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English Research Seminar 15.06.2022


"Examining the role and importance of small talk during performance appraisal interviews at a globalized company" - Fien De Malsche, PhD student from the University of Antwerp - Time & place: 2022-June-15 17:00, room D2.0.030


The presence and role of small talk has been observed and researched in a number of workplace contexts, yet research on small talk during corporate performance appraisal interviews is still lacking.  In this paper, I will examine language use at a small-sized service-oriented Flemish company that operates globally, and more specifically focus on performance appraisal interviews conducted remotely in English as a lingua franca between managers at the headquarters in Belgium and sales agents who work for the company virtually from a multitude of places around the world. The dataset consists of 16 online video-recorded appraisal interviews as well as playback interviews with managers involved in the performance appraisal process, and guides us in examining how and why off-topic ‘small talk’ occurs during these types of interactions. On the basis of an in-depth discourse analysis of the interviews, I argue that the observed small talk at this company sheds a new light on the complex corporate genre of the performance appraisal interview. As the interlocutors lack a physical shared workspace and only interact virtually, the analysis shows that small talk comprises of a number of different topics which are discussed both before, during and after the evaluation itself, and that it functions as a means to establish rapport, to get to know the agent and to construct a shared understanding of the company’s norms, values and corporate culture. As such, small talk is not considered optional at this globalized company, but rather forms an integral part of the genre of the performance appraisal interview which helps the managers to ‘talk the institution into being’.

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