At our Group meeting in March, XYZ’s leadership team outlined our strategy to become the world’s leading international air cargo company. (line 2-3)Positive, Intensify interest to hearer This means we have to become a company that is easier for our customers to do business with and where it is easier for you to work. (line 4-5)Positive, Give reason We, our (line 4)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
For all of XYZ’s many strengths as an organization, we can be unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic. These weaknesses make us less effective and efficient. (line 5-7)Positive, Give reason We (line 6)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
Can (line 6)Negative, Hedge
Us (line 7)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
We (line 8)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
Improving our effectiveness (line 12)Negative, Nominalize
Our, we (line 12)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
We must also reduce our costs. (line 13)Positive, Include both speaker and hearer in the activity We have benchmarked ourselves against our competitors and it is clear we need to be better to align ourselves with international norms. (line 13-15)Positive, Give reason We, ourselves (line 13)Positive, Use in-group identity markers Our (line 14)Positive, Use in-group identity markers
it is clear we need to be better to align ourselves with international norms. (line 14-15)Positive, Include both speaker and hearer in the activity While Hong Kong is without doubt our most efficient and cost-effective center of operations (line 16-17)Negative, Be conventionally indirect
By all doing our part, together we will help make Hong Kong as an even stronger part of XYZ. (line 17-18)Positive, Include both speaker and hearer in the activity together we will help make Hong Kong as an even stronger part of XYZ. (line 18)Positive, Include both speaker and hearer in the activity We will be focusing primarily on our support functions as we restructure to reduce management layers and improve efficiency. (line19-20)Positive, Give reason This means jobs will be eliminated. (line20)Negative, Impersonalize speaker and hearer It is very difficult to know exactly how many posts will be reduced. (line 20-21)Negative, Impersonalize speaker and hearer Approximately (line 22)Negative, Hedge
We understand that these changes will be unsettling (line 24)Positive, Presuppose speaker’s knowledge and concern for hearer’s wants we will try to help those affected by providing redeployment opportunities and counseling services via our Human Resources Department. (line 24-26)Positive, Offer and promise Improving our organizational effectiveness (line 28)Negative, Nominalize Thank you (line 30)Negative, Go on record as incurring or as not indebting hearer Overall Strategy:
Strategy 2: the speaker can do the FTA ‘on record’, but with redressive action in the form of positive politeness
System 3: Hierarchical politeness system
This text is an e-mail. The addresser of this email is the CEO of the XYZ Company, while the addressees are the employees of the XYZ Company in Hong Kong. The CEO announces her decision about making a large number of employees redundant in the coming two years in this email. Different politeness strategies are widely adopted in this email to make the employees of the XYZ Company feel comfortable and find it easier to accept this negative message. In this paper, it would include the analysis whether this email conforms to Scollon and Scollon’s (2000) politeness system and the reasons for adopting those politeness strategies in the email.
Negative face is threatened in this email by telling the employees that the company will lay off 150 employees in the foreseeable future as this is an undesirable company activity that employees do not want to attend. Redressive languages of both positive and negative politeness strategies are used to compensate for face-threatening act behavior. More positive politeness strategies are adopted in the email with the following reasons. The addressees are employees of the XYZ Company in Hong Kong. They have Chinese culture background that concerns about showing respect for others’ feeling and giving “face” which is defined as the positive social value one effectively claims for oneself by the line others assume he or she has taken during a particular contact. (Goffman 1955:213) Moreover, as both the addresser and addressees work in the same company, using positive politeness strategies can help emphasize the solidarity between them.
Once the solidarity is built within the company, it helps encourage the employees consider the whole company as oneself and accept the lay-off activity as it can make the company become stronger as the CEO mentioned in the email. Furthermore, the use of positive politeness strategies can show addressees that the addresser is interested and care for them. With feeling to be cared, employees can find it easier to accept the message about the lay-off activity. Therefore, with more positive politeness strategies than negative politeness strategies to be adopted in the email, it proves that the CEO does the face threatening act ‘on record’, but with redressive action in the form of positive politeness. Brown and Levinson (1987) states this strategy can help addresser show respect to addressees and address the positive face wants of the addressees to be like or approved of.
Different politeness systems would be employed according to the relationships between the interactants. With great power difference, great social distance and high degree of weight of imposition between the addresser and addressees within the communication, more redressive languages would be employed to lower the degree of face-threat, or vice versa. Grundy (2000) states that power difference, social distance and weight of imposition are factors to determine which politeness system should be adopted in the communication. It affects the degree of face-threat to be compensated by appropriate linguistic strategy. In this email, hierarchical politeness system is adopted. Hierarchical politeness system operates when the participants are in unequal power. In the email, the addresser is the CEO who is with the highest rank in the company, while the addressees are all the employees, who have relatively low ranks in the company. Unlike friends or colleagues in same level, both participants have a huge power distance between each other.
The CEO has great power over the employees as the CEO is the superordinate, while the employees are subordinates. Meanwhile, their social distance between each other is large as well with their different social status. The main idea in this email is about 150 employees may get unemployed due to the elimination of job posts in the coming two years. This could affect employees seriously and negatively. Thus, the degree of the weight of imposition is high from the perspective of addressees. This email conforms to the hierarchical politeness system stated by Scollon and Scollon (2000). In the hierarchical politeness system, positive politeness strategies are more likely to be adopted when superordinate communicates with the subordinates. In the email, with positive politeness strategies, the CEO can send her negative message to her employees with minimizing the threat to the addressees’ positive face. This allows addressees to find it more comfortable when receiving the message from the email.
Using in-group identity marker is one of the most frequently used positive politeness strategies within the email. Using in-group identity markers means using ways, like address forms, language or dialect, jargon or slang and ellipses to convey in-group membership. In the email, first person pronouns like “our” in line 4, “we” in line 6 and “ourselves” in line 13 are frequently used within the whole email. Using first person pronouns as in-group identity markers can help addressees psychologically identify themselves as a member in the company like the addresser does. This builds togetherness and arouses addressees’ interests in the announcement. They then can be attentive to the message and understand the lay-off activity is a way to make the company better and stronger.
The CEO includes both addresser and addressees in the activity in the email too. This can get both parties involved in doing the activities. In the email, the sentence “we must also reduce our costs” is to get the whole company, including both the CEO and employees, involved in the activity to lower the costs for the company. Another example is “by all doing our part, together we will help make Hong Kong as an even stronger part of XYZ” in line 17-18. This gets everyone in the company to perform well in his or her own posts in order to get the company become more efficient and effective.
Giving reasons is another positive politeness strategy adopted in the email. Giving reasons allow addressees to have understanding and about the message and find it easier to accept the idea of it. In the email, the CEO give reasons when delivering the message about the lay-off activity in the company. For instance, she tells “this means we have to become a company that is easier for our customers to do business with and where it is easier for you to work” in line 4-5 to be the reason of “For all of XYZ’s many strengths as an organization, we can be unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic. These weaknesses make us less effective and efficient” in line 6-7. Later in the email, “we have benchmarked ourselves against our competitors and it is clear we need to better to align ourselves with international norms” in line 13-15 also serves as an explanation for the statement “improving our effectiveness will speed up how we operate and remove unnecessary layers of management. We must also reduce our costs”. With reasons to support the CEO’s decisions, addressees can further understand the message and find the decision rational. Therefore, they then would accept the lay-off activity.
Like mentioned earlier, the adoption of negative politeness strategies is not common in the email. The CEO has greater power and status over her employees. With higher rank of position within the company, she does not have to address addressees’ negative face and emphasize avoidance of imposition on them. She does not have to feel embarrassed when asking her employees to work for her. Having said so, she still employs negative politeness strategies to make addressees apt to accept the orders from her. Go on record as incurring is one of the negative politeness strategies used in the email. It helps to redress the face-threatening act by explicitly claiming addresser’s indebtedness to addressees. In line 30, “thank you” is adopted to show appreciation of effort that addressees make.
The CEO applies multiple pragmatic politeness strategies in her email to employees. With great power and social distance relative to the employees and the high degree of imposition, she uses many redressive languages to maintain the negative face of the employees. Meanwhile, positive pragmatic politeness strategies are more likely to be used to address the negative face as she is a superordinate towards her employees. Such organization and the use of politeness strategies help the employees find it easier and comfortable to accept the CEO’s negative message.