiating ‘upward’ refusals in multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong
 
AuthorsSchnurr, S
Zayts, O
 
Issue Date2011
 
PublisherInternational Pragmatics Association.
 
CitationThe 12th International Pragmatics Conference, Manchester, UK., 3-8 July 2011. In Abstracts Book of the 12th International Pragmatics Conference, 2011, p. 321-322 [How to Cite?]
 
AbstractThis paper explores refusals in a range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong. Our particular focus is on how junior staff members, who are Hong Kong Chinese, manage refusals towards their superiors who are expatriates working and living in Hong Kong. Refusals are generally complex and potentially risky speech acts as they may threaten interlocutors’ face needs and challenge existing power relations and the status quo (Hayashi 1996; Daly et al. 2004). These issues of power and face are particularly crucial in asymmetrical relationships. Despite abundant research on refusals in a variety of contexts across cultures (e.g. Rubin 1983; Beebe et al. 1990), there is hardly any research on workplaces (with the exception of Daly et al.2004), let alone multicultural workplaces. This is particularly surprising considering that in these contexts members from different socio-cultural backgrounds on a daily basis manage culturally influenced expectations and assumptions of “doing” refusals. We use the framework of rapport management (Spencer-Oatey 2000) and draw on a corpus of authentic discourse collected in a wide range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong including small family owned businesses, SMEs, an NGO, as well as large international financial and consulting corporations. The data contains more than 80 hours of recorded interactions and samples of emails. In addition to these discourse data, the corpus also comprises semi-structured interviews with participants and a range of organisational documents which provide additional insights into the complexities of workplace discourse. Initial findings indicate – perhaps not surprisingly – that there are hardly any upward refusals in the spoken interactions. These observations seem to reinforce participants’ own perceptions as, for example, reflected in the comment of an expatriate leader from the UK who manages an IT company: “I can't remember them [his Chinese local team members] ever not doing what I tell them! Or at least, not agreeing to it”. Moreover, these observations seem to be in line with previous research that claims that in cultures of high power distance, such as Hong Kong, people tend not to question authority and to maintain and reinforce hierarchical relationships (Chee & West 2000). However, while these cultural practices, expectations and values may explain the lack of upward refusals in the spoken interactions, they are challenged to a certain extent by our findings of the emails sample where we identified considerably more refusals upwards – some of which are surprisingly direct and confrontational. These differences in the ways in which upward refusals are constructed and negotiated in different multicultural workplace contexts cannot only be explained by reference to interlocutors’ different socio-cultural backgrounds. Rather, a wide range of other factors, including the different media of communication and aspects of workplace culture, need to be considered in an attempt to understand how interlocutors negotiate issues of face, power and hierarchical relationships when “doing” refusalsupwards.
 
DescriptionContribution to the panel From Refusing to Schmoozing: Investigating Strategic Roadmaps for Negotiating Conflict and Rapport, organized by Boxer Diana
 
DC FieldValue
dc.contributor.authorSchnurr, S
 
dc.contributor.authorZayts, O
 
dc.date.accessioned2012-09-20T08:51:16Z
 
dc.date.available2012-09-20T08:51:16Z
 
dc.date.issued2011
 
dc.description.abstractThis paper explores refusals in a range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong. Our particular focus is on how junior staff members, who are Hong Kong Chinese, manage refusals towards their superiors who are expatriates working and living in Hong Kong. Refusals are generally complex and potentially risky speech acts as they may threaten interlocutors’ face needs and challenge existing power relations and the status quo (Hayashi 1996; Daly et al. 2004). These issues of power and face are particularly crucial in asymmetrical relationships. Despite abundant research on refusals in a variety of contexts across cultures (e.g. Rubin 1983; Beebe et al. 1990), there is hardly any research on workplaces (with the exception of Daly et al.2004), let alone multicultural workplaces. This is particularly surprising considering that in these contexts members from different socio-cultural backgrounds on a daily basis manage culturally influenced expectations and assumptions of “doing” refusals. We use the framework of rapport management (Spencer-Oatey 2000) and draw on a corpus of authentic discourse collected in a wide range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong including small family owned businesses, SMEs, an NGO, as well as large international financial and consulting corporations. The data contains more than 80 hours of recorded interactions and samples of emails. In addition to these discourse data, the corpus also comprises semi-structured interviews with participants and a range of organisational documents which provide additional insights into the complexities of workplace discourse. Initial findings indicate – perhaps not surprisingly – that there are hardly any upward refusals in the spoken interactions. These observations seem to reinforce participants’ own perceptions as, for example, reflected in the comment of an expatriate leader from the UK who manages an IT company: “I can't remember them [his Chinese local team members] ever not doing what I tell them! Or at least, not agreeing to it”. Moreover, these observations seem to be in line with previous research that claims that in cultures of high power distance, such as Hong Kong, people tend not to question authority and to maintain and reinforce hierarchical relationships (Chee & West 2000). However, while these cultural practices, expectations and values may explain the lack of upward refusals in the spoken interactions, they are challenged to a certain extent by our findings of the emails sample where we identified considerably more refusals upwards – some of which are surprisingly direct and confrontational. These differences in the ways in which upward refusals are constructed and negotiated in different multicultural workplace contexts cannot only be explained by reference to interlocutors’ different socio-cultural backgrounds. Rather, a wide range of other factors, including the different media of communication and aspects of workplace culture, need to be considered in an attempt to understand how interlocutors negotiate issues of face, power and hierarchical relationships when “doing” refusalsupwards.
 
dc.description.naturelink_to_OA_fulltext
 
dc.descriptionContribution to the panel From Refusing to Schmoozing: Investigating Strategic Roadmaps for Negotiating Conflict and Rapport, organized by Boxer Diana
 
dc.identifier.citationThe 12th International Pragmatics Conference, Manchester, UK., 3-8 July 2011. In Abstracts Book of the 12th International Pragmatics Conference, 2011, p. 321-322 [How to Cite?]
 
dc.identifier.epage322
 
dc.identifier.hkuros211093
 
dc.identifier.spage321
 
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/166877
 
dc.languageeng
 
dc.publisherInternational Pragmatics Association.
 
dc.publisher.placeUnited Kingdom
 
dc.relation.ispartofAbstracts Book of the 12th International Pragmatics Conference
 
dc.title"I can't remember them ever not doing what I tell them!" Negotiating ‘upward’ refusals in multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong
 
dc.typeConference_Paper
 
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<description.abstract>This paper explores refusals in a range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong. Our particular focus is on how junior staff members, who are Hong Kong Chinese, manage refusals towards their superiors who are expatriates working and living in Hong Kong. Refusals are generally complex and potentially risky speech acts as they may threaten interlocutors&#8217; face needs and challenge existing power relations and the status quo (Hayashi 1996; Daly et al. 2004). These issues of power and face are particularly crucial in asymmetrical relationships. Despite abundant research on refusals in a variety of contexts across cultures (e.g. Rubin 1983; Beebe et al. 1990), there is hardly any research on workplaces (with the exception of Daly et al.2004), let alone multicultural workplaces. This is particularly surprising considering that in these contexts members from different socio-cultural backgrounds on a daily basis manage culturally influenced expectations and assumptions of &#8220;doing&#8221; refusals. We use the framework of rapport management (Spencer-Oatey 2000) and draw on a corpus of authentic discourse collected in a wide range of multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong including small family owned businesses, SMEs, an NGO, as well as large international financial and consulting corporations. The data contains more than 80 hours of recorded interactions and samples of emails. In addition to these discourse data, the corpus also comprises semi-structured interviews with participants and a range of organisational documents which provide additional insights into the complexities of workplace discourse. Initial findings indicate &#8211; perhaps not surprisingly &#8211; that there are hardly any upward refusals in the spoken interactions. These observations seem to reinforce participants&#8217; own perceptions as, for example, reflected in the comment of an expatriate leader from the UK who manages an IT company: &#8220;I can&apos;t remember them [his Chinese local team members] ever not doing what I tell them! Or at least, not agreeing to it&#8221;. Moreover, these observations seem to be in line with previous research that claims that in cultures of high power distance, such as Hong Kong, people tend not to question authority and to maintain and reinforce hierarchical relationships (Chee &amp; West 2000). However, while these cultural practices, expectations and values may explain the lack of upward refusals in the spoken interactions, they are challenged to a certain extent by our findings of the emails sample where we identified considerably more refusals upwards &#8211; some of which are surprisingly direct and confrontational. These differences in the ways in which upward refusals are constructed and negotiated in different multicultural workplace contexts cannot only be explained by reference to interlocutors&#8217; different socio-cultural backgrounds. Rather, a wide range of other factors, including the different media of communication and aspects of workplace culture, need to be considered in an attempt to understand how interlocutors negotiate issues of face, power and hierarchical relationships when &#8220;doing&#8221; refusalsupwards.</description.abstract>
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