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A Discourse Analysis of Decision-Making Meetings
Jolanta Aritz Robyn C. Walker
University of Southern California

Measuring culture is a central issue in international management research and has been traditionally accomplished using indices of cultural values. Although a number of researchers have attempted to identify measures to account for the core elements of culture, there is no consensus on those measures. This article uses an alternative method—discourse analysis—to observe what actually occurs in terms of communication practices in intercultural decision-making meetings, specifically those involving U.S.-born native English speakers and participants from East Asian countries. Previous discourse studies in this area suggest that differences in communication practices may be attributed to power differentials or language competence. Our findings suggest that the conversation style differences we observed might be attributed to intergroup identity issues instead. Keywords: intercultural communication; intercultural communication; group communication; discourse analysis; intercultural management; group decision making; communication accommodation theory

In an increasingly global economy, multicultural work teams are becoming more commonplace, and fostering teamwork in multicultural teams is a growing challenge. The growing body of intercultural research suggests important
Jolanta Aritz is an Associate Professor of Clinical at the Center for Management Communication at the Marshall School of Business at USC. She teaches business communication courses in the Marshall undergraduate and graduate programs. Robyn C. Walker is an Assistant Professor of Clinical at the Center for Management Communication at the Marshall School of Business at USC. She teaches business communication courses in the Marshall undergraduate and graduate programs. The authors want to acknowledge the financial support of the Office of the Provost at the University of Southern California and the support of the Marshall School of Business Faculty Research Fund. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jolanta Aritz, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, Trousdale Parkway, ACC 400, Los Angeles, CA 90089; e-mail:
Journal of Business Communication, Volume 47, Number 1, January 2010 20-41 DOI: 10.1177/0021943609340669 © 2010 by the Association for Business Communication

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differences in teamwork across cultures and points to the complexity of culturally diverse teams. Studies have shown that the composition of the team determines the success of the group and may prevent the group from reaching its performance potential (Earley & Gibson, 2002; Earley & Mosakoski, 2000; Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Ravlin, Thomas, & Ilsev, 2000). Studies on culturally diverse teams demonstrate that moderately heterogeneous groups experience significant communication problems, relational conflict, and low team identity that have a dysfunctional impact on team effectiveness (Jehn, Chadwick, & Thatcher, 1997). As a rule, heterogeneous teams report reduced satisfaction with the team, which, in turn, negatively affects team performance (Earley & Mosakoski, 2000; Jehn et al., 1999; Ravlin et al., 2000). Although previous studies suggest important differences in teamwork across cultures, they do not adequately address the complexity of issues affecting culturally diverse teams and do not identify the specific factors that contribute to these differences (Earley & Gibson, 2002). A recurring criticism of existing research on intercultural teams and intercultural communication is of the methodology used. Intercultural differences arise as a result of differences in cognitive styles and cultural values that have not been adequately examined in the current literature. Earley and Gibson (2002) mention a disadvantage of staying within one’s disciplinary boundaries and the lack of familiarity with other research methods. Du-Babcock (2005) points out that although most group communication research has been conducted by psychologists, little research has been done by communication researchers. In addition, some researchers criticize the attitudinal research methods and self-reports that are typically used for studies in this area (Du-Babcock, 2005; Graham, 1985). The main criticisms of these methods are their subjectivity and the assumption that the subjects have great self-understanding and accurate self-perceptions and that they report honestly to the questions. Rogelberg and Rumery (1996) specifically recommend the use of videotaped data analysis for investigating group interactions to overcome some of these problems.

The main criticisms of these methods are their subjectivity and the assumption that the subjects have great selfunderstanding and accurate self-perceptions and that they report honestly to the questions.

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The field of intercultural communication has been criticized for failing to produce studies that focus on actual practices of communication, especially of intercultural encounters. Carbaugh (2007) suggests that discourse analysis is one solution to this problem in that it brings together two important insights: (a) the cultural shaping of communication practices, including its nonverbal features, competence and (b) the interactional dynamics that occur among culturally shaped communication practices. In this study, we use discourse analysis and observational methods to study how member participation in meetings changes when teams are formed on multicultural basis. We document differences in discourse patterns of teams of different composition. Our findings indicate that there are significant differences in the discourse patterns of U.S.-born English speakers and their Asian-speaking counterparts when speaking English and working in mixed groups. Our analysis suggests that conversational style differences might be attributed to interpersonal and intergroup identity issues rather than language proficiency or power differentials. The article discusses implications for managing and training intercultural teams and outlines directions for future research.

Measuring culture is a central issue in international management research and is traditionally accomplished using indices of cultural values. In this view, culture is generally defined as a pattern of deep level values and assumptions concerning societal functioning, which is shared by an interacting group of people (Adler, 2002; Maznevski, DiStefano, Gomez, Noorderhaven, & Wu, 2002; Schwartz & Bilsky, 1990). A deep level, personal value is a “broad tendency to prefer certain states of affairs over others” (Hofstede, 1980, p. 19) and expresses explicitly or implicitly desirable states or conditions to an individual (Kuckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961). Deep level values influence the selection of available activity modes, means and ends, specify general preferences, and reflect the generally held beliefs about what is right and wrong (Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz, 1999). Consequently, value systems, comprised of beliefs, assumptions, and norms are the core elements of culture (Hofstede, 2001; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961; Schwartz & Bilsky, 1990). Cultural values are learned very early in life as people are socialized into their respective environments within particular societies and are very difficult

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to relearn or change (Hofstede, 2001). As such, culture viewed primarily as a value system, presents a deep, inner, usually unconscious influence on individual mentalities and social behaviors (Adler, 2002; Maznevski & Peterson, 1997; Schwartz, 1999). Perhaps the most popular measures of the cultural values approach have been proposed by Hofstede (1980). Hofstede provided numerical values for four measures of culture, allowing cultural differences to be directly used as independent (or moderating) variables to explain differences in behaviors in business settings across cultures. Specifically, Hofstede’s study identified Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance as the four dimensions of cultural variation. There are limits to the usability of these values-based measures of culture, however. One question that arises is whether Hofstede’s measures might only be reliably applied to areas of the world where his initial sample had operations (primarily developed nations and Latin America.). Hofstede’s study has come under more direct challenge by the GLOBE research project, which tested its results against his to find that although the Power Distance practices measure correlated with his, the Power Distance values did not (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). In addition, GLOBE’s Gender Egalitarian dimension had no relation to Hofstede’s Masculinity dimension. Graham (2004) criticizes the values-based approach to culture on two grounds. The first has to do with usability. Because of cost, researchers are constrained in the breadth of their work, limiting comparisons to Hofstede’s indices (for example) to areas of the world that he sampled. Another concern is whether the values expressed in particular organizations (the basis of Hofstede’s study) reflect the values of the population as a whole. Finally, it is recognized by many that values are not the only manifestation of culture that can be measured. For his part, Graham (2004) proposes a more fundamental cultural dimension based on linguistic distance, an approach that might itself be criticized because of its reliance on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or the idea that language determines the thought patterns of its speakers. Other criticisms of the monolithic approach to culture come from Earley and Gibson (2002), who claim that intercultural research can be problematic because culture is typically confounded with other attributes of society, such as various institutions and economic systems, or it remains entirely unspecified or implicit in the model being used. Jameson (2007) poses a similar criticism, claiming that Hofstede’s study defines culture in general, inclusive ways but operationalize it in a narrow specific way. She

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says that Hofstede (1980) saw culture as the “collective programming of the mind” (p. 13) but studied cultural differences as they relate to nationality (p. 201). Jameson (2007) aims the same critique at Gudykunst and Kim (1992) in their definition of culture as “systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people” (p. 13) but who identify groups in terms of political boundaries between countries (p. 201). Jameson proposes that scholars focus more on cultural identity rather than nationality or even ethnicity. More recently, scholars have moved to interactionist studies to better understand how culture may affect actual practices within an organization. Franklin (2007), for example, points out that Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are relatively far removed from the daily communication situations and offer no insights into how to interact across cultures in different management activities, such as decision making, project planning, conducting a meeting, or giving feedback to a staff member. In her studies of Japanese and American coworkers and the use of “indirectness”, Miller (1994, 1995) found that generalized cultural differences do not hold in these encounters. She found that the social relationship of the participants, their assumptions about the nature of the communicative task, and the manner in which indirectness is manifested affects the mutual interpretation of directness (p. 37). Based on her findings, she suggests that a contextsensitive, interactional approach to situated talk be used to locate pragmatic misunderstandings and other communication phenomena that other methods fail to identify.

More recently, scholars have moved to interactionist studies to better understand how culture may affect actual practices within an organization.

Scollon and Scollon (1995) have approached the problem of culture by expanding it to include ideology or beliefs, values, and religion; socialization; forms of discourse; and face systems or social organizations that include kinship, the concept of the self and in-group–out-group relations. Following on these observations, this study uses discourse analysis to look at how actual practices of communication might provide more insight into intercultural communication situations.

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Discourse analysis is a powerful methodology, offering an additional perspective into how the micro (culture-specific discourse structures) connects with the macro (organizational function of intercultural teams), a connection that more traditional participant observational studies, attitudinal research methods and self-reports have been unable to make because of the methodological shortcomings, which include the subjectivity of such methods. As Johnstone (2002) points out, by doing discourse analysis we are interested in what happens when people draw on the knowledge they have about language to do things: exchange information, make decisions, form relationships, and so on. Discourse analysis has shed light on how speakers indicate their semantic intentions through the arrangement of chunks of information across a series of sentences and how hearers interpret what they hear and how their responses are shaped based on this interpretation. In other words, the practice of talking provides the framework for the speakers to assign meaning to the talk. For example, Scollon and Scollon (1995) point out that the differences in communication arise not so much from the cultural differences between people in professional communication situations but as a result of being members of different corporate and professional discourse communities. In other words, culture treated as a monolith may not describe what actually occurs between people in situations requiring communication. Scollon and Scollon (1995) argue that the widely observed differences between Westerners and Asians are not due to any inherent differences between Westerners and Asians but due to differences in face relationships. Asians generally are concerned with showing deference or respect in interactions with nonintimates as compared with Westerners, who emphasize egalitarian interpersonal relationships. Such differences lead to different rhetorical strategies and different systems of discourse. These different discourse systems in turn affect group performance and lead to different levels of leadership, team identity, relational conflict, and satisfaction among members of multinational teams as documented by previous studies. The popularity of discourse as an area of study in organizations has grown recently (Alvesson & Karreman, 2000a, 2000b; Bargiella-Chiappini, Nickerson, & Planken, 2007; Grant, Keenoy, & Oswick, 1998; Putnam & Fairhurst, 2001). One reason is that discourse analysts not only are looking at what is discursive about organizations, but they also assume that discourse is an organizing feature in itself. This question was put forth by Hawes

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(1974) when he suggested that discourse is the way that organizations organize in the first place, stay organized and sometimes, disorganize. Discourse analysts pay attention to how organizational members orient to one another through discourse. Studies have looked at how speech acts, such as requests versus commands signal relational differences (Cooren, 2001); how membership categories like boss or employee confer status (Boden, 1994); how speech forms, such as interruptions, hesitations, nonfluencies and forms of address, and turn-taking patterns signal dominance of submission (Fairhurst, 1993); how narrative structures organize action hierarchically into embedded subroutines (Cooren, 2001; Taylor &Van Every, 2000); and how constellations of talk, ideas, and assumptions that form power/knowledge systems relate to the construction of key organizational roles (du Gay, ., Salaman, & Rees, 1996; Knights & Wilmott, 1992). In these studies, discourse is seen as the foundation on which organizations are built. Many scholars who study the organizing properties of discourse frame organizations as discursive constructions (Alvesson & Karreman, 2000a; Boden, 1994; Cooren & Taylor, 1997), although such framing is subject to differ interpretations. For the purposes of this study, we assume that the organization can be conceptualized as grounded in action and anchored in social practices and discursive forms. A second assumption we make is to view organizational discourse as language in use and as interaction process, which simply means that we focus on the study of talk and text in social practices. This contrasts to a view of discourse that looks at the more general, historical processes that take place outside the text and that influence power/knowledge relations. Discourse analysis is not a unitary field; it embraces a host of methodological and theoretical positions. This study uses interaction analysis (IA) as its primary methodology. IA involves the categorization of discourse units, according to a predefined set of codes (Bakeman & Gottman, 1986). It is a quantitative approach to discourse analysis that draws from message functions and language structures to assess the frequency and types of verbal interaction. Particular emphasis is given to the sequences and stages of interaction, their redundancy and predictability, and the links between interactional structures and the organizational context (Putnam & Fairhurst, 2001). As such, analysis of interaction is temporal through forms or patterns of ongoing message exchange (Gottman, 1982). Interaction analysts are particularly interested in mapping long chains of behavior, examining inclusive levels of temporal form, and depicting the general nature or shape of an interaction (Holmes & Rogers, 1995).

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IA itself is not a unitary field but also uses different theoretical foundations, units of analysis, observational modes, and study designs. But generally speaking, IA has been used to examine such organizational constructs as leadership, strategies and tactics of negotiation, and faithful or unfaithful appropriations of technology as they evolve from communication systems (Fairhurst & Cooren, 2004). Most interaction analyses focus on relational processes in which an organization is cast as an already formed entity whose features constrain relationships (Fairhurst, 2004). In this study, we use IA and observational methods to study how contribution and participation in conversation changes when two different cultural groups involved in decision making move from being a majority to being a minority in multicultural groups. This approach has been used by other researchers in the area of business discourse with differing results. Du-Babcock and Babcock (1996) have found that both language proficiency and cultural orientations affect the communication processes between local Chinese personnel and English-speaking expatriates in 14 organizations in Taiwan. Charles (2007) noted the disadvantage nonnative speakers of English face when they operate in the lingua franca of the business domain (i.e., English) but are being judged by native speakers of English according to the latter’s cultural norms. Within this framing of the situation, power differentials create communication challenges. However, another theoretical frame, Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) that focused on interpersonal and intergroup identity provides an alternative explanation for the communication differences found in multicultural teams.

CAT is a multifunctional theory that conceptualizes communication in both subjective and objective terms. It focuses on both intergroup and interpersonal features and can integrate dimensions of cultural variability (Gallois, Giles, Jones, Cargile, & Ota, 1995). In addition to individual communication factors, CAT recognizes the importance of power and of macrocontextual factors (Gallois et al., 1995). A basic assumption of the theory is that interpersonal as well as intergroup relations are managed by means of communication (Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005). Gallois and Giles (1998) noted that CAT’s focus is most appropriately around the extent to which interlocutors apprehend the interaction in intergroup or interpersonal terms. Everything else, from motives to strategies to actual behaviors, flows from this apprehension.
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The initial stage of the development of the theory focused on the strategies of convergence and divergence of speech styles during social encounters and has expanded into an interdisciplinary model of relational and identity processes in interaction (Coupland & Jaworski, 1997). In other words, it looks at both the process of production and that of reception. On the production side, CAT focuses on three basic strategies of accommodation: convergence, divergence, and maintenance. Convergence is defined as a strategy through which individuals adapt their communicative behavior in such a way as to become more similar to their interlocutor’s behavior. Divergence leads to an accentuation of differences between self and other, whereas maintenance is the strategy in which a person persists in his or her original style regardless of the communication behavior of the interlocutor.

Divergence leads to an accentuation of differences between self and other, whereas maintenance is the strategy in which a person persists in his or her original style regardless of the communication behavior of the interlocutor.

The current full CAT model places intergroup encounters as occurring in a sociohistorical context, which is a key influence on the initial orientation of speakers to treat each other in intergroup terms, interpersonal terms, or both (Gallois et al., 2005). In any interaction situation, which is governed by norms that may enhance or inhibit accommodative moves, speakers take a psychological accommodative stance, depending on the salience of affective or cognitive motives and social or personal identities (Gallois et al., 2005). In terms of the intercultural aspect of the model, it is constrained to the dimension of individualism-collectivism, which is the relative importance attached by a cultural group to the individual as opposed to the group (Triandis, 1995). Individualism–collectivism helps characterize the strength and exclusiveness of identification with in-groups (Gallois et al., 1995). Individualists belong to many in-groups and have weaker beliefs about identification and loyalty whereas collectivists belong to few ingroups and share strong beliefs about in-group identification and loyalty (Gallois et al., 2005). Collectivists also emphasize group identity and thus tend to make sharper distinctions between in-group and out-group. In
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contrast, individualists value group identities less and personal identity more. They make more interpersonal rather than intergroup comparisons (Gallois et al., 2005). These characteristics of individualists and collectivists have implications for communication situations involving both of them. For example, individualists may react to convergence from out-group speakers in a relatively positive manner and thus converge their communication style toward out-group speakers in a reciprocal way (Gallois et al., 2005). Because they have softer intergroup boundaries, they may view convergence in conversation style by out-group members more positively. Conversely, though, collectivists who perceive harder intergroup boundaries may react to communicative convergence from out-group members more negatively and diverge in their own style if they perceive convergence is overstepping a valued cultural boundary. According to Gallois et al., (1995), collectivists are likely to diverge more from out-group interlocutors, both psychologically and linguistically than individualists. Our research thus looks at the communication styles of individualists— U.S.-born native speakers of English—and those of collectivists—native speakers of East Asian languages—to address the following questions:
Research Question 1: Are there significant differences in the participation and contribution patterns of U.S.-born speakers and those from East Asian cultures in heterogeneous groups? Research Question 2: Does team composition have an effect on the participation and contribution of speakers of East Asian language and U.S.born native English speakers? Research Question 2a: How does participation and contribution styles change when U.S.-born native English speakers speak as a majority versus their conversational style when they are a minority in intercultural teams that are also composed of U.S.-born native English speakers and native speakers of East Asian languages? Research Question 2b: How does participation and contribution styles change when native speakers of East Asian languages are a majority versus their discourse style when they are a minority in intercultural teams that are also composed of U.S.-born native English speakers and native speakers of East Asian languages?

We analyzed decision-making meetings across groups of different cultural composition, in particular, teams consisting of U.S.-born native English speakers and nonnative English speakers of East Asian descent.
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We used IA and developed a mechanism to track member interaction using six variables. To measure member contribution, we tracked the number of turns taken by participants, the number of words spoken, and the average turn length. We measured member participation by looking at turn-taking strategies. We tracked the number of overlaps, backchannels, and latching (see below). The transcripts were coded for analysis in these six areas. We did not include interruptions in our analysis, because we found these to be essentially nonexistent (Walker & Aritz, 2007). Turn-taking is defined as the ordering of moves that involves the interchange of talking by speakers. Numerous studies demonstrate that turn-taking styles are culture specific and the potential source of many communication problems. Cultural preferences for length of turns, pauses between turns, simultaneous talk, or discrete turns specifically lead to these difficulties (Du-Babcock, 2006; FitzGerald, 2003). The analysis of Southeast Asians’ conversational style revealed that they are not successful in turn maintenance when competing with Europeans (Clyne, 1994). Du-Babcock (1999) found that meetings of multinational groups conducted in English were characterized by linear patterns of communication (distinct phases and predetermined sequence of turns) whereas meetings conducted in Cantonese were characterized by circular patterns (nondistinct phases and random turns).

Numerous studies demonstrate that turn-taking styles are culture specific and the potential source of many communication problems.

We tracked contribution by looking at the number of words spoken. We chose to use number of words spoken rather than the length of time that a speaker spoke, which is often used by other studies, because we believe that it is a better indicator of contribution, because many of our participants were not using their native language. Therefore, they might take longer to formulate sentences, skewing the data gathered. In addition, speaking time may vary between those who are comparably fast talkers and those who speak more slowly, even when using their native language. Turn length was used as another variable to measure member contribution. Previous studies have noted cultural differences in turn length. Clyne (1994) found a strong correlation between turn length and cultural
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groups. We measured an average turn length by dividing the total number of words spoken by each speaker by the number of turns they took. We measured participation by looking at turn-taking strategies, that is, overlaps, backchannels, and latching. Conversational overlaps are defined as periods when both speakers talk at the same time and the conversational contribution of one speaker overlaps with that of another. We divided overlaps into cooperative overlaps and uncooperative overlaps, or interruptions. We counted cooperative overlaps as instances when speakers do not change topic but elaborate on the current one. Overlaps are generally considered evidence of a highinvolvement discourse style and may be considered pushy, aggressive, or fast-talking by other cultural groups (Tannen, 1990). We adopted the term high involvement style from Tannen (1990) to refer to the speaking style that gives priority to showing enthusiastic involvement as opposed to high considerateness style that gives priority to being considerate of others, but not imposing. Research has noted cultural differences between these two conversational styles that lead to differing perceptions of people from different cultural backgrounds, for example, Russians, Italians, Greeks, and Spanish use a high-involvement style and are often seen as aggressive and pushy by those of other cultural groups because of their frequent use of conversational overlaps and interruptions. We also tracked the use of backchannels. Backchanneling gives the speaker an indication that the hearer is still listening. It is intended to keep the communication going by confirming or reacting to a preceding statement (Clyne, 1994). Some researchers regard backchanneling as positive interruptions. Backchannels consist of such vocalizations, as “yes”, “uh huh”, and “I see”. Backchannels have been found to be prevalent in work situations, especially where subjects were working in team situations. Finally, we tracked latching, which are instances where a second speaker begins speaking without any perceptible pause (Tannen, 1990). Latching can be perceived as intrusive by high-considerateness style speakers, but high-involvement speakers usually do not show evidence of discomfort or annoyance.


Our data set consists of transcripts of videotaped recordings of small group decision-making meetings. Business professionals who were native speakers of East Asian and English languages (N = 46) enrolled in an MBA program at a private university in Southern California were chosen to
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participate in the simulation. We used graduate students, who had all worked in the professional workplace for at least 2 years, because some studies have shown that differences exist between students and professionals. Our East Asian participants were primarily from Japan, China, and Korea. (According to the GLOBE studies (House et al, 2004), people from these three countries fall into the regional cultural cluster, Confucian Asian; they share similar cultural values based upon the nine dimensions identified by GLOBE.) Each group was composed of four to six members, who were randomly assigned. Our sample consisted of eight groups. Of these, four groups were composed of a majority of U.S.-born English speakers and a minority of speakers of East Asian languages and four were made up of a majority of speakers of East Asian languages and a minority of English speakers. In most groups, a majority consisted of three or four members of one cultural group with a minority being one or two members of the other cultural group. The simulation used in the study, Subarctic Survival, asked each group to take up the role of airplane crash survivors. Groups were then asked to discuss and ultimately agree on the ranking of the items that were salvaged from the aircraft in terms of their critical function for survival. The meetings were 20 minutes in length and were held and videotaped in an experiential learning laboratory equipped with professional facilities and technicians. The meetings were held in English, and the videotapes were then transcribed. The transcripts were coded for analysis in six areas: number of turns taken, number of words spoken, average turn length, number of conversational overlaps, number of interruptions, number of backchannels, and frequency of latching. To analyze the coded results, we used a heteroskedastic rank-based nonparametric test that allows tied values (Brunner, Dette, & Munk, 1997). This method of analysis was chosen because if offers better control and fewer, if any assumptions, about the shapes of the underlying population distributions given our relatively small sample sizes. The more traditional analysis of variance/analysis of covariance (ANOVA/ANCOVA) tests are parametric tests, which fail when the group distributions are nonnormal or when sample sizes are too small. For the advantages of nonparametric tests, see Siegel and Castellan (1988, p. 35). In addition to the transcripts, we also asked participants (N = 146) to complete a 12-question survey at the end of the simulation. Out of 146 participants, 59 participants were native speakers of East Asian languages and 87 participants were U.S.-born native English speakers. Questions were intended to measure the participants’ attitudes about the group experience in two areas, their satisfaction with the group decision-making
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process (an outward measure—orientation toward other group members) and their perceived sense of inclusion and value in the process, (an inward measure—orientation toward “self”). Participants were used to rate their experiences in these areas, using a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

To answer Research Question 1, we compared the communication patterns of U.S.-born native English speakers and native speakers of East Asian languages working in mixed groups. This analysis compared all native speakers of English, regardless of group composition, with all native speakers of East Asian languages. Table 1 shows a comparison of discourse styles between these two cultural groups. The first three items in the table indicate the level of contribution (number of turns, number of words, and turn length), whereas the last three (overlaps, backchannels, and latching) indicate participation. As the table indicates, differences in all areas of analysis were statistically significant. More specifically, it indicates that in all groups of U.S.born native speakers of English were contributing and participating more than native speakers of East Asian languages in every area of our analysis. In other words, in regards to Research Question 1 we found that significant differences existed in the contribution and participation patterns used by the two participant groupings. In addition, we wanted to see what effect team composition had on each cultural group. To answer Research Questions 2a and 2b, we separately tracked each cultural group’s performance and contribution as they went from being a majority in a group to becoming a minority in a group. Table 2 shows a comparison of U.S.-born, English-speaking team members in heterogeneous groups as they moved from being a majority to a minority in a group. As shown above, the contribution patterns of U.S.-born participants stayed the same regardless of the group composition. However, in the area of participation, a difference did emerge as U.S.-born participants became the minority in a group: Their latching behavior increased, which is indicative of a high-involvement conversational style. High involvement style is defined as giving priority to enthusiastic involvement as opposed to high considerateness style that gives priority to being considerate of others and not imposing (Tannen, 1990). Generally, Western individualistic cultures tend to exhibit high involvement style whereas collectivist cultures show more instances of high considerateness style.
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Table 1.

A Comparison of U.S.-Born English Speakers and Native Speakers of East Asian Languages Across All Groups

Category: Americans and East Asians Across All Groups Variable Turns Words Turn length Overlaps Latching Backchannels T (p) −6.27 (.000) −14.04 (.000) −10.37 (.000) −4.07 (.000) −3.55 (.001) −2.57 (.02) Difference of Midranks 15.25 17.78 16.82 12.68 11.21 9.44 SE of Mean of Midranks 2.43* 1.27* 1.62* 3.12* 3.16* 3.67*

*p < .05 **The main entry reports the difference of midranks that was used test the hypothesis that all J independent groups have identical distributions. Standard errors are in parentheses.
Table 2. A Comparison of U.S.-Born English Speakers Only Across All Groups

Category: Americans Across All Groups Variable Turns Words Turn length Overlaps Latching Backchannels T (p) −0.23 (.82) 0.07 (.95) 0 (1) −0.55 (.59) 2.36 (.04) −1.21 (.24) Difference of Midranks 0.69 −0.23 0 1.72 −5.84 3.44 SE of Mean of Midranks 3.02* 3.5* 3.65* 3.1* 2.47* 2.84*

*p < .05 **The main entry reports the difference of midranks that was used test the hypothesis that all J independent groups have identical distributions. Standard errors are in parentheses.

These results show that the U.S.-born team members do not simply maintain their communicative behaviors but diverge (using the language of CAT) in terms of their participation patterns as the group composition changes. Table 3 shows a similar comparison of native speakers of East Asian languages as they move from a majority to a minority in a group in all six areas of analysis. As in the previous tables, the first three items in the table indicate contribution, whereas the last three indicate participation. In contrast to U.S.-born team members whose contribution patterns stayed the same, we found significant differences in the area of contribution among speakers of East Asian languages. East Asians produced fewer words and took fewer turns as they became the minority in a group; that
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Table 3.

A Comparison of Native Speakers of East Asian Languages Only Across All Groups

Category: East Asians Across All Groups Variable Turns Words Turn length Overlaps Latching Backchannels T (p) 2.49 (.02) 3.11 (.007) 0.94 (.38) 1.95 (.07) 5.49 (.001) 1.45 (.37) Difference of Midranks −6.16 −6.98 −3.7 −5.13 −9.45 −4.72 SE of Mean of Midranks 2.47* 2.24* 3.9* 2.63* 1.72* 3.26*

*p < .05 ** The main entry reports the difference of midranks that was used test the hypothesis that all J independent groups have identical distributions. Standard errors are in parentheses.

is, they diverged in their contribution patterns as they became the minority. In the area of participation, latching was the only area in which we saw changes in the East Asian participants. Latching diminished as they became the minority in a group. Thus, their participation style also diverged, at least in terms of their latching behavior. It might be noted that this is the exact opposite of what we observed in the U.S-born participants, in which their latching behavior increased as they became the minority. In addition, and perhaps in a related vein, the results of our attitudinal survey indicate that in-group balance may be a key cause of the discourse style divergence noted in our IA. In response to questions designed to measure their perceived sense of inclusion and value in the process (an inward measure—orientation toward self), East Asian language speakers reported that they did not feel as included, valued, or supported as their American counterparts. Their responses to the following three questions were significantly lower on 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree than those of U.S.-born native English speakers: “I was included in the group discussion and decision making” (p = .0001); “I was valued for my contributions to the group discussion and decision making” (p = .0001); “My group members supported me and my ideas” (p = .0001). U.S.-born native English speakers and East Asians did not produce statistically significant responses to questions designed to measure their overall satisfaction with the group decision-making process (an outward-measure—orientation toward other group members).

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In conclusion, our study indicates that there are communication style differences between the two participant groups in our study when they work in mixed teams. We found that group composition affected communication patterns as our participants moved from being a majority to a minority in a group. Our findings support those in the area of intercultural research that looked at people from collectivist cultures in comparison with people from individualistic cultures, which found that collectivists are more likely to diverge in their communication patterns from out-group interlocutors individualists (Gallois et al., 1995). However, Gallois et al. (1995) also propose that individualists will converge linguistically toward collectivist groups. Our data do not support this proposition, because we found that the U.S.born speakers primarily maintained their communication patterns and even diverged in the area of latching as they became a minority. These findings might be explained by another aspect of CAT that was developed to resolve the tension between the cognitive goal of communication effectiveness and the affective function of social identify maintenance. Thus, convergence can be explained by the cognitive goal of facilitating comprehension and the affective goal of evoking listener’s social approval. Divergence or maintenance then can be explained by the cognitive goal to encourage the listener to adopt a more situationally appropriate speech pattern and the affective goal to emphasize distinctiveness and thus reinforce a positive sense of identity. In other words, the diverging participation pattern of the U.S.-born participants might be explained by the cognitive dimension of cognitive organization, which proposes that speakers will diverge in their speech patterns to encourage the recipients to adopt a more situationally appropriate speech pattern. That judgment of a more appropriate speech pattern might be based on the location of the communication situation and in a related issue, the language used in that location. Charles (2007) notes a similar issue of power that comes with language ownership and that impedes communication in global multinational companies. She argues strongly in favor of Business English Lingua Franca owned by the international business discourse community with emphasis on achieving a communicative goal as opposed to language that is modeled on native speakers’ use of English and is therefore subject to their norms and predisposed by a set of their cultural values. In other words, what happens in our groups is that the U.S.-born speakers might be attempting to encourage the native speakers of East Asian languages to adopt the communication patterns used in the United States based on the assumption that it is a more appropriate pattern for the situation.

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Thus, convergence can be explained by the cognitive goal of facilitating comprehension and the affective goal of evoking listener’s social approval.

Similarly, the divergence that we observed in the communication patterns of the East Asian participants, as they became a minority in a group might be explained by another dimension of accommodation, the affective function of identity maintenance. In other words, East Asian participants diverge from the U.S.-born speakers’ speech characteristics to emphasize their distinctiveness and thus reinforce their positive sense of identity. According to CAT, this is explained by their collectivist value orientation. Our study thus provides a more nuanced way of looking at communication between these two cultural groups, one that recognizes the potential effects of language or the lingua franca in determining the U.S.-born speakers’ assumptions about appropriate communication patterns and at the same time indicates another differing dimension of accommodation that may explain the native speakers of East Asian languages’ diverging linguistic style as the two groups work together in a common location on a single task. Secondarily, our study potentially provides evidence to support Jameson’s (2007) claim that nationality is not the most salient factor in a particular situation or the central factor in an overall sense of identity. She proposes a broad conception of cultural identity that would include vocation, class, geography, philosophy, language, and biology. The conversational pattern changes that we observed in our study might indicate that the native speakers of East Asian languages share a philosophical value system (collectivism) and perhaps a geographical region that provide a basis of similarity for them as a group. In fact, the original version of CAT, Speech Accommodation Theory, was derived in part from similarity attraction theory (Byrne, 1971), which posits that an increase in perceived interpersonal similarity results in an increase in interpersonal attraction. Later, social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) was added to SAT to explain the adoption of accommodative communication strategies to signal a salient group distinctiveness so as to reinforce social identity. Viewed through this lens, the salience of group distinctiveness (as opposed to individual distinctiveness) for some cultural groups might be a greater factor in determining social interactions and identity issues rather than nationality.
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This study has implications for those engaged in managing, training, or teaching heterogeneous groups composed of members from the United States and East Asian countries. Managers, trainers, and teachers should ensure that speakers of East Asian languages are aware of the apparent propensity of U.S.-born participants to encourage others to adopt their communication patterns through their own linguistic style changes in intercultural encounters. More specifically, they should be educated about the particular conversational behaviors that characterize this style of discourse. Similarly, U.S.-born native English speakers should be educated about the importance of in-group status for many of those from collectivist cultures that may result in conversational attempts to preserve positive group identity, a desire that apparently trumps the need for communication accommodation motivated by a higher valuing of task effectiveness. Of course, additional studies are needed to explore these and other cultural differences that may have an effect on group overall performance. One of the limitations of our study is a relatively small data sample. A larger data set is needed to be able to make stronger claims. In a related vein, some researchers have criticized the use of simulated data, suggesting it may not result in authentic encounters. One concern is that in the process of observation, the investigator may affect the outcome of the results. Consequently, it would be useful to test our initial results in an actual workplace setting. Finally, our study only looked at conversational moves. More insight could potentially be developed by conducting a content analysis of the meeting transcripts.

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