Rudeness as a discursive strategy in leadership discourse: Culture, power and gender in a Hong Kong workplace


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This article reports on an ongoing research project on leadership discourse and gender in Hong Kong workplaces. It analyses excerpts from a business meeting in a small factory outlet involving three male and three female staff. The two female leaders use jocular insults and other forms of verbal abuse repeatedly, and it is argued that the two leaders' discursive strategies are best characterised as instrumental rudeness, the purpose of which is to attack their interlocutors' face and thereby (re)activate aspects of their own power. Jocular insults may function as a means by which superiors maintain their position in the workplace, but also as a socially acceptable strategy by which subordinates challenge their leaders. In the present context, however, these strategies are used predominantly by the two leaders, and it is argued that a careful consideration of the socio-pragmatic norms of the micro- and the macro-context may explain why the subordinates accept these insults. The article suggests that huge power distance and hierarchical relationships may explain why these leaders' demeaning discourses are not directly challenged. Finally, the article suggests that normatively masculine and feminine management styles may be culture specific, which reiterates the need for a careful consideration of socio-cultural values and norms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1661-1679
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence

User-Defined Keywords

  • Confucian values
  • Hong Kong workplaces
  • Jocular insults
  • Leadership and gender
  • Power difference
  • Rudeness in discourse


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