Problematic talk : the role of multiple understandings in project meetings

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2010-09-10
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Kansainvälinen yritysviestintä
International Business Communication
Degree programme
314 s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis, A, 370
This research began to take form from an interest in multiple understandings – frequently referred to as misunderstandings – and their perceived ubiquity in internal meetings of a large multinational company. While a variety of studies have established that people of various nationalities and language skills in meetings are capable of creating a common understanding in dialogue, research until now has predominantly ‘stayed within the meeting’. This means that although meeting discourse and interaction – and their linguistic features in particular – have been widely studied, research that investigates meeting interaction in its organizational setting, and from the point of view of organizational communication, has received less attention. Further, the role that multiple understandings (more broadly, problematic talk) play in reflecting the understandings derived from the rest of the organization on the one hand, and in advancing both individual and organizational knowing on the other, is uncharted territory. Finally, existing research typically investigates individual meetings, while a sequence of multiple meetings in a row on the same subject has not been in focus earlier. Thus, this research sets out to find answers to the following main question and its sub-questions: 1) What is the role of multiple understandings and other difficulties (e.g. confusion, ambiguity, and non-understanding) in meetings? a) How do difficulties and problematic situations come about in meetings? b) Do the difficulties in understanding become less frequent as the team progress in their work? c) Do the difficulties change in nature over time as the team progress in their work? And d) What is the role of the rest of the organization in creating multiple understandings in a series of meetings? With an eye on the questions above, this study explores multiple understandings (and other disruptive phenomena translating into problems) and the closely related activities of knowing, sensemaking, and learning. The study takes a dialogic approach and analyzes problematic situations (conveyed in speech) by using a framework for analyzing situated organizational problem solving (Kuhn, Jackson 2008). Additionally, this research closely investigates the interaction in these problematic situations by using a dialogic approach (Linell 1998) that emphasizes the reflexive relation of contributions/utterances, activities, relevant contexts, expressions, meanings, individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions. The meetings studied comprise a series of nine consecutive internal meetings in a large multinational company where the participants (business English lingua franca speakers) focused on preparing for a major milestone of the next version of a tool developed for internal purposes. The findings show that disruptive phenomena in talk were vital for accomplishing knowledge and that the team participating in the meetings stayed effective from the beginning to the end in terms of knowledge accomplishment. Additionally, the rest of the organization played an important role in crafting understandings and knowing, especially at the beginning of the series of meetings
Supervising professor
Charles, Mirjaliisa, professor
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