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The Routledge Handbook of Language and Professional Communication

Vijay Bhatia, Stephen Bremner

Business communication

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Bertha Du-Babcock
Published online on: 19 Feb 2014

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Business communication
A revisiting of theory, research and teaching

Bertha Du-Babcock

Business communication is a global phenomenon where business communicators from around

the world are interacting in a diverse, dierentiated and expanding global communication
environment. Facilitated by the development of telecommunication technologies and due to
the expanding volume of international trade as well as globalised business operations, changes in
business communication patterns and practices have outpaced the development of an integrated
theory to explain fully the evolving patterns of business communication. Diering commu-
nication networks have emerged where culture and language dierences have impacted the
communication among businesspeople from dierent world areas.
Business communication has grown into a global multi-language system where business-
people with diering levels of communication competence interact in international and inter-
cultural contexts. In so doing, English has notably become the preferred business language or
lingua franca (referred to as Business English as Lingua Franca or BELF by Louhiala-Salminen,
Charles and Kankaanranta (2005)) in international business contexts where no shared language is
available among interlocutors. As such, English takes on diering roles in dierent industries and
world areas. In todays global business environment interactants are likely to engage in any of
three kinds of business communication situations: native speaker to native speaker (NS-NS)
with variations, native speaker to nonnative speaker (NS-NNS), and nonnative speaker to
nonnative speaker (NNS-NNS).
The study of business communication has gone from a communication environment in
which businesspeople come from the same cultural background (most notably the United
States) and speak the same language (English) to focus on the present complex, globalised
communication environment where English is no longer solely spoken by native English
speakers and where many dierent Englishes are used. To align with the evolvement of the
business communication environment, research in the eld of business communication has also
gradually shifted to examining the communication in global communication contexts.
The recognition of business communication as an area of practical application, and the
teaching of it, originated in the United States almost a century ago. But a gap has opened
between current business communication theorising and the early applied teaching of business
communication. While the study of business communication has always been interdisciplinary,
the result has been an eclectic but also a disconnected and sometimes contradictory body of

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Revisiting business communication

research ndings, models, and theories. Studies of business communication are based on dis-
ciplines such as rhetoric, management, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, language
acquisition, intercultural and interpersonal communication, to name a few, that follow the ter-
minology and conventions of those disciplines, and are not always understood by each other. As
a result, the eld of business communication is beginning to resemble a theory jungle (Du-
Babcock 2009a, Outstanding Researcher Award Plenary Address at the 74th Annual Conference
of the Association for Business Communication).
With regard to the teaching of business communication, integration of the expanding
volume of theory into practical and operational teaching materials is needed. This need for the
teaching of business communication to reect current practice and theory is made more dicult
by a resistance to change due to the eect of functional silos (cited in Suchan and Mirjaliisa 2006).
This paper describes and analyses the state of aairs of a changing business communication dis-
cipline that is in the midst of a period of transition (see Du-Babcock 2006), and specically the
interrelationships among the practice, research, theory, and teaching of business communica-
tion. To analyse these questions and issues, I will rst trace the historical development of the
business communication discipline in order to present the current and projected states of aairs
in perspective, and thereby set the stage for the analysis. Second, I will discuss the diversity of
business communication practice in the diering patterns developed in various organisational
structures. Third, I will outline the theory, research and teaching of business communication by
delineating the dierent schools and the factors in disintegration (jungle) and integration
(orchard). To conclude, I will present my recommendations for the possible movement toward
integration and away from the theory jungle, and project future directions for the business
communication discipline.

Historical development of business communication practice

The development of business communication in an international context has a long history,
stemming from the time when traders from dierent parts of the world began exchanging their
products and merchandise. In the early part of the pre-globalisation period (before 1945),
international business communication comprised a very small, insignicant proportion of busi-
ness communication as commerce largely took place within local regions and consisted of
communication about the basic necessities of life. Indeed, throughout history, business com-
munication has been largely local and regional in scope. People communicated in their native
languages and with people from the same or similar cultural backgrounds.
International trade and global business entered the period of globalisation (from 1945 to
approximately 1970) in the second half of the twentieth century. After the end of World War
II, the United States emerged as the sole global economic power. Upon rebuilding, Europe and
Japan joined the United States to form a tripartite economic structure that dominated interna-
tional business. Multinational corporations headquartered in home countries rst established
sales branches in overseas markets and then moved manufacturing to overseas sites. The move-
ment of manufacturing facilities was spurred by low labour costs in the developing countries
(see Babcock and Du-Babcock 2009a) where plants were established. A prominent develop-
ment, as evidenced in the clothing and shoe industries, was the use of contract manufacturers.
The spread of globalisation has increased intercultural communication exchange such that
businesspeople are increasingly engaged in global communication environments.
From 1970 to the present period is characterised as larger scale globalisation that has brought
more world areas into global business. The concentration of economic activity that was centred
around three economic regions (USA, Europe and Japan) throughout the second half of the

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Bertha Du-Babcock

twentieth century has been moving toward a more globalised system in the twenty-rst century.
China emerged as a contract manufacturing centre and is now developing its own brands and a
large international market. Equal or even more drastic changes can be expected in the future.
For example, India is currently entering world markets as China did previously. Africa with its
vast natural resources to be developed as well as Central and South America (especially Brazil)
can be projected to emerge as signicant new areas of international business activity. The
development of the world economy has created an international business communication
environment characterised by increasing diversity and complexity. That is, a growing trend has
resulted in which both native-to-nonnative and nonnative-to-nonnative English speakers
interact in diering business communication networks.
Business communication practices also dier among corporations. Corporations (e.g. inter-
national, multi-domestic, global, and transnational companies) following dierent management
and structural strategies take on dierent communication networks in communicating with
employees around the world. For instance, the international company is based on core
operations centred in the home country but with provision of some international operations
too, such as marketing and manufacturing. Initially, an international manufacturing company
makes and distributes the products mostly in the home market, but with some exports to
foreign countries. With only a small volume of exports, an export specialist with language
ability located in the marketing department handles sales to foreign customers. This specialist, as
volume grows, may well work through sales representatives or agents who are located in the
foreign countries. As foreign sales develop, companies may establish international divisions
to carry out the marketing function for their foreign markets. In these manufacturing compa-
nies, only the employees responsible for exports take a direct role in international business
Global and transnational companies serve as another example to illustrate how business
communication operates, creating dierent global communication networks when compared to
international companies. Companies following a global strategy attempt to develop an inte-
grated communication network, and the personnel across organisational units and at all orga-
nisational levels are concerned with and communicate about external environmental conditions
from all parts of the world. Likewise, companies following transnational strategies concurrently
attempt to respond to the demands of globalisation (integration) and the need to develop pro-
ducts tailored to dierent markets (local responsiveness). In this connection, all personnel in a
worldwide division of global and transnational rms are directly and indirectly engaged in the
business communication network, thereby increasing the complexity of the global business
communication environment.
In the global business communication environment, English plays a major and necessary role
as either the major working or the linking language where the businesspeople do not speak
each others language. In these communication networks businesspeople use English to com-
municate about their work with each other directly (working language) or speak in their own
languages and then exchange messages through though link-pin channels (linking language) if
their competency levels do not allow them to communicate directly. Consequently, English
takes on dierent roles in the dierent industry categories. In international organisations, native
languages are used and English is the working language only in English-speaking countries.
English only comes into play in exporting activities of international organisations. In global
organisations, English is the working language regardless of the language spoken in given
countries; whereas, in transnational companies English becomes the linking language between
headquarters and divisions while local languages are used as the working languages in the various
regional and country organisations.

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Revisiting business communication

The development of business communication research, theory, and teaching

The development of business communication research, theory, and teaching has followed the
changes in business communication practice but has lagged behind these changes. Research,
theory, and teaching originated and grew with the parameters of the discipline of business
administration and the business school. Other disciplines and academic areas outside of the
business school joined the study of business communication. Within the academic eld of
business administration, business communication has developed in separate streams that have
focused on dierent aspects of the business communication process. In one stream, business
communication ts into management and organisational behaviour in terms of research, theory
and teaching practices.
The classical management, neoclassical management, and organisational behaviour theories
established the foundation for the stream of business communication seen as a part of the
management process. In classical management theory, communication was identied either by
name or by description as a primary managerial function or as a component of a management
function. Henri Fayol (1916; 1949 translated into English), who is seen as the father of the
managerial process school of management, listed commanding (communication by superiors) as
one of six managerial functions. He set forth [communication] principles to guide managerial
practice that were based on his managerial experience. In neo-classical management theory,
Chester Barnard (1938) identied the ability to communicate as one of the three necessary
elements for creating a formal organisation. The Hawthorne studies (Roethlisberger and Dickson
1939) provided empirical evidence of human dierences in the work force and how the rst
level supervisor stood as the person in the middle (the link-pin) who connected workers and
management in the vertical communication process. The emphasis of business communication
in classical management and the neo-classical period was on practice and practical application
from the management and organisational perspective.
Business communication as a separate discipline originated in the United States about 80
years ago and moved to other parts of the world about two decades ago. The initiation of the
discipline was a response to the need to teach managers and their secretaries the essentials of
business correspondence. This stream of business communication evolved from the earlier eld
of business English (where rhetoric and form were emphasised) to a focus on eective and
ecient communication (where communicative competence is the emphasis). The principle for
this stream was initially based on the assumption that proper and correct English established the
basis for eective and ecient communication. As noted by Hagge (1989), business commu-
nication in the early stages was rooted in the study of rhetoric as applied to the writing of letters
and memos, with emphasis placed on the proper form and correct use of English. The overall
pedagogical objective in the early years was to teach American students how to communicate
eectively in American business environments. As such, in its early decades, business commu-
nication was taught as a practical skill set, and early textbooks outlined how to advice for corre-
spondence, report-writing and oral communication. During those years, business communication
teachers made little reference to theory, did data collection and called it research, and wrote
publications that made almost no reference to any theory.
During the current period of large-scale globalisation, the teaching of practical application in
business communication has extended to environments where English is used both as a second
language (see Kachrus 1985 outer circle) and as a foreign language (see Kachrus 1985
expanding circle). This stream of business communication has established itself as a formal dis-
cipline (Krapels and Arnold 1998; Locker 1998; Rogers 1996) and has become an important
subject area and an integral component of business school curricula. Business communication

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Bertha Du-Babcock

courses also have been developed in other university departments, usually being designated as
English for Specic Purposes (ESP) or writing for the professions. The subject matter has
expanded to include many genres (correspondence, report writing, oral reporting, oral pre-
sentations, stakeholder communication, direct mail, and marketing communication, to name a few)
and to include many channels, such as email and video telecommunication. With the infor-
mation technology revolution rst in computerised messages and later in internet connectivity,
business communication expanded. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and channels
such as video telecommunication (Skype), and mobile phone connectivity further expanded the
range and nature of business communication. Obviously, global communication means an
increased emphasis on exchanges between people of dierent cultures.

Business communication theory and teaching: Jungle or orchard?

Since the development of communication theory, there have been some 50 theories represented
by scholars from dierent elds of communication. Craig (1999) proposes a vision for com-
munication theory to move towards a unifying rather than a disparate eld. The unifying
vision, according to Craig (1999: 120), shows how various traditions of communication theory
can be engaged in a dialogue on the practice of communication.
Coinciding with Craigs aim of unifying the communication eld and Koontzs (1980) views
of a management theory jungle, I would argue that business communication as a part of com-
munication theory is in transition (see Du-Babcock 2006), and has taken on the shape of what
Koontz describes as a theory jungle. To illustrate, I next discuss the present state of aairs in
the theory and teaching of business communication. In doing so, I rst provide a brief overview
of the ve identied approaches to the study and development of business communication
theory (Du-Babcock 2009a, Kitty O. Locker Outstanding Researcher Award Plenary Address
presented at the 74th Annual Convention of the Association for Business Communication). I
then discuss the divergent factors and forces pushing toward the development of a business
communication jungle and the convergent factors and forces pushing toward the development
of a business communication orchard.

Approaches to the research and teaching of business communication

1 The language approach

The language approach focuses on the study of language and communication in business con-
texts. There are branches within the language approach: genre/discourse studies, conversational
analysis (CA), business English as a lingua franca (BELF), and the plain English approach. With
the exception of the plain English approach many of the scholars in this school have backgrounds
in applied linguistics.
Genre studies describe and analyse the communication patterns and behaviour of particular
groups of people (labelled as discourse communities by Bhatia 2004). This approach has
developed from three dierent traditions: rhetorical genre studies, systemic functional linguistics,
and English for Specic Purposes (ESP). Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) developed ve
principles that constitute a theoretical framework for genre study. Bhatia can be regarded as one
of the major contributors of this approach in relation to business communication in that
he directed attention to the study of patterns of business and professional communication,
which he labelled professional genres (2004). He also broadened the scope of the approach when
he considered genres in all their complexities: both vertically as super-genres with sub-genres

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within each super-genre and horizontally with interrelations and relatedness to external context
and inuence (see Bhatia 2004). Yates and Orlikowski (2002) captured the essence of the genre
studies approach when they formulated the concept of genre systems, in that they described
how genre communities develop distinctive communication patterns that can be organised into
genre systems distinguished by their purpose, content, participants, form, time and place. These
distinct and related characteristics interactively determine the patterns of communication that
develop in dierent genre communities. Nickerson (2000) and Du-Babcock and Babcock
(2007) developed categories for dierent genres relating to business communication and thereby
facilitated the more systematic study and classication of business communication genre patterns.
Discourse analysis (DA) has been taken up in a variety of social sciences disciplines,
including linguistics and communication studies in terms of coherent sequences of sentences,
propositions, speech acts or turns-at-talk. Unlike traditional linguistics, discourse analysts not
only study language use beyond the sentence boundary, but also prefer to analyse naturally
occurring language use (extracted from Wiki). Consequently, DA is similar to genre studies but
more micro in nature. Scholars from language and applied linguistics elds have developed an
extensive literature that analyses the textual patterns of dierent kinds of business communica-
tion. These studies are directed toward discovering and contrasting communication patterns by
examining texts, including oral texts produced by speakers.
The discourse approach concerns the kinds of tools and strategies people use when engaged
in communication. Some scholars have examined business texts (Charles 1996; Kennoy,
Oswick and Grant 1997), while others have examined academic texts (Flowerdew 1999;
Hyland 2000). For example, Jameson (2000) made an important contribution when she used
narrative to analyse the discourse in corporate annual reports. Du-Babcock (1999, 2006),
meanwhile, compared the turn-taking and topic management strategies of Hong Kong bilinguals
in rst- and second-language communication in making strategic management decisions. In her
intercultural studies, Du-Babcock (2003, 2005) examined the similarities and dierences of
communication behaviours between individuals from individualist and collectivist countries
when taking part in both intercultural and intra-cultural business meetings.
Other researchers from the European continent (e.g. Charles 1996; Louhiala-Salminen 1996;
Louhiala-Salminen, Charles and Kankaanranta 2005; Poncini 2002, 2003) also have investigated
language choice and communication in dierent European languages. Bargiela-Chiappini and
Harris (1997), for example, examined the discourse in British and Italian business meetings. The
study analysed both structural and pragmatic properties of intra-cultural business meetings
(British and Italian) as well as the structural and pragmatic properties in intercultural business
meetings that took place in an Anglo-Italian joint venture. Other studies by Poncini (2002,
2003, 2004) examined an Italian companys meetings with its international distributors. Poncinis
study shows how the meeting participants constructed their business relationships through their
choice of linguistic strategies.
Business English as a lingua franca (BELF) has become a major component of the lan-
guage approach. Studies conducted from this perspective recognise that English has emerged as
the worlds largest and most dominant business language. Empirical in nature, and originating in
Europe, this approach studies communication networks in and between organisations where
interlocutors are non-native English speakers but choose English as shared language in their
business interaction. Louhiala-Salminen, Charles and Kankaanranta (2005), Poncini (2004), and
Nickerson (2000, 2005; Gerritsen et al. 2007) have studied English language communication
among European speakers in various industries. Kameda (2005), concentrating rstly on Japan
and also extending to other parts of Asia, has proposed the concept of regional BELFs where
vocabularies are developed for specic industries (see also Kameda 2013).

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Bertha Du-Babcock

The plain language approach has emerged as a reaction to the overcomplicated and bureaucratic
writing that has become the norm in many areas, such as in business contracts and government
documents and contracts (Dorney 1988; Center for Plain Language n.d.). Spearheaded by
public service organisations such as the Center for Plain Language, documents are analysed and
rewritten into more straightforward and understandable language. Working relationships are
established with governmental agencies and business organisations whose documents are analysed.

2 The culture approach

The culture approach focuses on how culture aects the communication process. There are
dierent streams that investigate the inuence of national, organisational and professional cultures
on communication behaviour.
The National Culture approach studies the eect of national culture on business commu-
nication. In this approach scholars and researchers take cultural theories and apply them to
communication processes. One group of scholars draws on underlying disciplines such as psy-
chology, sociology, and cultural anthropology scholars. For instance, scholars draw upon and
apply large-scale empirical (e.g. House et al. 2012; Hall 1976; Hofstede 2002; Trompenaars
1993) or conceptual studies (Hall 1976) that identify and compare national cultural dierences.
Individualism-collectivism and high-low context have been the most researched cultural dimensions.
Another group (Cushner and Brislin 1996; Martin and Chaney 2012) searches out and
identies specic cultural habits and behaviours in national cultures that can lead to intercultural
miscommunication. The focus is to enable individuals to better communicate with the identi-
ed cultures. Centred in the United States, the major thrust has been the interaction of
Americans with other cultures. There is an implicit assumption that successful intercultural
exchange is accomplished by accommodating the identied culture. This is achieved by fol-
lowing specic cultural practices that are deemed essential or important and avoiding specic
practices that are alien or taboo. Lists of dos and donts are developed to guide communicators
as they interact with new and dierent cultures.
The Cultural Intelligence (CQ) approach is a part of a larger eort to study and compare
how people interact with new national cultures. Cultural Intelligence is seen as a construct that
determines a persons ability to adjust to new cultural settings. Earley, Ang and Tan (2006)
extended the study to business communication in the workplace by explaining to those living and
working in another country how to identify and develop their Cultural Intelligence, or CQ.
The organisational culture approach, which is embedded in management and organisa-
tional behaviour literature, examines the inuence of organisational culture on business com-
munication. Inuenced by the work of Schein (1992, 1999), this stream contrasts organisational
cultures among dierent levels of organisations and at dierent states of growth. Scholars
include the inuence of organisational culture on communication in their theory building and
research on leadership, organisational development, or other business related topics. Rather than
constituting a distinct group of scholars and researchers, the scholars and researchers from this
approach may be primarily associated with their respective academic disciplines. For example,
Mintzberg (1980), writing in the business strategy eld, dierentiated between machine
bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, entrepreneurial organisations, innovative organisations,
and multidivisional organisations in the business strategy literature. Although his primary focus
was on strategy, he showed how distinctly dierent organisational cultures have associated
communication patterns that develop in these organisational congurations.
Professional culture has not received the same amount of attention as national and orga-
nisational culture. Professional culture often appears under the heading of a subculture, not

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even recognised at the same level as national and organisational cultures (Scott et al. 2003;
Hofstede 1980; Degeling et al. 1998). Pierre Bourdieu (2004 as cited in Herkenho and Hey-
denfeldt 2011: 61) points out that people are not born into professions but acquire the socially
learned predispositions of their professions. Professional culture can be dened as the behaviors
that are appropriate and acceptable by each profession (Boyatzis 1982: 20). The inuence
of professional culture on business communication has been usually indirectly addressed by the
professional genre studies in the language approach. In all, although the literature in the area
of professional genre is extensive, there is an absence of studies comparing and integrating the
comparative eects and impacts of the diering cultures inuences.

3 The empirical approach

The empirical approach focuses on communication patterns that take place in identied areas or
topics of business communication. Scholars in this approach conduct empirical research on
identied areas or topics and may make generalisations or construct theories based on the
empirical data in their studies. Concepts and models from other approaches are drawn on to
guide data collection and to analyse the communication processes. The study of communication
can focus on dierent industries (banking, advertising), contexts (research in negotiation, call
centres), and professions (health care delivery), as well as broad conceptual and applied issues
such as ethics, conict management, and crisis management.

4 The interpretation of meaning in the organisations approach

This approach attempts to discover the underlying meaning of the language used in organisa-
tional communication. The basic premise of the interpretation of meaning approach is that
language is not only content but also context and a way to recontextualise content. The
environment in which communication takes place and the relationship of elements in terms of
intertextuality are considered in the analysis. Bakhtin (1981) is the spiritual father gure of this
stream. Boje, Oswick and Ford (2004) capture the essence of this approach:

[we] believe the primary focus should be on developing insights into the nature and
complexity of organizations (through language), rather than insights into language
(through organizations). For this reason, we view discourse as the intermingled play of
dierences in meaning mediated through socially constructed language practices We
also see this as encompassing the ways in which texts are inter-textual, collectively pro-
duced and re-produced, and distributed and re-distributed for consumption and re-con-
sumption across discursive divides. Within this point of view, organizations are in
heteroglossia (Bakhtin, 1981): diverse and constantly emerging and changing fragments of
contending multi-voiced discourses and speech forms with local (as in micro) and more
macro situated contexts.
(pp. 57172)

5 The process or operational approach

The process or operational approach has its roots in the two streams of business communication
that focus either on the managerial process or interpersonal communication (individual com-
municator). This approach has established a framework of operational principles, concepts, and
models to guide business communication practice.

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Bertha Du-Babcock

The teaching component of this approach originally focused on communicating in an

American native-English speaking communication environment, but has broadened its scope to
recognise second- and foreign-language speakers of English. It has been exported to other
countries as American English textbooks have developed international or foreign editions. In
the past two to three decades, most of these foreign editions contain the same content as the US
editions, and the only dierence is that the foreign editions are put into paperback format to
reduce cost. However, publishers are beginning to recognise the need for a less American-specic
approach in other countries. For example, the textbooks written by Guey and Du-Babcock
(2010, 2008) have been adapted to better t an Asian audience and the needs of second-language
non-native English speakers.

State of affairs in research, theory, and teaching of business communication

Business communication is in a transitional stage where interacting forces (some divergent and
some convergent) are contributing to the possible development of either a business commu-
nication theory jungle (leading to fragmentation and confusion) or an orchard (leading to
integration and order).
Divergent force leading to a possible theory jungle. The rst interacting force is
divergent in that the theory relating to business communication has divided and is scattered
in dierent schools or approaches. Craig (1999: 119) noted that while the study of commu-
nication and communication theory has become a rich and ourishing eld, communication
theory does not yet exist, and the eld of communication has fragmented into separate
domains that simply ignore each other. Researchers and scholars from the dierent schools are
reecting their dierent orientations and dierent academic backgrounds in researching and
building models and theories from their diering perspectives. As such, a silo phenomenon
(cited in Suchan and Mirjaliisa 2006) is created as these researchers and scholars draw upon
diering bodies of literature and use diering concepts and terminologies to describe the busi-
ness communication process. Each school has concentrated on dierent aspects of the commu-
nication process and has built its own independent body of theory. Specialised genres from each
school facilitate communication within their respective disciplines but may not be under-
standable to scholars outside their own elds. There is little interchange among schools. New
research ndings and theoretical frameworks are scattered in the specialised literature of under-
lying disciplines. These new research ndings and theories represent a growing but also a dispersed
and non-integrated body of business communication theory.
Convergent force leading to possible theory integration. There are some hopeful signs
that the research, theory, and teaching of business communication can move toward integration
(orchard) and away from disintegration (jungle). These convergent forces have been spurred by
changes in the communication environment and technology advancement. These hopeful signs
are rooted in several developments. Although not widespread in scope, some scholars are
breaking out of their silos and engaging in broader-based research and theory development and
in developing frameworks identifying the background factors impacting business communication.
Examples of theory integration will be discussed in the next section.

Suggestions for moving toward integration and bringing order to

business communication theory
To prevent the communication theory jungle from continuing to grow uncontrollably, this
chapter serves as an initial attempt to take on a similar approach to business communication to

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Revisiting business communication

that suggested by Craig (1999), namely that when developing communication theories,
researchers and theorists recognise the existence of similar theories from other elds or dis-
ciplines and seek to integrate them. Through the unifying of dierent approaches, the development
of the eld of communication can move towards integration into an orchard and away from
disintegrating into a denser business communication theory jungle.
To parallel with Craigs proposal, as a general statement and guiding principle, integration
should include a multiplicity of research and theoretical approaches, perhaps organising theories
by clusters that have similar concerns, but not eliminating any theory or well-designed research
approach in the process. In this way researchers from various schools of business communication
theory could continue to focus on the particular areas of interest that reect their academic
backgrounds. Subsequently, ndings and theories could then be integrated into the process or
operational approach. This means that an approach directed toward developing an overall
explanation of the business communication process (process or operational approach) becomes
the organising framework. Consequently, theories from the language, cultural, interpretation of
meaning and empirical approaches can be integrated into the operational approach.
To illustrate, I will use the development of the language-based communication Zones model
as an example to elaborate how one theoretical framework has been expanded by integrating it
with other established frameworks to attain a more complete international business commu-
nication model that includes the essence of language, culture, and knowledge systems.
The initial experimental research design of the language-based communication Zones model
(Du-Babcock and Babcock 1996) drew on the basic communication model as described in the
process approach, which is still included in business communication textbooks. The essence of
stage 1 of the Zones model focuses on the division of expatriate communication into direct and
mediated link-pin communication. In doing this, Du-Babcock and Babcock (1996) adapted the
term and concept of link-pin previously developed by Likert (1967) in his analysis relating to
managing organisations with a humanistic orientation.
The 2001 Zones model specied the interactive nature of the communication process, and
the model delineated the possible communication channels available to prospective interactants,
given their level of language competence. This redenition makes the model bi-directional and
dynamic by explicitly acknowledging that all interactants in the communication transaction
have the potential to send and receive messages in a continuing process (Sherblom 1998). In this
redenition the 2001 Zones model drew on theorists who had updated the basic communica-
tion model of the process approach. Beamer (1992: 28586) explained the rationale for this
update by stating, transmission by itself is not communication, but the conscious perception of
signals at the receivers end is essential for communication to have taken place. So, when both
sides of the dyad, in their roles as receivers, nd a linking language where they can recognise
the signals sent within their perceptual elds or schema (Widdowson 1983), the conditions for
establishing communication zones are satised. In this way, the concept of a language competency
match or t was introduced into the theory of business communication.
The 2007 Zones model expanded the conceptual framework by drawing on genre theory
and creating three genre categories to classify the patterns of direct communication found in
organisations. Consequently, this recongured model categorises genre-specic language pat-
terns in relation to professional tasks, commercial tasks, and relational tasks. The genre types
include professional genres (specialised languages spoken by professionals within a discipline (see
Bhatia 2004: 129)), commercial genres (organisational- and company-specic language used to
describe information exchange and commercial transactions, etc.) and relational genres
(verbal and nonverbal communications used to create the social fabric of a group by promoting
relationships between and among group members/language communicators (Keyton 1999).

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Bertha Du-Babcock

To recognise the eect of culture and to complete the initial thinking about the inuence of
culture on communication, an attempt was made to integrate Victors (1992) LESCANT model
with Du-Babcock and Babcocks link-pin and zones framework. Victor (1992) oered the
LESCANT model as an organising framework specifying variables impacting the business
communication process. The LESCANT framework identies seven variables that business
communicators can take into consideration as they interact in a global business communication
environment. These seven variables consist of language, environment, social system, culture,
authority, non-verbal communication, and time concept. Although his list is not exhaustive, it
provides a starting point for the identication of factors that impact the global business com-
munication process. The LES variables of Victors model focus attention on the need to
understand the language, environmental, and social systems in which people communicate,
while the CANT variables draw attention to four socio-cultural characteristics of particular
communicators. The Zones model already had a structure to show how people of varying
cultural competencies and diering cultural characteristics could t their messages into intercul-
tural communication corridors. However, the model did not have a structure to show how
individuals with diering knowledge of international systems could exchange messages. So, the
integration of these two frameworks added the concept of knowledge corridors to show how
people having diering knowledge competency matches communicate in dierent knowledge
An ongoing project is to explore the integration of the BELF model with the Zones model.
The BELF research by Louhiala-Salminen, Charles and Kankaanranta (2005) demonstrates the
eect of language choice on intercultural business communication, while the signicance of
theoretical advances in BELF is that they show how English as a lingua franca impacts the
communication processes among nonnative speakers. The merger employees in their study
were of two nationalities (Finns and Swedes); as a result of the merger, at the meetings,
employees of the two merged companies who were formerly independent companies repre-
sented both cultures in the merged company, the new entity, and two dierent languages, one
of which was a foreign language (Nickerson 2005: 373). The choice of English put both the Finns
and Swedes in neutral-language prociency positions as the use of BELF is nobodys native or
rst language, and therefore, the language superiority positions are greatly reduced (Du-Babcock
and Babcock 2007: 363).

Future directions for research and practice

The framework described above for studying business communication in international business
contexts has resulted from research studies by researchers and theorists from dierent schools,
and it can be seen they have signicantly contributed to the development of a framework for
guiding future research in the eld of business communication. Indeed, work of this integrative
nature suggests three possible directions for the future development of research and practices in
business communication: (1) the development of a shared framework for research that integrates
and adapts existing approaches or frameworks; (2) the need for collaborations across the dis-
ciplines and across the globe; and (3) bridging the gap between workplace communication
practice and business communication research.
Development of a shared framework. As the study of business communication involves
many dierent approaches, it is important to determine whether scholars are looking at the
same aspect of communication from dierent perspectives or examining dierent aspects of the
communication process. As Craig (1999) noted, rather than attempting to promote theory
construction based on an articially limited eld of communication, an eort should be made to

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Revisiting business communication

unify the eld by assimilating its diversity. In developing a shared framework, the issue is how
to integrate the ndings into the growing body of business communication theory, and thus
help create the basis for the development of a business communication theory orchard. Scholars
would have to look at possible causal variables from other approaches as well as those from their
own approaches. The result would be a convergent process of integration as factors from dif-
ferent approaches are brought together, and divergence as factors from dierent approaches are
further investigated and rened. It would also result in movement toward clarity in recognising
the multiple theoretical approaches that bring greater understanding of business communication
(bringing order to the jungle) and encourage the further development of approaches explaining
aspects of business communication (planting an orchard).
The two examples outlined above, which involve integrating the theoretical framework of
the Zones model with the LESCANT and the BELF frameworks, provide a competency-based
framework that recognises the need for linguistic and intercultural competence and that diag-
noses the development of the requisite competence for communicating in dierent situations
and tasks in international business communication. In addition, through the integration of the
Zones model and the BELF framework, a mechanism can be introduced to identify commu-
nicators competence match at the beginning of or throughout interactions among commu-
nicators, and to apply the framework to dierent languages that communicators may choose to
use. This integrated approach allows a more systematic detection of whether intercultural mis-
communication emanates from linguistic competence or deep meanings of exchanged messages
in which there are cultural dierences.
The example also illustrates that the theoretical framework or concepts from any one school
may not be adequate to explain the communication process but rather inter-school models and
frameworks are necessary to capture the complexity and diversity of present day and future
business communication practice This could mean using a categorising approach where theories
would be clustered together according to their research parameters. New ndings would rst be
integrated into the body of theory and then into teaching and training. The gradual integration
of models and theories from within and across dierent approaches would result in a progres-
sively more unied theory. Prior models and frameworks can serve as the foundation for further
development and renement.
The need for collaborations across the disciplines and across the globe. In addition to
the development of a shared framework, there is the need for collaborations across the disciplines
and across the globe. Forman (2006) suggested that:

the research issues we address are driven by our own curiosity, heightened by our gaps in
knowledge. Those gaps are created to some extent by the functional silos (e.g., English,
management, speech communication, information technology) in which we work. That
combination of personal curiosity and gaps in knowledge created by our own particular
educational backgrounds and the functional areas in which we work makes our research
autobiographical: a narrative of what each of us believes we need to know.
(cited in Suchan and Charles 2006: 395)

Formans remarks imply that many researchers have only a partial picture of the larger eld, and
suggest a pressing need for greater collaboration. Due to advances in technology, there are
increasing research eorts at collaboration between institutions and between disciplines. How-
ever, these research collaborations are still largely limited by region. Research by Louhiala-Salminen,
Charles and Kankaanranta (2005) and Poncini (2002, 2003, 2004) in Europe, and the research
by Du-Babcock and Varner (2008) in Hong Kong and the US have addressed some of the

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Bertha Du-Babcock

research issues within the boundaries of the geography they are investigating. While I agree
with Poncinis (2004) call for the need for research in multicultural and multilingual settings, I
propose that the future research agenda should involve a global focus in that we cannot
examine the research issues only from specic geographical regions, but we also need to compare
the ndings across the globe.
Let me provide an example to illustrate the possibility and opportunities of internationally
collaborative research by describing a project led by Vijay Bhatia. In his research team, Professor
Bhatia successfully involved scholars from 25 countries in working on the same research issues related
to legal discourse. This research project drew on discourse-based data (e.g. narrative, doc-
umentary, and interactional) to examine the extent to which the integrity of arbitration principles
is maintained in international commercial arbitration practice (Bhatia 2009: 1). As stated by Bhatia,

Building on the wide degree of interest created by the focus of the overall project theme,
the international research collaboration it enabled, and the excellent research opportunities
for interdisciplinary and international teamwork it provided, the research team has under-
taken a further research project focusing on the actuality of arbitration practice across linguistic,
socio-cultural, political, and legal boundaries.
(cited in Du-Babcock 2009, www.english.cityu.edu.hk/arbitration/)

This longitudinal large-scale discourse analysis study is an example of research collaboration

across disciplines and across the globe.
This example illustrates that international research collaborations can facilitate the develop-
ment of the discipline and improve our eectiveness as researchers. Business communication
researchers and theorists should work not only within our discipline with researchers from other
cultures and countries (providing rsthand experience in intercultural and multidisciplinary
communication) but also outside our discipline with scholars and business professionals (legal
specialists in this case) in other disciplines and elds (providing exposure to the knowledge bases
and professional genres in dierent professional elds). These collaborations will allow us to
undertake research projects that we could not do individually but also place us in a collaborative
and supportive environment to guide our development as researchers and teachers.

Business communicators need understandable frameworks, theories, and models that can help to
communicate eectively and eciently in the increasingly diverse and complex business com-
munication environment. Multiple interacting factors are impacting the communication process.
A proliferation of research and theory-building eorts from the dierent approaches/schools of
business communication is trying to explain this complexity and diversity, while instruction and
training eorts are moving from an emphasis on a one best way approach to an emphasis on
communicative competence. However, the concepts from any one approach may not be ade-
quate to explain the communication process. Instead, inter-school models and frameworks are
necessary to capture the complexity and diversity of present day and future business communication
The major challenge in the discipline of business communication is integration that takes on
two dimensions. The rst dimension is to develop closer connections between practice, theory,
and teaching and to reduce the time gap or lag in making these connections. The second
dimension is to organise theory drawn from the dierent approaches/schools to gradually move
toward developing a more unied and comprehensive theory.

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Research and theory are at a transitional stage with the possibility of moving either toward a
business communication jungle with a proliferation of theories and research ndings or toward
an orchard with a movement toward integration and a more unied theory. Business commu-
nication has been an eclectic discipline that has drawn theories from underlying disciplines but is
now starting to develop its own set of theories and models. Business communication teaching
also faces the challenge of keeping its content relevant to current and future business practice
and of integrating research ndings and theories into the teaching. Overcoming resistance to
change is a major part of the challenge facing teaching.

Related topics
discourse variation in professional contexts; business communication education in cross-
cultural contexts; complexities of communication in professional workplaces; organisational

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