A Study of Relationship Construction in Intercultural Business Emails

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


My study uses relationship management/rapport as a method by which to understand the formation, strengthening and degradation of a relational network (Kádár & Haugh, 2013; Milroy & Milroy, 1992) via email. This is the opposite approach to that usually taken, as rather than examining existing language behaviour within a network (Kádár & Haugh, 2013; Kankaanranta, 2006; Kessler, 2010), I analyse how language can be used to construct a network.

This construction is accomplished through a series of predominantly non-salient politeness moves, such as establishing shared goals, teamwork, sharing troubles and similarities, and engaging in social non-business-related talk (Gremler & Gwinner, 2008; Price & Arnould, 1999; Shao, Zhang, & Guo, 2014). These moves provide the basis for my model of relationship management.

Regarding my data, the network studied is unusual, as ties between nodes are sparse, though one principal node (myself as business owner) exists which ties all the other nodes (19 clients) together. This is interesting from a politeness and pragmatic perspective, as each tie is created individually, with minimal or absent interaction with other nodes – this is largely due to the reason for contact (business) and the mode of contact (email). Thus each tie with the principal node constitutes a subtly different relationship; each pair (principal + other) constitutes a micro community of practice (Wenger, 1998), situated within a larger network.

Focussing on business interactions via email allows the relationship to be mapped from beginning to (possible) end. Additionally, as communication is between a sole-trader and her clients, personal relationships can be formed; clients are dealing with the same person repeatedly, therefore allowing for the creation of recursive behaviours and relational practices. Thus the line between client and friend, or social and business talk, can become blurred.

My PhD aims to use this rich and varied data to build a model of relationship management, explained through the framework of network tie creation, strengthening and decay.
Period13 Jul 2016
Event titleLIAR IV: Linguistic Im/politeness, Aggression and Rudeness conference: Intra-, Inter- and Cross Cultural Politeness and Impoliteness
Event typeConference
LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • relationship management
  • networks
  • CMC
  • community of Practice
  • business interaction