The Role of /Overlaps\ in Intercultural Workplace Interaction
The field of workplace communication continues to grow, and globalisation has encouraged researchers to focus on the phenomenon of intercultural interaction in multi-cultural workplaces. Usually, but not exclusively, framed within the constructs of Brown and Levinson's Politeness Theory, intercultural studies have typically concentrated on instances of miscommunication taking a partial, one-sided account of intercultural workplace interaction. Differing social norms for what constitutes politeness have been a major focus of debate into the merits of politeness theory. Overlapping speech, in particular, is one aspect of workplace interaction that has been long neglected in the field of intercultural workplace interaction research. Moving away from the traditional views in the field, the present study takes a positive stance on the study of the interplay of interactional norms of politeness in intercultural face-to-face workplace interaction and investigates how people from different ethnic backgrounds undertake relational work in naturally-occurring workplace exchanges. As the analytic framework, rapport management (developed by Spencer-Oatey) provides a useful reconceptualisation of linguistic politeness with a greater focus on negotiated interaction. The analysis focuses on the role of overlapping speech in this context of interaction guided by two research questions: 1) how does overlapping speech function in workplace interactions in New Zealand? and 2) how are these overlaps intended and 'perceived' by culturally different interactants? To this end, the data for the present study were drawn from two meetings in a large educational institution in New Zealand. In the first phase of data collection, two meetings were video and audio recorded, from which representative extracts containing overlaps were chosen for analysis. In the second phase, individual stimulated recall interviews were held with the participants with the purpose of eliciting participants' intentions and perceptions regarding the use of overlaps. The findings suggest that this group of instructors operate as a Community of Practice (CofP) rather than as ethnic individualities with shared assumptions and expectations regarding the appropriate use of overlaps to cooperatively construct meaning in interaction. This CofP, it was noted, is also strongly oriented towards the maintenance and enhancement of social harmony in their workplace interaction, which influences the use of overlapping speech as a communicative strategy employed to this end. Overall, the study demonstrates that considering intercultural communication from the perspective of rapport management can provide positive insights into how people from different ethnic backgrounds do relational work as they construct meaning in interaction.