Cultural Identity

Co-workers within an organisation do not exist within a vacuum. People's identity - their culture, gender, age, education and previous experiences - all affect how they interact in the workplace environment (see Stubbe and Holmes 2000 for a full discussion of this topic).

Māori and Pākehā

In 2004, the contrast between Māori and Pākehā leadership styles became a major research focus. A number of our early recordings were also made in workplaces with a large proportion of Māori workers. We found different cultural norms mean that Māori and Pākehā interact in subtly different ways in the workplace:

  • Māori conversational style is more strongly based on shared knowledge and consensus than that typical of Pākehā speakers. This is often reflected linguisticially in a greater use of positive politeness strategies such as addressee-oriented pragmatic devices (e.g., eh, you know) or terms of address (e.g., bro), in-group humour, code switiching and styleshifting, all of which function to build and maintain solidarity with colleagues.
  • Māori often give less verbal feedback in conversation than Pākehā. They make greater use of non-verbal communication and silence as a more normal and acceptable part of communication. This can be disconcerting to Pākehā listeners, while Māori listeners expect it.
  • Māori speakers often leave more unexpressed in verbal communication. There is greater reliance on implicit communication, and less on explicit explanation of the main point of a communication.
  • It is common and acceptable for Māori speaking together to overtly mark an ethnic boundary, particularly in the use of humour, between Māori and Pākehā, where it is less common in Pākehā culture to do this.
  • The extent to which Māori speakers draw on identifiably Māori discourse features in the workplace depends on a number of factors, including the social and linguistic background of the participants, the setting, and the relative importance of signalling a Māori identity in a given speech context. Māori discourse features are much more likely to be used in contexts where all or most of the participants are Māori, rather than where the majority are Pākehā, and where Māori identity is relevant to the topic under discussion.
Kingi: what I reckon just from hanging round with Helen and her mates
Mike: yeah
Kingi: is that they just talk about different things
Mike: that's true eh
Kingi: they have different subject matter and they use different vocabulary
Mike: cos the other thing, you ever found like you talk to a Pākehā and you trying to tell a joke and they don't get it
Kingi: yeah
Mike: but when you talk to a Māori they do
Kingi: and they get it yeah yeah
Mike: yeah
Kingi: and that the whole you tell your jokes as well
Mike: YEAH [in a high pitched voice]: it's how it goes man, and there's like yeah still a lot of things like that


Please see our list of Cultural Identity publications in the Bibliographies section.