Power relations in workplaces are expressed through the language that co-workers use to each other. We have examined how managers use language strategically to express their superior power relationship over their subordinates:

  • Managers use meta-discoursal comments, comments about how they organise their discourse with others, to ' do power on record ', making what they believe to be their power relation with others quite explicit
    • e.g. 'I always have the overriding final say but I'll never override my policy manager unless I thought it absolutely necessary and that would be quite rare'
  • It is the chair, typically the most powerful person at a meeting, who sets the agenda, making it clear what they expect to cover and in what order and thereby asserting their authority to exercise such control of the meeting
    • e.g. '[summarising background] and that's what this meeting is about'
  • Managing people includes setting objectives for subordinates, and explicitly evaluating their performance, it is typically only a superior who can comment on a co-worker's performance
    • e.g. 'it's very good it's very clear it's come out really well'
  • Generally only managers, or superiors, can acceptably challenge statements made by co-workers. This is an explicit example of their power over the co-worker
    • e.g. 'but seriously what documents are we going to be producing here'
  • As well as setting the agenda, it is the chair or manager who is responsible for keeping interactions on track, in both formal meetings and more informal conversations and it is typically the superior who controls the progress of the interaction
    • e.g. 'so we've talked around the bit in the middle shall we talk about.'
  • Managers typically issue many more directives than others in the organisation. It is very uncommon for a subordinate to give a directive to a superior
    • e.g. 'follow that up'
  • Although managers are direct and assertive when the situation requires it, they just as often use language which softens the impact of a directive. This means that workers can save face and can be a way of reducing social distance between management and subordinates
    • e.g. ' perhaps on Monday we could take a look at that protection stuff we've been doing '[meaning you have to do some work!].


Please see our list of publications on Management in the Bibliographies section.