The influence of interpersonal behaviors and social categories on language use in virtual teams
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As increasing number of organizations are using virtual teams, communication scholars have started to pay more attention to these relatively new forms of work. Past studies explored interpersonal (i.e., trust, attraction) and group dynamics (i.e., conformity, subgrouping) in virtual teams. Despite the documented effects of interpersonal behaviors and social categories on virtual group dynamics, there is a substantial gap in how these two factors influence language use in virtual teams. To shed light on this neglected area of research, this dissertation examined how teammates’ interpersonal behaviors and social categories affected language use in virtual team collaborations. 164 participants interacted in four-person teams using a synchronous chat program. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 24. 58% of participants were female and 42% were male. Participants used Windows Live Messenger to complete Straus & McGrath’s (1994) decision making task. Upon completing the task, participants filled out social attraction and social identification scales to be used for manipulation checks. Decision making sessions for each group were saved and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Program (LIWC) was used to examine language use. Linguistic style accommodation was measured using language style matching (LSM) metric. LSM measured the degree to which group members used similar language patterns. It was calculated by averaging the absolute difference scores for nine function word categories generated by LIWC. Similarly, linguistic markers such as word counts, negations, assents, and pronouns were acquired through LIWC output. The results suggested that having a dissenting member in the group was associated with higher linguistic style accommodation compared to having an assenting member. This result contradicted with the assumptions of communication accommodation theory (Giles, Mulac, Bradac, & Johnson, 1987), yet provided evidence for the validity of minority influence theory (Moscovici, Lage, & Naffrechoux, 1969) in virtual teams. Unexpectedly, there was no significant effect of social categories on linguistic style accommodation. The results also showed that negative behaviors were strongly associated with increased word counts, negations and the second person singular pronouns, whereas positive behaviors were associated with increased use of assents, tentative language, first person plural and singular pronouns.