Communicative practices and competence: Job-based communication profiles

The genre interconnections and resultant complex communicative practices described in Section 4.1 show, at the least, the extent of the challenges individuals face when they have communicative work tasks to manage, often within a team (see, e.g., Pogner 2005). What has so far been largely lacking - and this is something that must be done within a very limited domain if it is to be genuinely instructive for business practice - are linguistically robust analyses of communicative practices in the business context in terms of what competences they actually require (practical introductions can be found, for example, in Femers 2011 in relation to individual text types, and in Schnurr 2013 in relation to genres and pragmatic dimensions of professional communication). Nonetheless, some initial proposals do exist for general models of job- specific communicative competences (for the following, with regard to the business domain, see Janich 2007; also Kammhuber 2007; Jakobs and Spinuzzi 2014).

a. First, a profile of communication requirements should be established for specific work tasks: What information needs to be conveyed in what linguistic form and via which media, to whom, how often, how regularly, in what amount of detail, etc.? Which genres are to be utilized? (Here it may be useful to draw on insights from research on text production and writing relating specifically to “writing at work”, Jakobs and Perrin 2014);

b. On this basis, a corresponding profile of communicative and media competence needed to fulfill these requirements can be drawn up. What linguistic, technical and cultural knowledge, for example about communication processes within the company, about hierarchical structures and about the availability of various knowledge resources (“knowing that”), and which communicative competences based on that knowledge (“knowing how”) are necessary? In other words, which communicative practices are to be acquired as routines?

c. By combining both profiles, we arrive at a profile of professional communication that can serve as a guiding framework, both for academic research and for professional training and development.

The research challenge consists in identifying the whole range of prototypical - and definitely all institutionalized - communicative activities relating to the regularly recurring demands of a job and highlighting their systematic relations to other work domains. In methodological terms, the difficulty will be to identify those communicative practices that are less usual or may occur only in certain cases but are nonetheless highly significant (e.g., for communication processes that occur at times of mergers, company crises, etc.). Here, too, it is probably extremely difficult to capture systematically the all-important informal communication that takes place, as it were, “between” the official texts and conversations (Kleinberger and Thimm 2000; also various contributions in Coupland 2014).

The key point, however, is to identify professional requirements, less as instances of individual genres than as communicative practices in the sense of dynamically interconnected texts and conversations, that is, in a process-oriented way. The complexity of a professional communication profile can only be demonstrated by taking account of the process-related and dynamic aspects of communicative practices, thus taking the analysis beyond the simple use of text and/or conversation linguistic tools to identify individual genres of business communication.

Thus a competence profile derived from professional requirements would, as a matter of necessity, have to comprise procedural knowledge in addition to declarative knowledge:

a. What job-specific linguistic (declarative) knowledge, based on everyday linguistic knowledge, is needed (e.g., specialist vocabulary; knowledge about text comprehension; pragmatic knowledge about forms of address; stylistic knowledge)?

b. What cultural knowledge (e.g., in relation to discursive traditions and styles) and technical knowledge (e.g., in relation to the use of media) is needed in addition to linguistic knowledge? How explicit (and explicable) must this knowledge be?

c. What specific types of professional communicative competences (procedural knowledge/“prowess”) are needed in the light of a. and b., and which media competences?

In this context, Zerfafi (2004:190-191 proposes a distinction between active communicative competence (i.e. speaking/writing), perceptual competence (i.e. the ability to listen - or read - attentively) and cooperation competence (i.e. the ability to establish shared communication), thereby also taking account of the hierarchical set of conditions in which communication occurs in a company.

Finally, one function of a competence profile should be to relate knowledge and competences to the norms and communicative maxims of business communication, or of individual companies, that are relevant for actual communication, such as those that are found in company mission statements, codes of conduct and style sheets. Individuals who work in professional or business contexts always act as members of an institution, and of a specialized and job-specific communication community. Only when they have knowledge of the organization-specific appropriateness of certain styles and habits of communication will they be able to communicate competently and effectively.

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