Marsden, Elizabeth (2019) Relationship Management in Intercultural Business Emails. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

While relational networks have been an important part of much research into human interaction since at least the 1980s, there has been little research into network creation and decay, with much research simply creating a snapshot of an established network. Additionally, only a small number of studies have portrayed networks as dynamic and changing, instead viewing ties as binary, either strong or weak, but not something in between. This thesis addresses both these problems using intercultural business email data to map relationships from the first introduction of two parties, to eventual decay, including stages of change along the way. A comprehensive model of dynamic relational networks is also presented, adding significant detail to the descriptions presented by prior studies and presenting the idea graphically for the first time.

The thesis uses a corpus of 1072 emails sent between a sole trader and 19 of her clients. Initially, an exploratory data analysis is conducted to present some of the structural and statistical aspects of the data. Then, using an inductive qualitative research process, tie creation is examined looking at how relationships are initiated and begin to progress. How strong functional ties are developed is then examined through linguistic strategies such as self-disclosures, multimedia sharing, and paying compliments. A systematic analysis of the usage of CMC (computer mediated communication) cues for relational work is given particular attention. The maintenance of weak ties is also examined, including using politic behaviour, adherence to one’s line, and recipient design. Tie decay, an under-explored area, is also analysed by describing how language differs before and after a break in contact, how a relationship can be destabilised and (possibly) repaired, or how it may become dysfunctional.

It is found that traits put forward by prior studies categorising relationships as strong, e.g. homophily, time dedication and trust, can be exemplified through linguistic elements in those relationships which are moving towards being strong (and, importantly, functional i.e. friendly, rather than dysfunctional, i.e. bullying). The thesis also shows how in all the business relationships presented, there is some amount of relational communication, which is important for ensuring a smooth business relationship.

Marsden THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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