Sligo, F., & Bathurst, R. (2005). Communication in the New Zealand workplace: Theory and practice. Wellington: Software TechnologyNew Zealand.
Reviewed by Mary Simpson.
The aim of this book is to serve as a basic introduction for tertiary students to communication at work (Sligo & Bathurst, 2005, p. iv). I reviewed the book with this key purpose in mind. The editors arranged the chapters in a general order of more theoretical to more practical which I question. I also noticed that the chapters appeared in topical order, beginning with communication theory, followed by organisations and communication, public relations and media, and a mix of methods for practice and communication technology. One question, in light of the editors'stated organisation of the book, concerns how this topical arrangement may imply that the topics in latter chapters are less theoretically informed than those at the beginning of the book.
The first chapters provide introductions to communication theory. Sligo provides a coherent exposition of the role of communication theory and its place in research. Phelan then demonstrates how different communication models can be used to reveal different aspects of the same event. However, for me, it is the next section of works that hold particular interest.
Chapters 3 to 12 are a mixture of overviews, and application of theory to practice. While all provide useful and interesting coverage of key issues in communication, the works vary in their capacity to illustrate relevance to the New Zealand workplace. For example, Fountaine provides an engaging mix of theoretical concepts and real-life examples of practice within the New Zealand context. On the other hand, Bruntons albeit well supported discussion organisational communication theory, and detailed steps for communication audits, make only a few references to the New Zealand workplace. That said, this chapter provides a clear introduction to organisation communication. Similarly Perlmutter and El-Bendary address a number of theories concerning international communication and global changes. However, apart from two paragraphs about the New Zealand perspective and a general concluding comment about the need for media to reflect different voices, there are few demonstrable links to communication in the New Zealand work place. In contrast, Tilleys Media Relations explores in some detail the relationships between media, framing and agendas etc., using specific New Zealand examples.
My main concern with this group of chapters is that the container perspective of organisation communication and public relations prevails in that any overlaps between organisation communication and public relations, and internal and external organisational communication are not examined. We need to help students critically explore notions such as organisation communication to enable them to access multiple interconnections between theories and fields of practice. For example, Comrie raises important issues associated with public relations roles and associated challenges of distinguishing public relations from other organisation communication functions. However, a broader discussion is also needed.
The acid test for me was to identify chapters I would use in my teaching. In addition to those already mentioned, I would choose Tilley and Loves chapter on the role of cross-cultural research in Aotearoa New Zealand, and Holmes and Marras work on gender and identity. Tilley and Love address significant issues for New Zealand communication researchers and practitioners, and make the material highly accessible to students. Holmes and Marra offer a fine example of research which contributes to theory building by bringing communication in the New Zealand workplace to the fore. Other useful chapters include Bathurst who uses case study to demonstrate the challenges of communicating change; Tremaine and Casely who use personal stories to explicate principals of persuasive communication, and Sayers who links both macro-theory and personal practice through examining a workplace conflict.
The third group of chapters (13 to 21) focuses largely on methods of practice and includes communication technologies. Some of these works should prove to be great reference texts for students, because they are short how-to prescriptions on, for example,writing, presentations, and meetings. However, in noting the editors focus on theory as underpinning the practice of communicationI question the practical orientation to some topics in this section. For example, Hannis opens with a great hook: an analysis of the Council of Elrond meeting. Yet, he discusses meeting management as a largely practical affair. There are limited references to small group communication, and no discussion of the philosophy or different models of facilitation, nor research-based explanations of techniques such as brainstorming. Thus an extensive body of knowledge is largely ignored. The risk is that students may conclude that successful meetings rely on tools and techniques, rather than reflexive interaction within a complex (if common!) communication process.
In summary, the editors achieve what they set out to do, and many of the works will serve students well. However, I question the value of arranging the book from more theoretical to more practical because of the risk of reducing the focus to one or the other. Finally, the book would benefit from an introductory chapter, and a concluding chapter which synthesises key issues raised by authors about communication in the New Zealand workplace.
About the reviewer:
Mary Simpson is alecturer with the department of Management Communication, Waikato Management School, at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. With extensive industry experience in relationship management, organisational development, business planning, and teamwork, Mary likes to address the practical dimensions of course material in teaching and learning. Her teaching interests include managing conflict and consensus, communication careers and consulting methods, and organisational communication.
Mary maintains a small consultant practice working with health and social sector organisations. She is currently engaged in doctoral studies and the topic of her thesis is Organisation communication in the Retirement Village Sector: An organisational and individual analysis.
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