Caution and consensus in American business meetings

Christina Wasson

Abstract

This article contributes to studies of politeness and talk in the workplace. In particular, it focuses on the ways in which cautiousness is exercised to achieve consensus in American business meetings. This topic is elaborated against the real-world background of the surveillance culture of corporate America and a tradition of consensus-oriented decision-making, in the theoretical context of politeness theory (adding variables related to the ‘political economy’ of the investigated interactions), and with the methodological insights provided by conversation analysis. ‘Reversals’ are identified as specific turn patterns in face-saving strategies aimed at consensus. Two processes are highlighted: Attempts at protecting oneself through a reversal of opinion, and protecting others by helping them articulate a reversal.

Keywords:
Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Agha, Asif
(1994) Honorification. Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 277–302. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Balholm, Field and Associates
(1992) High commitment high performance team training.
Boden, Deirdre
(1994) The business of talk: Organizations in action. Cambridge: Polity Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre
(1990) The scholastic point of view. Cultural Anthropology 5.4: 380–391. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Briggs, Charles L.
(1997a) Introduction: From the ideal, the ordinary, and the orderly to conflict and violence in pragmatic research. Pragmatics 7.4: 451–459.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(ed.) (1997b) Special issue on conflict and violence in pragmatic research. Pragmatics 7.4.Google Scholar
Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson
(1987) Politeness: Some universals in language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Button, Graham
(ed.) (1992) Technology in working order: Studies of work, interaction, and technology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Caldas-Coulthard, Carmen Rosa, and Malcolm Coulthard
(eds.) (1996) Texts and practices: Readings in critical discourse analysis. London: Routledge.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Dalton, Melville
(1959) Men who manage. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Davidson, Judy
(1984) Subsequent versions of invitations, offers, requests, and proposals dealing with potential or actual rejection. In J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Drew, Paul, and John Heritage
(1992a) Analyzing talk at work: An introduction. In P. Drew and J. Heritage (eds.), Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(eds.) (1992b) Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Duranti, Alessandro
(1992) Intentions, self and responsibility: An essay in Samoan ethnopragmatics. In J.H. Hill and J.T. Irvine (eds.), Responsibility and evidence in oral discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Eelen, Gino
(1999) Politeness and ideology: A critical review. Pragmatics 9.1: 163–173.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ehlich, Konrad, and Johannes Wagner
(eds.) (1995) The discourse of business negotiation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Engeström, Yrjö, and David Middleton
(eds.) (1996) Cognition and communication at work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Fairclough, Norman
(1989) Language and power. London: Longman.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Firth, Alan
(1991) Discourse at work: Negotiating by telex, fax, and phone. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Language and Intercultural Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark.
(ed.) (1995) The discourse of negotiation: Studies of language in the workplace. Oxford: Pergamon.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Foucault, Michel
(1977) Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
(1980) Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972–1977. Translated by Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Sopher. Edited by C. Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
Francis, David
(1995) Negotiation, decision-making and formalism: The problem of form and substance in negotiation analysis. In K. Ehlich and J. Wagner (eds.), The discourse of business negotiation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Gal, Susan
(1989) Language and political economy. Annual Review of Anthropology 18: 345–367. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Gal, Susan, and Kathryn Woolard
(eds.) (1995) Special issue on constructing languages and publics. Pragmatics 5.2.Google Scholar
Goffman, Erving
(1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, Charles
(1986) Between and within: Alternative sequential treatments of continuers and assessments. Human Studies 9: 205–217. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, Charles, and Marjorie Harness Goodwin
(1992) Assessments and the construction of context. In A. Duranti and C. Goodwin (eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, Marjorie Harness
(1982) Processes of dispute management among urban black children. American Ethnologist 9: 76–96. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1983) Aggravated correction and disagreement in children’s conversations. Journal of Pragmatics 7: 657–677. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1990) He-said-she-said: Talk as social organization among black children. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Hill, Jane H., and Judith T. Irvine
(1992) Introduction. In J.H. Hill and J.T. Irvine (eds.), Responsibility and evidence in oral discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jackall, Robert
(1988) Moral mazes: The world of corporate managers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jefferson, Gail, Harvey Sacks, and Emanuel A. Schegloff
(1987) Notes on laughter in the pursuit of intimacy. In G. Button and J.R.E. Lee (eds.), Talk and social organisation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Kangasharju, Helena
(1996) Aligning as a team in multiparty conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 26: 291–319. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Kanter, Rosabeth Moss
(1977) Men and women of the corporation. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Kienpointner, Manfred
(ed.) (1999) Special issue on ideologies of politeness. Pragmatics 9.1.Google Scholar
Kroskrity, Paul, Bambi Schieffelin, and Kathryn Woolard
(eds.) (1992) Special issue on language ideologies. Pragmatics 2.3.
Kunda, Gideon
(1992) Engineering culture: Control and commitment in a high-tech corporation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Lerner, Gene H.
(1993) Collectivities in action: Establishing the relevance of conjoined participation in conversation. Text 13.2: 213–245.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Mao, Lu Ming Robert
(1994) Beyond politeness theory: ‘Face’ revisited and renewed. Journal of Pragmatics 21: 451–486. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Maynard, Douglas W.
(1984) Inside plea bargaining: The language of negotiation. New York: Plenum Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Miller, Laura
(1989) The Japanese language and honorific speech: Is there a Nihongo without keigo? Penn Linguistics Review 13: 38–46.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Mills, C. Wright
(1951) White collar. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Okamoto, Shigeko
(1999) Situated politeness: Coordinating honorific and non-honorific expressions in Japanese conversations. Pragmatics 9.1: 51–74. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ourousoff, Alexandra
(1993) Illusions of rationality: False premises of the liberal tradition. Man 28: 281–298. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Pomerantz, Anita
(1984) Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Riesman, David
(1950) The lonely crowd: A study of the changing American character. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Rosenbaum, James E.
(1984) Career mobility in a corporate hierarchy. Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Sacks, Harvey
(1987) On the preferences for agreement and contiguity in sequences in conversation. In G. Button and J.R.E. Lee (eds.), Talk and social organisation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson
(1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50: 696–735. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Sarangi, Srikant, and Celia Roberts
(1999a) The dynamics of interactional and institutional orders in work-related settings. In S. Sarangi and C. Roberts (eds.), Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(eds.) (1999b) Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schegloff, Emanuel A.
(1995) Parties and talking together: Two ways in which numbers are significant for talk-in-interaction. In P. Ten Have and G. Psathas (eds.), Situated order: Studies in the social organization of talk and embodied activities. Washington: University Press of America.Google Scholar
Schegloff, Emanuel A., Gail Jefferson, and Harvey Sacks
(1977) The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Language 53: 361–382. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schieffelin, Bambi, Kathryn A. Woolard, and Paul Kroskrity
(eds.) (1998) Language ideologies: Practice and theory. New York: Oxford University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schiffrin, Deborah
(1984) Jewish argument as sociability. Language in Society 13: 311–335. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schwartzman, Helen
(1989) The meeting: Gatherings in organizations and communities. New York: Plenum Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Silverstein, Michael
(1998) Contemporary transformations of local linguistic communities. Annual Review of Anthropology 27: 401–426. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Wasson, Christina
(1996) “Your candor would be appreciated”: Performing contradictory identities in business meetings. Paper read at Discourse as Mosaic: Linguistic Re/Production of Identities and Ideologies, at Washington, DC.
(1998) “Feeding the gorilla”: Meetings, work and hierarchy in corporate America. Paper read at American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December 4, Philadelphia.
(2000) “Feeding the gorilla”: Talk and surveillance in business meetings. Paper read at 4th International Conference on Organizational Discourse, July 28, London.
Watts, Richard J.
(1992) Linguistic politeness and politic verbal behavior: Reconsidering claims for universality. In R.J. Watts, S. Ide and K. Ehlich (eds.), Politeness in language: Studies in its history, theory, and practice. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.  BoP. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(1999) Language and politeness in early eighteenth century Britain. Pragmatics 9.1: 5–20.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Watts, Richard J., Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich
(eds.) (1992) Politeness in language: Studies in its history, theory, and practice. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.  BoP. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Whyte, William H.
(1956) The organization man. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
Wodak, Ruth
(ed.) (1989) Language, power, and ideology: Studies in political discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Woolard, Kathryn, and Bambi Schieffelin
(1994) Language ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 55–82. CrossrefGoogle Scholar