Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Negotiating Order in Interorganizational Communication: Discourse Analysis of a Meeting of Three Diverse Organizations

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Negotiating Order in Interorganizational Communication: Discourse Analysis of a Meeting of Three Diverse Organizations

Article excerpt

This study analyzes the discourse during a meeting of three diverse organizations as they attempt to resolve conflicting organizational interests. The three diverse groups were a waste disposal business, a grassroots community organization, and a state regulatory agency. Discourse analysis of a meeting among these three organizations supported negotiated order theory, which suggests organizations with different cultures find it difficult to achieve a negotiated order because they will at times fail to share the symbolic meaning of the common terms they use. Implications for practice and future research are offered.

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Confrontations among groups with diverse purposes and ethnic backgrounds are not unusual, especially when one group's interests come into conflict with another's. Analysis of instances of discourse during speech events where organizational differences are aired sheds light both on the reflexive process by which a group constructs its own meanings and interpretative schemes, and on the way each uses those interpretations in interorganizational communication. This is especially important since the relationship between the meanings and interpretations of interacting groups may either prevent or enable effective communication and negotiation. The present study of interorganizational communication seeks to analyze and understand the discourse of negotiations among three stakeholder groups as they met to address a controversial community issue.

The conflict examined here began when residents of an Austin, Texas, neighborhood learned of a permit application from the grease processing operation near their elementary school. Residents sought the assistance of a neighborhood community activist organization to petition the state regulatory agency for a public hearing regarding the permit application. We observed and analyzed interorganizational communication among representatives of the community organization, a waste disposal company, and a state regulatory agency during a public meeting. The discourse analysis during the meeting was guided by three theoretical bodies of literature: negotiated order theory, organizational culture, and interactive sociolinguistics. In the next section of the paper we introduce important theories from interorganizational and intraorganizational communication. The methodology section explains the use of discourse analysis for analyzing data gleaned from the meeting. The meeting is the research setting, which is described i n detail to establish the context of the interorganizational communication. Following this discussion, the data are analyzed, with particular focus on two interrelated terms used by the participants of the meeting. The analysis is followed by a discussion of how the guiding theories enhance understanding of the data. Finally, the conclusions of the study are presented with the implications for practice and future research.

Theoretical Foundation

The theoretical argument on which this study is grounded is based on the integration of organizational and interorganizational constructs. The two macro-level constructs are negotiated order and organizational culture. Interactive sociolinguistics provides the bridge between the first two bodies of literature and establishes the foundation for the discourse analytic method used for the study. The remainder of this section reviews these theories and constructs, and then explains how they fit to form the basis of our argument, which can be stated as follows: Organizations with different cultures will find it difficult to achieve a negotiated order because they will at times fail to share the symbolic significance of the terms they use.

Negotiated Order Theory

Negotiated order theory holds that interaction is a negotiation process, and for organizations to interact effectively they must agree on the "rules" governing their relationship (Nathan & Mitroff, 1991). …

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