Business communication as profession
Communicative practices as interconnected genres
Section 3 has shown that it is not enough to distinguish the various genres from one another and subsequently re-order them so as to cope with their diversity and complexity (see Section 2). From the point of view of applied linguistics, the purpose of these distinctions must instead be to enable description of interactive negotiation processes involving knowledge, decision making, enactment and control/monitoring (Kleinberger Gunther 2003: 19) in the business context. The resulting processes of text production and reception as communicative practices must then be rendered comprehensible in order to generate descriptions that can be used for instruction purposes in practical training and work contexts. This will involve investigating the importance of communicative practices as a knowledge resource as well as analyzing the participants involved in interactions by modelling job and skills profiles.
In order to highlight the practical relevance of a linguistic approach to business communication, we shall conclude by focusing on communicative practices as examples of interconnected genres, with the aim of enabling participants to manage the work tasks associated with a specific job (see the following) and the communicative competences necessary for doing so (Section 4.2). As should have become clear by now, genres and their written and spoken instantiations are variously related to one another in the business context, just as they are elsewhere (Loos 1999; Janich 2009). As the example below will show, the intertextual relations between different genres should be regarded as constitutive features of communicative practices which serve the purpose of managing tasks in everyday working life. Given that these tasks are fundamentally embedded in contexts, they involve a range of practical objectives and conditions specific to them. Depending on the perspective of the different interacting agents, these may conflict with one another. For every specific work task, therefore, it is necessary to establish which media and which genres are available for managing the task, and how much room for maneuver there is to utilize them in a specific situation. Klein (2000: 36) points out that the use of genres and their interconnectedness can - but need not - be fixed depending on the procedure involved; in a legislative procedure, for example, the spectrum of text types and their inherent relations are both largely fixed. By contrast, the field of text types associated with an advertising campaign, although often adhering to standard conventions, is in principle also to some extent variable.
Potential options for action thus arise not only from the task itself, but also from the genres. For example, there are systematic, and so more or less fixed, chronological relations between individual genres when, say, one genre characteristic consists of referring back (or forward) to previous (or future) texts or conversations (e.g., in the sequence “invitation to a meeting” - “meeting” - “minutes of the meeting”). Adamzik (2001b: 30) describes this sequential-functional relation as a syntagmatic relationship and contrasts it with what she terms paradigmatic relationships, which are concerned with potential replaceability. Thus the question posed from a paradigmatic perspective is which genres are available, in a particular case, as options for realizing certain actions and fulfilling the communicative task (e.g., in advertising: poster, newspaper ad, TV ad, radio ad, cinema ad, brochure, webpage, etc.). Adamzik also points out, however, that these two types of relationship are probably insufficient and that, as a result, multi-dimensional interconnections are also conceivable.
A number of points can be drawn from a case study of business communication concerned with the complex task of “enhancing efficiency by cutting jobs” and described by Janich (2009). Paradigmatic relations were found above all in text types which:
a. differ in terms of medium (e.g., information e-mail vs. newsletter);
b. are prototypically structured in different ways (e.g., information in the form of
prose texts vs. question-and-answer lists);
c. are geared towards different target groups (e.g., information event for employees
vs. telephone conference for managers).
In this case study, then, paradigmatic relations probably played a less important role because only a few genres are completely interchangeable - precisely because certain contextual differences mean that each genre has its own special significance within the communication process. For example, information events for employees may provide an opportunity to acquire information and take part in a shared discussion, but their function is generally much more about confronting employees with facts and perhaps recommending potential courses of action. By contrast, telephone conferences for managers held in parallel - although perhaps also serving to inform and to hold discussions - provide more room for maneuver in making decisions. They can therefore have a totally different influence on the further course of communication than the more open information events.
The new opportunities for communication offered by social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, internet forums and blogs pose a significant challenge, not least for the development of communicative and medial competence. That is because the overlaps between them are rapidly becoming denser and more compact, making it increasingly difficult for text producers to make functionally motivated choices (or, in the case of parallel use, to establish coherence based on content or form).
In contrast, the syntagmatic relations between genres are not only numerous and dense, they can also be differentiated further according to the type of relation involved. In the case study in question, for example, the following types of relation were in evidence:
a. chronological relations: for example, situation report for a company ^ catalogue of measures ^ negotiations on the catalogue with the works council ^ reports on the status of negotiations and the implementation of the measures for management and/or information contained in round-robin e-mails and/or newsletter articles for employees ^ instructions to act and provision of forms and draft contracts ^ signing of contracts (Here, iterative loops of varying magnitude and at very different points in time are possible; in addition, parallel management telephone conferences take place, organized continually by the project team for the purpose of coordinating decisions and measures);
b. relations based on either content or function: for example, types of text and conversation which serve to plan and implement measures vs. giving reasons for and justifying these measures vs. implementing and negotiating the measures vs. adopting the measures and subjecting them to contractual regulation (on this point, see also Diatlova’s 2003 patterns of action topoi, as well as Section 2.2);
c. hierarchical relations: for example, newsletter, question-and-answer texts and sets of project documentation a) for management only; b) for company affiliates in general/for all employees; c) where appropriate for the general public and the press;
d. technical relations between different media: for example, an online project documentation containing web links to other texts which played a role in the course of the communication process (e-mails, newsletter articles).
This overview of possible genre relations shows that they are not only numerous but also multi-layered - in other words, every text and every conversation is linked in multiple and various ways with other genre instantiations. Thus, we do indeed need to assume that there are not only intertextual but also multi-dimensional and dynamic interconnections between communicative practices. Moreover, these must consist not merely of systematically ordered paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations between different genres, but can also be used in a deliberate way to pursue strategic goals and to reinforce hierarchies (see also Briggs and Bauman 1992). In sum, this means that analyses of systematic relations in dynamic genre networks must remain related to the participants in interactions, to their objectives and positions, and to the specific tasks they are pursuing and the business processes that frame all these. Only then will such analyses be relevant to actual business practice. It is additionally necessary to provide supporting linguistic micro-analyses, as called for by Bateman (2006:178).
With regard to concrete tasks in business communication, it will be difficult methodologically to capture exhaustively all the relevant genres and genre manifestations in text and conversation. Communication processes within companies very often occur in highly complex ways, weaving together oral and written as well as formal and informal communicative events. In consequence, it would appear virtually impossible to achieve any all-encompassing collection and analysis. The analytical effort and complexity of the study are further heightened if we seek to include the specific features and individuality of concrete texts and conversations beyond the patterns they display, and not merely - as considered above - the far more abstract genre characteristics and genre relations. Additional obstacles include limited accessibility and obligations of confidentiality or anonymity. Finally, background information is frequently needed in order to provide any realistic assessment and evaluation of communicative practices, at least in the case of flexible communication processes that display little formality. And in many cases such information is neither readily available nor widely usable. So, even once all linguistically legitimate analytical steps have been taken, the question remains as to how to guarantee an appropriate and realistic interpretation of those elements that characterize, enable or constrain the communicative practice in question, especially in the sphere of communication within a company.