In 1996, a team of researchers at Victoria University of Wellington began an innovative study of spoken communication in New Zealand workplaces.

The continuing aims of the project are to:

  • Identify the characteristics of effective communication between people
  • Diagnose possible causes of miscommunication
  • Explore possible applications of the findings for New Zealand workplaces

The project team began collecting recordings of workplace interactions in 1996 in four government organisations: The Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Ministry of Māori Development (Te Puni Kōkiri), the Ministry of Forestry, and the Education and Training Support Agency (Wellington Regional Office).

In 1997, the project was extended to include recordings from workplaces outside the government sector. Organisations which have collaborated in the research include Relationship Services, Telecom, Mobil Oil, and Unilever Australasia. In collaboration with UNITEC Institute of Technology, Auckland, we have also made recordings at an Auckland tanning factory (part of the Affco group of companies), and small businesses in Hawke's Bay (in collaboration with the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT)). In addition, we have recorded interactions in hospital settings, IT organisations, publishing companies, building sites, and elder care facilities.

In 2006, we received funding to continue our research, focussing in particular on the language of leadership in organisations. In this phase, we examined the similarities and differences in Māori and Pākehā leadership styles and aim to explore how effective Māori leadership strategies might be overlooked in a mainstream management analysis.

Data from the LWP project was used to develop materials for a course teaching pragmatics to skilled migrants. In turn migrants from the course became the focus of the LWP team's research. Migrants provided classroom data as well as being followed as they completed workplace internships. Insights from this data collection have been used to aid both migrants and employers in New Zealand.


Volunteers in each organisation taped everyday work-related meetings or discussions in government policy units, management groups, project teams, factory production teams, and small businesses. They also recorded some telephone calls and social conversations and the project team videotaped a number of larger, more formal meetings from most workplaces.


The team has collected approximately 2,000 interactions involving over 700 people in more than 30 different workplaces; some are as short as 20 seconds and others are several hours long.

Information on interactions

View details online here.

Summary diagrams

Three diagrams summarise aspects of the Language in the Workplace project:


We would like to thank all those organisations and people who have been involved in the Project so far. Your contributions have been invaluable to the research we have been able to carry out to date and the success of the Project in the long term.

We would also like to acknowledge the work done in collaboration with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

In previous years the Project has been supported by grants from the Royal Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and Victoria University of Wellington.