Managing Rapport through talk across Cultures

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Managing Rapport through talk across Cultures

Spencer-Oatey certainly does not neglect the concept of culture in her book, the second component of the rather lengthy title, though she concedes that ‘culture’ is ‘notoriously difficult to define’ (Spencer-Oatey, 1). In support of this, she cites several authors have noted that “…despite a century of efforts to define culture adequately, there was in the early 1990’s no agreement among anthropologists regarding its nature,” (Apte 1994, p.

2001) Due to the ambiguity of the term, Spencer-Oatey (2000, 2) defines culture as: “…a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioral conventions, and basic assumptions and values that are shared by a group of people, and that influence each member’s behavior and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behavior. ” This definition opens up the field for several issues. At one point, culture is manifested “at different layers of depth, ranging from inner core basic assumptions and values, through outer core attitudes, beliefs and social conventions, to surface level behavioral manifestations” (Spencer-Oatey, 2).

The second issue concerns the sub-surface aspects of culture as influencing people’s behavior and the meanings they themselves attribute to the behavior of other people, i. e. personality. Due to the fact that the members of a cultural group “are unlikely to share identical sets of attitudes, beliefs and so on, but rather show family resemblances,” (Spencer-Oatey, 2), she puts forth the thesis that there is “no absolute set of features that can distinguish definitively one cultural group from another” (Spencer-Oatey, 2).

This is of course stemming from the thesis that culture is associated with social groups. In the social sciences it is a given that all people simultaneously belong to a number of different groups and categories, e. g. ethnic groups, professional groups, gender groups, etc. Another important term directly related to culture is the concept of ‘cross-cultural,’ which for Spencer-Oatey (2000, 3) refers simply to comparative data, i. e. ‘data obtained independently from two different cultural groups.

’ A related term is that of ‘intercultural’ – interactional data obtained ‘when two different cultural groups interact with each other’ (Spencer-Oatey, 3). The speaking component highlighted in the book’s title itself refers to the management of social relations as a specific aspect of communication. Spencer-Oatey goes back to the work of earlier authors such as Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson (1967, as cited in Spencer-Oatey, 1) who had initially proposed that “all language has a content component and relationship component.

” In a similar study, Brown and Yule (1983) had identified two main functions of language: the transactional (information-transferring) and the interactional (maintenance of social relationships), with two corresponding goals – the coherent and accurate conveying of information (transactional) and communication of friendliness and good will in a comfortable and unthreatening manner (interactional). In both cases, culture definitely plays a significant role, and in the two studies it is utilized as an explanatory variable.

Attempting to use culture as an explanatory variable to account for similarities and differences in communication across cultures necessitates appropriate ways to “unpackage” culture before it could be linked to communication outcomes and operative psychological constructs (Spencer-Oatey, 2000). There are dimensions to cultural variability which could be viewed as psychologically comparable among cultures, and these are often used as the tools to account for the differences. There remains however a number of problems in the use of cultural-level values to account for variability in communicative behavior across languages and cultural groups.

Following Gudykunst (2000, as cited in Spencer-Oatey) cultural level variables, e. g. individualism and collectivism, prove to be insufficient if one aims to establish a framework providing causal explanations of social behavior. Cultural level variables may have a direct effect on social behaviors through its influence on cultural norms and the rules specific to a particular culture yet it is important to note that the members of a culture are not socialized in the same way, nor do they adopt a culture’s rules to the same extent.

As such, the socialization processes at the individual level clearly play a mediating role in the influence of cultural level variables on social behaviors. With regards to communication, for Spencer-Oatey et al (2000) pragmatic variables, i. e. factors influencing how people both produce and interpret communicative behavior, can possibly yield important dimensions of cultural variability at the individual level. Of particular interest are two influential aspects of socio-linguistic pragmatics – interactional ‘rules’ (maxims) and contextual factors.

The view that it has now become necessary to move beyond a value approach in the conceptualization of culture has merit, and Spencer-Oatey provides the needed empirical illustrations to give strength to the argument of the need to explore new ways of conceptualizing culture. Contemporary development in linguistics suggests two important ways in which culture can have an impact on language use: pragmatic maxims, and the conventions of use of a particular language (variety).

In illustrating the limits of culture as an explanatory variable, a discussion on politeness theory is presented. ‘Politeness’ often refers to the “use of relatively formal and differential language” (Spencer-Oatey, 2), though as Fraser and Nolan (1981, 96) carefully point out, it is in actuality also a contextual judgment in the sense that “…no sentence is inherently polite or impolite. …it is not the expressions themselves but the conditions under which they are used that determine the judgment of politeness.

” Furthermore, politeness maxims appear to have ‘universal valences,’ wherein one pole of a given dimension is always viewed as more desirable than the other (Spencer-Oatey 2000). Yet interestingly, in different cultures and even in different speech contexts within the same culture, there are different points on the continuum that are more favored over others. There is already a significant body of work researching the universal and culture-specific aspects of politeness behaviors available.

House (2000, cited in Spencer-Oatey) conducted a series of analyses contrasting the English and German spoken and written discourses over the past two decades. Among the interesting findings is the tendency of German students to use less verbal routines than their English counterparts, which appear to lend credence to the insight that they are more direct, content-oriented and self-referenced (House, 162). A temporary cultural dissonance is said to result when participants are unable to retain emotional equilibrium (House, 2000), i.

e. they are overcome by a sense of misunderstanding and disappointment. Emotional reaction for House (2000) is often a “major factor responsible for a deterioration of rapport and for the mutual attribution of negative personal traits which, in turn, prevent any recognition of real differences in cultural values and norms. ” Crucial to Spencer-Oatey’s work is the concept of ‘rapport management’ as an analytical framework, of which a detailed discussed is presented in Chapter 2.

As several attempts have already been undertaken to create language use universals, the concept of ‘face’ as a “universal human need and the key motivating force for politeness and rapport management” has been proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987, as cited in Spencer-Oatey 2000, 12-13). Two related aspects comprise the ‘face’- positive (representing the desire for approval) and negative (desire for autonomy). Meanwhile, critics such as Matsumoto (1988), Ide and Mao (1994) relegates prime importance to that of social identity, as illustrated in Chinese and Japanese cultures (as cited in Spencer-Oatey, 67-68).

A discourse-processing approach is a powerful analytical tool towards in-depth comprehension of how rapport can be mismanaged across cultures through communication. It involves detailed descriptions of the processes utilized in the production and comprehension of discourses, as well as illustrations of how misunderstandings can occur between and within cultures. Emphasis is on the discourses invoked by the participants. With regards to communication processes, prime importance is given to how the discourses are socially constructed and then understood and internalized by the participants of the discourse.

Contrastive discourse studies (Spencer-Oatey 2000) in particular, as illustrated by the researches presented in the second part of the book, are of prime importance when one aims to explain intercultural misunderstandings. Meanwhile, in a pragmatic transfer approach to the study of intercultural communication, its explanatory power in accounting for intercultural encounters is largely based on existing pragmatic knowledge in the communication process (Spencer-Oatey 2000). ‘Pragmatics’ is “the study of the relationships between linguistic forms and the users of those forms” (Yule, 4), i.

e. it is mainly concerned with the notion of implied meanings. The pragmatic transfer framework draws on the perspective of relevance theory. For one to be able to communicate effectively and competently, one needs to know how to choose the appropriate form and the appropriate meaning in order to avoid inter-cultural pragmatic problems. Related to the first two frameworks, Accommodation Theory nonetheless presents a rather different theoretical perspective to account for intercultural discourse.

Focus is on the various manner in which speakers themselves can ‘attune’ their talk more or less to each other (Spencer-Oatey 2000). Thus though all three frameworks are to some extent concerned with processes involved in communication, in contrast to the other two frameworks there is a strong dynamic aspect to human agency in Accommodation Theory, though the manner and extent wherein one can be accommodating in ‘talking’ is still within socio-culturally prescribed boundaries.

In terms of the merits and weaknesses of methodologies, cross-cultural or comparative studies are very useful in providing a rich array of baseline data. However, comparative studies suffer when used for analytical purposes, particularly in providing a comprehensive analytical framework to account for intercultural encounters. As such, the researcher(s) have to go back to and rely on the explanatory power and analytical categorizations provided by theory in order to provide a comprehensive account of the factors influencing performance both in the individual and social levels.

We find in Chapter 6, “Telephone Conversations in Greek and German: Attending to the Relationship Aspect of Communication” the uses of speech act analysis as a research method of collecting data. It recorded observations concerning the opening and closing sections of conversations in authentic Greek and German. Analysis involves a comparison between the two groups of their preferences to attend to the relationship aspect of communication, though of course there are significant limitations to the variables that could be studied, i. e.

those which could possibly affect the management of rapport as it could not encompass all cultural groups and languages. Different styles and beliefs about argumentation of people in initial encounters, which are still largely facilitated by variables of culture, can have a negative effect on how people evaluate their initial interaction, as gleaned from Chapter 10’s empirical study of the negotiation of rapport in Chinese-German conversations. It utilized authentic conversation analysis between Chinese and German students meeting for the first time.

Different methodologies have their own strengths and weaknesses, and a triangulation of methods (e. g. use of survey questionnaire and observational field data) is commonly utilized to cover more extensively the nature of the variables under study. A critical reading of the various inter-cultural studies presented in the book presents one the insight that selection of the appropriate methodology (e. g. conversation analysis, surveys, face-to-face interviews, among others) and analytical framework – discourse processing model, pragmatic transfer, accommodation theory, etc.

– for a research undertaking ultimately depends on the nature of the questions being asked and the aims of the research, wherein one has to select the corresponding methodology which would facilitate the gathering of relevant data for analysis. Works Cited Birkner K. & Kern, F. (2000) Impression Management in East and West German Job Interviews 2000 In H. Spencer-Oatey (Ed. ) Culturally speaking: Managing rapport through talk across cultures. London: Continuum Gudykunst, W. B. (2000). Methodological issues in conducting theory-based cross-cultural research. In H. Spencer-Oatey (Ed.

) Culturally speaking: Managing rapport through talk across cultures (pp. 293-315). London: Continuum. House, J. (2000). Understanding misunderstanding: A pragmatic-discourse approach to anaysing mismanaged rapport in talk across cultures. In H. Spencer-Oatey (Ed. ), Culturally speaking – Managing rapport through talk across cultures (pp. 146-164). London: Continuum. Spencer-Oatey H. ed. (2000) Culturally speaking: Managing rapport through talk across cultures (pp. 293-315). London: Continuum. Yule, G (1996). Pragmatics. In H. G. Widdowson (ed. ) Oxford introductions to language study. Oxford University Press.


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