‘All we do is meetings around here’ reaching agreement in problem solving meeting talk

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 3 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Kyoungmi Kim, University of Warwick (Centre for Applied Linguistics)
Jo Angouri, University of Warwick (Applied Linguistics)

Meetings play a central role in any professional setting, commonly seen as the organisation’s epitome and the context where new knowledge emerges, professional identities are negotiated and practices are brought to scrutiny. The type and function of meetings varies but they are easily recognisable by their participants. In this paper we are particularly interested in meetings employees define as having a primarily problem solving function and we distinguish between formal and informal events. Problem-­‐solving is a high stakes organisational activity and as such, it has been studied from a range of non-­‐linguistic perspectives. Behaviourist and cognitivist studies are common and aim to model patterns and generalise the problem solving stages. Yet, this work typically does not address the role of interaction in the problem-­‐solving practice. The relatively recent discourse turn in business studies has argued for the role of language in (re)constructing knowledge and reality, rather than merely representing it, and thus calls for a close examination of the use of language in researching organisational activities. This allows to capture the complex ways in which meanings are negotiated, reified and become the organisation. Hence, there is a need for further research in the sociolinguistics of problem talk to explore how people ‘do problems’ at work in and through interaction (Angouri and Bargiela-­‐Chiappini, 2011). Our paper seeks to contribute to this area of work. We draw on meeting events from different workplaces and compare formal and informal meetings where problem solving activity takes place. We take a critical interactional sociolinguistic approach and we pay special attention to role enactment and negotiation of expertise, particularly in the process of reaching consensus in relevant episodes. We look into instances where marked shifts occur and reflect on the affordances of our methodological tools in unpacking workplace interaction. Our findings confirm that meetings have multiple functions and that problem solving and decision making are iterative processes dependent on the employees’ roles and responsibilities. We close the paper with a discussion of our theoretical approach and suggestions for further research.

ANGOURI, J. & BARGIELA-­‐CHIAPPINI, F. 2011. ‘So what problems bother you and you are not speeding up your work?’Problem solving talk at work. Discourse & Communication, 5, 209-­‐229.

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