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The study of identities is vast and stretches right across the humanities, social sciences and arts.

When considering the identities we portray at work through the communication we use, we must consider other factors that make up our identities in addition to ‘Face’.

As this course has a clear practical purpose, the notion of identities presented here is based upon a user-friendly approach from sociolinguistics and social psychology that can be applied to your own workplaces.

When thinking about analysing communicative styles at work, it is useful to think about Face as inextricably linked to three different but interrelated identity components:

  • Personal identity

  • Social identity

  • Professional identity

Personal identity primarily refers to personality traits. Social identity refers to features including age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality and social class. Professional identity refers to features related to one’s competence and abilities to fulfil a particular job role.

Personal identity

There is a vast amount of material written on personality and leadership. One of the most commonly cited frameworks in business communication training and the academic discipline of Organisational Studies is the ‘OCEAN’ model, defined as follows:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Research has shown that successful bosses are those who have the following personality traits:

  • High levels of openness; emotional balance; confidence (the opposite end of the scale to neuroticism).

  • Sociable and dominant (towards the extrovert end).

  • An ability to move along the agreeableness scale based on context and the task at hand e.g., on some occasions, empathy and compassion will be required, on others a need for decisiveness and challenging behaviour will be required.

In more traditional types of business consultancy/training it can be common practice to run psychometric tests on employees or prospective employees to attempt to reveal particular personality characteristics. Many individuals and groups find these tools useful.

However, it is important to point out that linguistics researchers have questioned the reliability of these tests, particularly if they are the only method used to try and assess identity characteristics. They tend to be based on the technique of self-report and too often there is a disjunction between people’s report of what they think they do/feel and what they actually do/feel in reality. This is a key reason why actual observation of real-life business interactions is so important in linguistics.

Also, psychometric tests imply that our identities are completely fixed. However, a range of sociolinguistic research based on real-life observation has found that our identities are not fixed and static – they can and do change over time.

One potential danger of tools such as psychometric tests is that they can instil a tendency to think about your identity as something that is rigid and fixed for all time. This can make it difficult to think more creatively or to accept new challenges. However, they can still be useful tools if used with other methods and if used and applied cautiously.

Social identity

Out of the different social identity categories highlighted above, gender has become the most popular line of enquiry, with researchers examining how gender affects the communication styles that are used in workplaces and/or how it affects evaluations and judgements of bosses and workers. Researchers have addressed questions such as whether the language women use has a negative impact on their careers.

Professional identities

In addition to personal and social identities, professional identities are further made up of one’s competence and abilities. These will change over time depending on a range of factors including:

  • Experience and expertise

  • Job roles

  • Qualifications

  • Length of time worked for an organisation

You should now consider the following question before moving on to the next step:

What features of personal identity, social identity and professional identity do you think affect your identity performances the most at work?

© Except for third party materials and where otherwise indicated, the copyright in the content provided on this page is owned by The University of Nottingham and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike UK 2.0 Licence
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How to Read Your Boss

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