English Research Seminar 08.06.2022

08. Juni 2022

"Causes of miscommunication in meetings – a BELF perspective" - Evan Frendo, freelance teacher, trainer and author - Time & place: 2022-June-08 18:00, room D2.2.228


Miscommunication in workplace settings has been investigated from a wide variety of perspectives, including communication studies, social sciences, and language. BELF (English as a business English franca) researchers, influenced by a perspective which sees workplace communication as dynamic, variable, and transcultural (as opposed to traditional ELT perspectives which perhaps tend to see language more as a fixed, codified product), have begun to explore miscommunication in meetings in some detail, e.g., Birlik & Kaur (2020), Kaur (2017), Pitzl (2005), and Rogerson-Revell (2010).  Zhu (2014) provides a useful list of possible causes of misunderstanding in intercultural communication, including inadequate linguistic proficiency, pragmatic mismatch, clash of styles, mismatch in schema and cultural stereotypes, and mismatch in contextualisation cues and framing. In many workplace contexts miscommunication is immaterial or can be easily resolved, but there are clearly instances where it can cause serious problems, such as with safety or budgets. As teachers working with business students our aim must be to help our learners minimise miscommunication as much as possible, and to do this we need not only to be aware of what causes it, but also to know what guidance to give.

In my roles as trainer and consultant, I often observe meetings on behalf of clients, perhaps as part of a needs analysis, or perhaps to provide feedback on language use. Participants typically come from different countries, and English is used as a lingua franca. Most meetings go well, but sometimes there is clearly miscommunication. After a brief recap of recent BELF research on miscommunication, we will look at some examples from my own training context and consider possible causes, including language ability, intercultural communication issues, the presence of native speakers, as well as contextual factors. We will end with a discussion of implications for the business English practitioner. 


Birlik, S., & Kaur, J. (2020). BELF expert users: Making understanding visible in internal BELF meetings through the use of nonverbal communication strategies. English for Specific Purposes, 58, 1–14.

Kaur, J. (2017). Ambiguity related misunderstanding and clarity enhancing practices in ELF communication. Intercultural Pragmatics, 14, 25–47.

Pitzl, M.–L. (2005). Non-understanding in English as a lingua franca: Examples from a business context. Vienna English Working Papers, 14, 50–71.

Rogerson–Revell, P. (2010). “Can you spell that for us nonnative speakers?”: Accommodation strategies in international business meetings. Journal of Business Communication, 47, 432–454.

Zhu, H. (2014). Exploring intercultural communication: Language in action. Routledge.

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