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Linguistic Politeness in Student-Team Emails: Its Impact on Trust Between Leaders and Members

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1 Author(s)
Lam, C. ; Univ. of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Research Problem: Claims have been made about the impact of applying Linguistic Politeness Theory to workplace contexts. Linguistic politeness theory argues that speakers or senders of messages make language choices to soften potential face-threatening acts. These claims have not been empirically examined in regards to trust between leaders and members. Research Questions: (1) What effect does a leader's use of linguistic politeness have on perceptions of trust? (2) Do indirect and direct requests differ in building trust? (3) Is there an optimal combination of level of directness and type of linguistic politeness strategy in building trust? Literature Review: Previous literature has shown that people in positions of power utilize linguistic politeness when interacting with subordinates. Further, studies have shown an association between managerial communication style and relational variables, including trust. No study, however, has empirically examined a leader's use of linguistic politeness on subordinate's perceptions of trust toward the leader. Methodology: The current study uses a quantitative approach. An experiment was designed to test the effect of politeness on trust. One-hundred fifteen undergraduates were selected for the experiment. Results and Discussion: Quantitative analysis, which included a two-way ANOVA, revealed that participants trusted leaders who used linguistic politeness strategies in their emails, as opposed to those who failed to include mitigating strategies. Furthermore, downgraders, moves that mitigate the force of face-threatening act without adding semantic content, were effective at building trust when paired with direct speech acts. Similarly, supportive moves, moves that mitigate face-threatening acts but do add semantic content, were effective at building trust when paired with indirect speech acts. The results have theoretical implications that include the contextual importance of linguistic politeness strategies. Further, prac- - tical implications include the way student leaders might phrase email requests to team members. However, because the sample included students, the results must be carefully interpreted, particularly when extrapolating to professional populations. Future studies can apply a similar methodology to a population of professionals, allowing for a comparison of datasets.

Published in:

Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:54 ,  Issue: 4 )