An Exploratory Study of Communication Competence in Thai Organizations

Article excerpt

During the past two decades, most theories of communication competence have been developed on the basis of "western" conceptualizations (e.g., Bostrom, 1984; Habermas, 1970; Harris, 1979; Littlejohn & Jabusch, 1982; Park, 1985; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984; Wiemann, 1977) of "white," middle-class Americans (Cooley & Roach, 1984). Although some competence researchers have considered cultural factors in their work (e.g., Collier, 1988, 1989; Chen, 1989; Hammer, 1989; Martin & Hammer, 1989; Olebe & Koester, 1989; Ruben, 1989; Spitzberg, 1989; Wiseman, Hammer, & Nishida, 1989), most have focused on relationships between culture and interpersonal communication competence generally, and not on culture and communication competence in organizations in particular. Thus, at present, most conceptualizations of organizational communication competence are founded on "western" views of the construct (e.g., Harris, 1979; Harris & Cronen, 1979; Jablin, Cude, House, Lee, & Roth, 1994; Monge, Bachman, Dillard, & Eisenberg, 1982; Sypher, 1984). Whether such conceptualizations are applicable to organizations in non-western cultures remains a question. As Cooley and Roach (1984) argue, "communication behaviors that are the reflection of an individual's competence are culturally specific and, hence, bound by the culture in which they are acted out. As a result, behaviors that are understood as a reflection of competence in one culture are not necessarily understood as competent in another" (p. 13).

The purpose of this study is to explore organizational communication competence in a non-western country, Thailand. Thailand is a center of traditional Buddhist religion, arts, and culture, and one of the busiest international marketplaces in Southeast Asia. In addition, a growing body of research explores the characteristics of the Thai culture and related organizational and business practices and relationships (e.g., Fieg, 1989; Keyes, 1987; Komin, 1995; Raynolds, 1987; Garrett, 1986; Textor, Bhansoon Ladavalya, & Prabudhanitisarn, 1984). Although none of this research has focused on the issue of organizational communication competence, these studies provide a sufficient foundation for exploring the characteristics of communication competence in Thai organizations. Finally, it is important to recognize that while Thai communication scholars have produced some research exploring facets of organizational communication in Thailand, their research efforts have generally applied western theories of communication and organization to the Thai culture without empirical tests of the validity of such extrapolations. In contrast, the goal of this study is to build upon our knowledge of the culture of the Thai people and their organizations to conceptualize and explore the nature of communication competence in Thai organizations.

Our research rationale is organized in the following fashion. First, we review Thai societal, cultural, and organizational characteristics to provide an understanding of the nature of Thai working traditions, culture, norms, values, and beliefs. Second, we review the literature on communication competence to provide a theoretical and conceptual foundation for this particular study. Third, the research questions that guided this study are presented and the study is discussed.

Thai Societal and Cultural Characteristics

The Thai society today consists of people sharing a rich ethnic diversity, mainly influenced by two great cultural systems of Asia-Chinese and Indian. More than 90% of Thais believe in Buddhism, the national religion. Spoken and written Thai is used as the national language. English is often used and widely understood in cities, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost a second commercial language.

Thailand has built and retained a national culture around a traditional monarchical institution. The country is ruled by an elected civilian coalition government. …