The influence of culture on the perception of politeness: An investigation of front-line staff at a mid-priced hotel chain in New Zealand

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Bengsch, Geraldine
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of International Communication
Unitec Institute of Technology
Henson, Donna
Beamer, Linda
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
intercultural communication
accommodation industry
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Bengsch, G. (2010). The influence of culture on the perception of politeness: An investigation of front-line staff at a mid-priced hotel chain in New Zealand. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Communication, Unitec New Zealand.
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does culture influence the perception of politeness that occurs in nonverbal and verbal behaviour when responding to requests in a hotel front-line environment? This case study examines the key factors in the perception of politeness in a hotel front-line environment. The area of front-line communication has been mainly addressed in research by business and hospitality scholars, and although politeness has been researched extensively in communication contexts, the two areas have not been interconnected by researchers. Courtesy, however, is an essential aspect of customer satisfaction. The multi-cultural context of the tourism industry presents a number of communication challenges for its actors. As a result, miscommunication that is referred to in hospitality studies as ‘service failure’ is a frequent occurrence. The study draws its data from two main data collection methods: a qualitative focus group discussion at one hotel and a quantitative survey of front-line staff at all of the hotels belonging to the chain. Documents and informal interviews with higher ranked managers of the organisation were used for triangulation purposes. The findings indicate that front-line employees prefer to base their communication on their individual perception of politeness when interacting with guests. National culture appears to be a strong motivator for front-line communication. Corporate culture is demonstrated to become of higher relevance later in a given conversational sequence. Results also reveal that front-line staff prefer to find ways to forgo face-threatening situations. If this is not possible, active repairs have to be made to re-establish the necessary and required level of politeness. In this study, the organisation provides employees with few guidelines in the form of intercultural training and lets staff employ trial and error techniques to develop the necessary behaviour patterns by themselves. Behaviour appears to be strongly influenced by stereotyping and prejudices. However, not only employees are prone to using stereotypes when interacting with customers, but staff members feel that they are judged on superficial terms by the guests as well. Overall, behaviours also appear to differ depending on the nature of a guest’s visit to the hotel. International tourists appear to be more forgiving than business travellers in situations where politeness levels are not adhered to.
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