The Language of Negotiation: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Improving Communication

By Joan Mulholland | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Language and discourse

DISCOURSE
Negotiation is a discursive practice in society, of which the two major elements are social interaction and communication about matters. Several broad aspects deserve attention before moving on to a detailed account. First, every discourse is a social event in itself; it is not just a commentary on or an accompaniment to some other kind of event. Every discursive act is an act of power: speaking or writing always has an effect. Producing the right speech at the right time can empower the speaker; producing the wrong speech can undermine the speaker’s power, render his or her future utterances fragile, and can lead to them being ignored and his or her aims being thwarted. Learning to read this discursive information is crucial for an understanding of the activity of negotiation. Second, the production of discourses in society is controlled, organised and distributed by a certain number of socially determined procedures. Discourses are, for example, affected by the conventions of:
(a) exclusion, whereby certain people cannot easily speak to certain others (for example, a mail-room clerk in a large company would not normally represent the company at an international meeting);
(b) prohibition, whereby certain topics are deemed inappropiate in certain contexts (for example the expression of political views in a meeting to negotiate the timetabling of work allocations);
(c) decorum, whereby certain speech behaviours are thought improper (for example rude personal remarks at almost any formal occasion).

In each case, the control of discourse is not absolute, but if an exception occurs, it will be recognised as such, and treated as unusual, or inappropriate. So, for example, the community’s general sense of the exclusion procedure would find the clerk’s representation so peculiar that this would strongly influence their understanding of the meaning of his discourse—so much so that they might not ‘hear’ his subject matter while seeking for a meaning for his presence. So also the expression of strong views at a

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