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To test hypotheses about intra- and intergenerational communication perceptions, nonmanagerial-level bankers (n = 348) in two nations (Thailand and United States) self-assessed their communication beliefs on the Global Perceptions of Intergenerational Communication scale. Communication accommodation theory was used as a theoretical backdrop. Results revealed that older bankers were seen as more nonaccommodating (e.g., more negative, more ordering) than young bankers, though young bankers still felt more obligation to be respectful (e.g., hold back opinions) with older bankers than to their same-age group. In addition, managers were seen as more nonaccommodating than nonmanagers. Cross-cultural findings emerged to the extent that Thai bankers perceived others, in general, as less accommodating (e.g., supportive, helpful) and more nonaccommodating than did their American counterparts; hence, workplace conversations were at least partially viewed as more difficult in Thailand than in the United States. Research on religious and philosophical traditions, cultural convergence and divergence, modernity, and workplace homogenization were invoked to interpret the above findings.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Communication With People
of Different Ages in the Workplace:
Thai and American Data
Robert M. McCann
1
& Howard Giles
2
1 Marshall School of Business, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 90089
2 Department of Communication, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 90089
To test hypotheses about intra- and intergenerational communication perceptions,
nonmanagerial-level bankers (n = 348) in two nations (Thailand and United States) self-
assessed their communication beliefs on the Global Perceptions of Intergenerational Com-
munication scale. Communication accommodation theory was used as a theoretical back-
drop. Results revealed that older bankers were seen as more nonaccommodating (e.g.,
more negative, more ordering) than young bankers, though young bankers still felt more
obligation to be respectful (e.g., hold back opinions) with older bankers than to their
same-age group. In addition, managers were seen as more nonaccommodating than non-
managers. Cross-cultural findings emerged to the extent that Thai bankers perceived
others, in general, as less accommodating (e.g., supportive, helpful) and more nonaccom-
modating than did their American counterparts; hence, workplace conversations were at
least partially viewed as more difficult in Thailand than in the United States. Research
on religious and philosophical traditions, cultural convergence and divergence, modernity,
and workplace homogenization were invoked to interpret the above findings.
doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2006.00004.x
The study of intergenerational communication, as with investigations into aging in
other disciplines, is starting to enjoy a rich and varied history (see Giles, 1999;
Nussbaum & Coupland, 2004). Over the past 15 years, it has rapidly evolved to
encompass an increasingly broad array of social and relational contexts such as
doctors’ and pharmacists’ communication with elderly patients, adult children’s
discourse with their elderly parents, caregivers’ and relatives’ communication
with Alzheimer’s sufferers, the legal and political implications of communication
with older individuals, and media portrayals of elderly people (for review, see
Nussbaum & Coupland; Williams & Giles, 1996).
Due to the breadth and significance of intergenerational communication
research, one would expect that workplace intergenerational communication
Corresponding author: Robert M. McCann; e-mail: bobmccann4@yahoo.com.
Human Communication Research ISSN 0360-3989
74 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
research would also be a vibrant field of inquiry. This, however, has not been the case
as the area generally has been ignored by both intergenerational communication
scholars (who have bypassed the workplace context) and gerontologically focused
organizational researchers (who have largely ignored communication issues). This
omission is particularly surprising given the many hours we spend communicating
in organizational settings with the more than 5 million older American workers
(American Association of Retired Persons [AARP], 2005), a figure that is sure to
increase as baby boomers move through their 60s and beyond.
1
Communication also
plays a primary role in one of the regrettable outgrowths of this increased intergen-
erational workplace interaction: age discrimination. Of the nearly 20,000 age dis-
crimination cases filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
in 2002 (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2003), ageist language
appears as case evidence with alarming frequency (for review, see McCann & Giles,
2002). This fact alone should be reason enough for communication scholars to
pursue research in this domain.
This study, then, represents the first empirical research (not only in the United
States but cross-culturally as well) to examine the applied domain of workplace inter-
generational communication.
2
Specifically, its first purpose is to investigate younger
full-time workers’ accounts of their intra- and intergenerational communicative
(dis)satisfaction in the workplace with variables such as target age, culture, and orga-
nizational rank. From this, a more expansive conceptual and theoretical understanding
of intergenerational attitudes will be achieved, as will a richer understanding of how age
is perceived in daily workplace conversations in different cultures. Indeed, the work-
place represents a stirring context to examine intergenerational communication in that
rank-based power differentials, job task concerns, and workplace age stereotypes (to
name a very few) should make individuals acutely aware of their age and organizational
rank. This could potentially lead to different types of interactions than may be found in
nonorganizational intergenerational contexts (e.g., family).
The consumer banking industry in Thailand and in the United States (the two
national cultures examined herein) represents an ideal avenue for exploring these
interactions because banking organizational structures in the two cultures are very
similar; yet, the interpersonal interactions that take place within them remain quite
different. The banking industry in both Thailand and the United States is well
established and has a long history. In Thailand, banking has existed for roughly
100 years, whereas the first bank in the United States was established in the late
18th century. All consumer banks in Thailand, and most in the United States, would
be defined as large businesses (more than 500 employees) by typical definitions (e.g.,
United States Small Business Administration, 2005). More recently, the fast pace of
deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, information technology, and global expan-
sion has further accentuated these similarities. Culturally analogous managerial
structures, streamlined banking operations, computerized job skill requirements,
and large-scale human resource shifts, to name a very few, have all rapidly emerged.
A customer walking into a consumer bank in Bangkok would thus experience much
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 75
of the same environment as he or she would in the United States. This, in turn, has
led to the creation of several financial behemoths (e.g., Citigroup), though there are
still almost 8,000 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation–insured banks operating
today in the United States. That said, the organizational cultures (e.g., reticence to
question those of higher ranks, paternalism of bosses) that operate within Thai and
American banks are often markedly different from each other, providing an ideal
arena for intergenerational and cross-cultural communication analyses. By examin-
ing the banking industry in both cultures, the type of organization is thus being
controlled for in this study.
This research has a strong theoretical basis and is built on well-established
principles inherent in communication accommodation theory (CAT; e.g., Giles,
Coupland, & Coupland, 1991); it has guided, in particular, the kinds of dependent
variables adopted in prior studies. CAT directly examines the ways in which individ-
uals use language in intergroup encounters, with its underlying basis to explain ‘‘the
social cognitive processes mediating individuals’ perceptions of the environment and
their communicative behaviors’’ (Giles, Mulac, Bradac, & Johnson, 1987, p. 14).
According to CAT, our communicative behaviors are, at least in part, fueled by
social stereotypes. In the age domain, stereotypes are abundant and can be exceed-
ingly negative in nature. For example, elderly people are described by young adults as
being nagging, irritable, decrepit, cranky, weak, feebleminded, verbose, cognitively
deficient, impotent, useless, ugly, and miserable and unsatisfied with their lives
(Palmore, 1988, 1990). Not surprisingly, these negative stereotypes have potent
behavioral implications as they have been found to be the cognitive precursors to
intergenerational discourses such as ageist humor, as well as contributing to
increased social distance and avoidance between people of different generations
(Hummert & Ryan, 1996; Ryan & Cole, 1990).
CAT predicts that people of different generations may communicate in ways that
are biased in favor of their own age group and not the other age group. An emerging
body of research conducted in nonworkplace settings helps support this assertion.
For example, Williams and Giles (1996) asked young college-aged students to recall
and relate satisfying and dissatisfying conversations with nonfamilial elders via open-
ended written accounts of satisfying and dissatisfying conversations. In general,
young adults in this study reported that their intergenerational conversations were
more dissatisfying and less positive than their intragenerational encounters. Specif-
ically, ‘‘satisfying conversations’’ were those where older people were reportedly
accommodative (e.g., supportive, attentive) to the needs of the young person, whereas
‘‘dissatisfying conversations’’ included frequent characterizations of older people as
being nonaccommodative (e.g., nonlistening, forcing unwanted attention on young
interlocutors). Moreover, young adults depicted themselves as ‘‘reluctantly accom-
modative’’ to older dissatisfying partners in that they had to restrain themselves (e.g.,
avoid topics, ‘‘bite their tongue’’) and display respect for the older person.
These findings on accommodation, nonaccommodation, and restrained/respectful
communication in age-intergroup contexts were largely mirrored in follow-up
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
76 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
studies (for review, see Giles, McCann, Ota, & Noels, 2002). Given this seemingly
enormous gulf between younger and older adults in their intergenerational talk,
Coupland, Coupland, and Giles (1991) concluded that ‘‘.younger and older people
may find themselves conversing across a cultural divide, predisposed by their
predictably varying social experiences, social attitudes and priorities for interaction’’
(p. 152).
Although survey results show that employers give older workers high marks on
loyalty, performance, and job skills (AARP, 1989),
3
older worker stereotypes still
largely reflect widespread societal stereotypes of older (and younger) people and
include largely negative perceptions of older workers. These include perceptions of
older workers as mentally and physically ‘‘challenged’’ at work, unable to cope with
workplace changes, and poor performers at work, to name a very few. For example,
young respondents rated other young individuals as more physically qualified than
older people for ‘‘demanding’’ work (Finkelstein, Burke, & Raju, 1995), whereas 40%
of firms in a Louis Harris Labor force ‘‘2000 poll’’ cited the physical demands of work
as affecting their hiring and retaining decisions for workers older than age 55 (see
Mirvis, 1993). These perceptions are particularly telling in light of the fact that
a relatively small percentage of jobs today involve manual labor.
Young workers, on the other hand, tend to be viewed as physically and mentally
more prepared to take on the demands of today’s workplace. Here too, research
displays a pattern of stereotyped biases among young workers in favor of ones’ own
age group and not the other age group (McCann & Giles, 2002). Job-specific
stereotypes, which are unique to organizations (e.g., vs. interpersonal interactions),
add yet another layer of complexity for the older worker. For example, negative
perceptions of older workers are often raised in the context of older people’s
perceived resistance to new technology—a process that itself could contribute to
the social construction of aging and ageism (see Giles & Condor, 1988). It is argued
herein, then, that just as stereotyped age biases are common in nonorganizational
talk, they should also be reflected (and perhaps even enhanced) in the language
people use at work when speaking with people of different age groups. These
conversations may, in turn, have critical behavioral (e.g., hastened retirement deci-
sions) and organizational (e.g., decisions regarding who to promote, train, lay-off)
implications. Indeed, recent studies have begun to empirically prove these stereo-
type communicative behavior links as path analyses have revealed that the more
young adults stereotype older adults as benevolent and personally vital, the less
likely they are to report avoiding communication with them (McCann, Dailey,
Giles, & Ota, in press).
From the above findings, the present research presents the following hypotheses
for our targets (young bankers aged 18–34 and older bankers aged 501
4
) and for
a young banker sample:
H1: Young bankers perceive that they are communicated with differently
(accommodated less; nonaccommodated more) by older than by young bankers.
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 77
H2: Young bankers perceive they communicate differently toward (more respectful and
avoidant in their communication) older bankers than young bankers.
Until recently, most intergenerational communication research, as well as the
theories formulated to account for it, has been conducted from a young adult’s per-
spective and primarily with Anglo-European participants from Western cultures such
as Canada, Britain, Australia, and the UnitedStates. Naturally enough, it is necessary to
examine other cultures to see if the conclusions drawn in Anglophone societies hold
true elsewhere. A second purpose of this study is therefore to extend current research
on intergenerational communication from Western Anglophone cultures to Southeast
Asia, a region of the Pacific Rim that differs from both the West and much of East Asia
(e.g., Japan, China, Korea) in that its views on aging derive from different social and
religiophilosophical traditions (e.g., Theravada Buddhism). It is argued herein that
these dissimilar traditions influence intra- and intergenerational communicative
behaviors in differing and unique ways, making research such as this a valuable portico
into how modes of thought and communication vary across cultures.
The cross-cultural aspect of this research is theoretically grounded in the cognitive-
based work of Nisbett (2003) and other cognitive psychologists (e.g., Komin, 2000a,
for the Thai context) who challenge the assumption that the cognitive and commu-
nicative processes of people across the world are fundamentally the same. Broadly
stated, Nisbett argues that people from the ‘‘East’’ and ‘‘West’’ think about and see
the world in dissimilar ways due to differing ecologies, social structures and practi-
ces, religions and philosophies, values, and even educational systems. The hypotheses
that will be presented herein draw upon many of Nisbett’s ideas, and for the first time
extend them to samples from the Southeast Asian (vs. North Asian) country of
Thailand. These so-called cultural divergence arguments are also used to explore
potential cross-cultural differences in the domain of intergenerational communica-
tion in organizations.
Religiophilosophical traditions and intergenerational communication
Thailand and the United States (the two national cultures from which this study’s
respondents are drawn) make for an ideal comparison because these cultures are
characterized by markedly differing religiophilosophical, economic-ecological, and
sociocultural traditions. Beginning with religiophilosophical traditions, the influence
of Theravada Buddhism (followed by over 95% of the Thai population; Central
Intelligence Agency, 2001) is reflected in many aspects of Thai social interactions.
Finding a ‘‘middle way,’’ tolerance, acquiring merit, and an acceptance of the dual-
ities and contradictions of life are but a few cognitive and behavioral examples that
can be traced to Theravada Buddhist (and Buddhist-animist) principles. Buddhist
animism also plays a large role in Thai society (see Terweil, 1975). Buddhist religious
doctrines such as karma have also been found to influence Thai views on aging. For
example, in open-ended interviews, older Thai respondents reveal that they should
be respected and taken care of in this life because of previous good deeds and positive
karma collected in past lives (Upayokhin, Kanjanawong, Sirisuk, & Mattiko, 1995).
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
78 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
The Thai doctrine of katanyu katawedi (indebtedness of children to parents) can
also be traced to Theravada Buddhist (and Confucian) teachings. Katanyu katawedi
is closely related to the Confucian doctrine of filial piety (xiao in Chinese) that
focuses on care and respect for the aged (see Ho, 1994; Sung, 2000). According to
the traditional filial piety perspective on intergenerational communication, older
adults are respected (e.g., a source of wisdom and lived experience) and offer various
types of resources to people in the younger generations, whereas young people, in
return, observe their elders and provide care and support when needed (Kim &
Yamaguchi, 1995; Sung, 2001).
Although the predominant Christian–Calvinistic religious traditions in the
United States also stress looking after older individuals (e.g., the Bible’s command-
ment to honor one’s parents implies a responsibility to protect and succor the old),
there is perhaps less of the deeply ingrained filial pressure to take care of elderly
people in America than is commonly found in Asian settings. One study that sup-
ports this view investigated filial piety by comparing four Asian (Japan, Hong Kong,
South Korea, and the Philippines) and four Western (Australia, New Zealand, the
United States, and Canada) cultures around the Pacific Rim (Gallois et al., 1999).
Results showed that while East Asian students claimed they would indeed respect and
look after older people (especially parents), this care was more in terms of tangible
instrumental support (e.g., financial, living arrangements). Easterners were particu-
larly concerned that they would not be able to match the elders’ expectations of
contact and socioemotional support. On the other hand, respondents from the four
Western cultures felt little such pressure and indicated more filial commitment to
socially supporting, communicating with, and listening to their elders. The West-
erners communicative evaluations of talk with older people were correspondingly
more positive than those of the Eastern respondents.
Despite the fact that none of the above studies were conducted in workplace
settings, this research provides us with sufficient grounds to predict that due to
culturally distinct filial pressures, young Thai workers may well modify their own
communication behaviors (e.g., show communicative respect) with older workers
more than the Americans. Communicative respect to older workers would convey an
outward acknowledgment as age as a sign of status. However, consistent with the
above research, we also argue that the Thais may still perceive their intergenerational
conversations comparatively more negatively than do their American counterparts.
Economic and ecological traditions and intergenerational communication
According to Nisbett (2003) (see also Dershowitz, 1971; Witken & Berry, 1975),
economic and ecological factors can also influence communication and cognition
in culturally distinct ways. For example, Nisbett argues that the pursuit of personal
(i.e., nonrelational) goals may characterize those from more industrial societies such
as the United States, whereas people from traditionally rice-farming cultures (e.g.,
newly industrialized Thailand) may feel stronger pressure to get along with one
another.
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 79
Modern day conventional American cultural life praises and encourages those
who can ‘‘do it alone,’’ a view that is encouraged from the earliest days of an infant’s
life (e.g., sleeping in one’s own bed) and continues onward throughout school and
beyond (Bornstein, Azuma, Tamis-LeMonda, & Ogino, 1990). Students are encour-
aged to speak out in class, develop their own unique attributes, and positively
think about themselves. Initiative, personal achievement, and social assertiveness
are valued in American culture (Azuma, Hess, & Kashiwagi, 1981).
On the other hand, there is comparatively more of a focus on feelings and social
relations in cultures such as traditionally agrarian Japan (Triandis, 1989) and Thai-
land (Komin, 1990), where connections with others are stressed, ‘‘fitting in’’ is
valued, and self-assertion carries with it the prospect of offending others and causing
feelings of guilt in close relationships. The Thai child is encouraged to depend on
others for its satisfaction, whereas the world outside the home is presented as fear-
some and full of mysterious forces. As they move through their youth, Thais are
taught to krengjai (difference, deference), be accommodative of others, and display
choei (stay silent, keep feelings to oneself) in potentially uncomfortable situations
(McCann, 1992; Mulder, 1996).
These differing outlooks on interpersonal relations have implications for inter-
generational interactions and aging. In one study comparing Western and Thai well-
being among older people, Thai elders reported that all the dimensions relevant to
their well-being involved other people, whereas Westerners placed more emphasis on
oneself for well-being (Ingersoll-Dayton, Saengtienchai, Kespichayawattana, &
Aungsuroch, 2001). Such deep-seated relational pressures can place a unique and
sometimes stressful set of demands (e.g., care with topic choice, avoiding conflict,
not disagreeing) on a young Thais’ intergenerational communication, to the point
where self-expression and open communication around older or respected individ-
uals is often stifled (Mulder, 1996).
In contrast to the historically agrarian (though newly industrialized) culture of
Thailand, Nisbett (2003) argues that more traditionally urban cultures such as the
United States can trace their way of life in part to Greeks, who were more involved in
trade, hunting, fishing, and herding. Such a lifestyle involved relatively little coop-
eration with others, allowing its people to act on their own more, argue with each
other in the marketplace, and debate one another in the political arena. Following
from this, one might predict that intergenerational communication in the United
States might not be characterized by the complex set of rituals, rules, norms, and
pressures as is found in Thailand and thus may be viewed more positively.
Social structures and practices and intergenerational communication
According to Nisbett (2003), a culture’s social structures, practices, and values,
working in concert with religious, ecological, economic, and other conventions,
can also affect cognition and communication (e.g., intergenerational, workplace)
in culturally distinct ways. In Thailand, for example, from a child’s earliest years,
he or she is introduced to a complex system of pronouns and behaviors that assist the
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
80 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
child in navigating the complex hierarchical structures in Thai culture. Older indi-
viduals (even outside the family) are often referred to as paa (aunt), lung (uncle), yay
(maternal grandmother), or taa (maternal grandfather), and the Thai wai (hand
salute) is incorporated at differing heights as a sign of respect. In later life, many of
these same socially constructed behaviors are seen in corporations, where bosses or
those in positions of power might be called naay (boss, master), and overt criticism of
seniors is frowned upon. Cautious and hierarchically aware communication is much
more characteristic of Thai (vs. American) intergenerational interactions.
From the above body of research, it is perhaps no surprise that recent studies
suggest that young people’s perceptions of intergenerational communication (in
nonworkplace contexts) may be more problematic in several Asian countries (e.g.,
Thailand; McCann, Ota, Giles, & Caraker, 2003) than in Western countries (also see
Giles, Harwood, Pierson, Cle
´ment, & Fox, 1998; Giles et al., 2002). For example, the
views of young Anglo-Americans and Anglo-Australians were contrasted, respec-
tively, with Taiwanese and Hong Kong respondents (Giles, Liang, Noels, & McCann,
2001; Noels, Giles, Gallois, & Ng, 2001), with Eastern samples reporting less favorable
intergenerational experiences of communication (e.g., elderly are less accommodat-
ing and more nonaccommodating than same-age peers), despite the fact that young
people felt more obligation to be respectful to older than other young people. In
another cross-cultural study involving Australians, New Zealanders, Americans,
Koreans, Filipinos, and Japanese (Giles, Noels, et al., 2003), the above patterns
(i.e., more positive communication with Western samples than with Eastern) also
held true even when family elders were included into the evaluative frame. This study
seeks to examine whether similar patterns will emerge in the workplace and with
a ‘‘younger’’ (501) older target.
From the above research on differing religious, ecological, and social traditions in
the two cultures examined, this study sets forth the following hypotheses for young
Thai and American bankers:
H3: Young Thai bankers will view their communication from older bankers more
negatively (accommodated less; nonaccommodated more) than do young
American bankers.
H4: Young Thai bankers will view their communication toward older bankers
differently (more respectful and avoidant in their communication) than
do young American bankers.
Just as age has been argued to be a crucial variable in workplace communication,
so too should organizational rank. Research into work centrality, which stresses
the role of work as a central aspect of most people’s identities (England &
Misumi, 1986), helps to explain why rank may be particularly relevant to workplace
communication. Given the importance and centrality of work to most individuals, it
is probable that workers are very much aware of the rank of their conversational
partners. Broadly stated, because people spend so much of their time in the
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 81
workplace, and in most cases financially support themselves and their families from
work, it is reasonable to conclude that the rank of a worker’s conversational inter-
locutor would represent a critical organizational variable. Rank-based power differ-
entials between those in one’s rank ingroup (e.g., fellow nonmanagers) and those in
rank outgroup (e.g., managers) should also make individuals well aware of their
organizational position, as managers may well dictate the job duties, performance
evaluations, and even salaries of nonmanagers.
Organizations are also inherently intergroup in nature (Hartley, 1996; Suzuki,
1998). Sometimes these groups are formally mandated within the bounds of an
organization (e.g., rank/position), whereas at other times, workers bring their var-
ious group identities along with them simply by the nature of their biological
makeup (e.g., race, gender, age) or upbringing (e.g., university attended, where
raised). As social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) informs us, the existence
of these groups inevitably leads to ‘‘us versus them’’ comparisons along group lines.
Across group boundaries, individuals often focus on differences rather than similar-
ities, mistrust the other, and develop a bias in favor of one’s own group (Lansberg,
1989). These differences are particularly salient in organizations, where negative
stereotypical evaluations are frequently cited as an outgrowth of intergroup compar-
isons (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). It is reasonable to expect, then, that a downgrading of
the communication of the outgroup (in this case, managers) and an upgrading of the
communication of the ingroup (nonmanagers) should follow (Harwood, Giles, &
Ryan, 1995). From the above, it is hypothesized that rank plays a fundamental role in
workplace communication. Because rank can often covary with age, age and rank
were manipulated orthogonally. Specifically, this research tests the following:
H5: Young nonmanagers perceive that they are communicated with differently
(accommodated less; nonaccommodated more) by managers than by nonmanagers.
5
H6: Young nonmanagers perceive that they communicate differently toward (more
respectful and avoidant in their communication) managers than nonmanagers.
When considering the potential for interactions between rank and national cul-
ture, a great deal has been written about the homogenizing, converging effect of
industrialization on workers of different cultures, who have been found to embrace
common attitudes and work behaviors, despite their cultural differences (see
Dunphy, 1987; Kerr, Dunlop, Myers, & Harbison, 1960). Still, it is suggested herein
that cross-cultural differences, in particular in the domain of values, attitudes, and
behaviors, are so deeply rooted in individuals that they will be retained regardless of
environmental or organizational pressures (see Bond & Smith, 1996; Triandis & Suh,
2002). Just as was the case with issues of aging and intergenerational communication,
the contrasting religious, philosophical, economic, ecological, and sociocultural
traditions of Thailand and the United States should also affect the rank-graded
organizational communication of workers in culturally distinct ways.
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
82 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
Culturally divergent traditions and rank-based communication
The Buddhist religious doctrine of karma, which Komin (1990) refers to as the most
commonly used aspect of Buddhism in Thai everyday interactions, has been
linked to the collection of boon (merit) and baramee (prestige, power, influence)
(Sriussadaporn-Charoenngam & Jablin, 1999) in Thai organizational settings.
According to Komin, the Thais generally believe in the unequal bun wassana (good
karma) of each person and use karma in their attributions of someone else’s success,
promotion, or higher status, as well as one’s own bad luck, tragedies, demotions, and
so on. From this, Komin goes on to argue that such attributions serve to reduce
the psychological pressures placed on a person to his or her achievement goals. These
attributions may also serve to ease any sense of discomfort felt by persons of lesser
baramee when dealing with individuals who they feel may not be fully deserving of
their higher baramee. The religious doctrine of karma, then, plays a role in the Thais’
(perhaps reluctant) acceptance of hierarchical differences in Thai organizations.
Thai organizations generally are characterized by their clear-cut ranks, channels,
and vertical chains of command.
6
Understanding these chains of command and
knowing how to behave (verbally and nonverbally) according to one’s position in
an organization is particularly important for Thai workers (Boonsathorn, 2003). To
achieve this, Thai workers draw upon a complex web of ‘‘other-centered’’ commu-
nicative devices, many centering around preserving the ego of others (Komin, 1990).
These behaviors include criticism avoidance, krengjai (difference, deference), com-
promising, hesitancy to disagree, refraining from making negative comments about
others in public, and not challenging others, to name a few (see Boonsathorn; Komin
2000b). Thai meetings represent one highly illustrative arena where many of the
above behaviors are on display. In her analysis of Thai meeting dynamics, Komin
(2000b) noted, ‘‘in general, senior or influential persons dominate decisions. Others’
opinion, if there is any, do not carry much weight’’ (Komin, 2000b, p. 421). Com-
municative respect and avoidance toward people of senior status (e.g., managers) is
therefore commonplace, while a negative perceptual valuation of others’ communi-
cation would seem likely.
Very different religiophilosophical, economical, and sociodevelopmental practi-
ces are at play in the American organizations, where issues of hierarchy and relational
concerns may be less of a concern than in Thailand. Respect, for example, is seen by
most Americans as something to be earned, as opposed to a birthright. Americans are
probably more influenced by the Greek tradition of logic, reason, and debate, the
Christian–Calvinistic tradition of independent values and personal freedom, and the
teachings of Locke, Descartes, and other great philosophers of the Enlightenment
(Guisinger & Blatt, 1994; Nisbett, 2003). Expressing one’s own opinion is valued in
American companies, as is a healthy debate of testable ideas.
From their early years, American children are encouraged to show off their skills
or possessions in confidence-building activities such as ‘‘show and tell’’ and are
taught to look inward for personal accomplishment, as opposed to outward toward
their peers and society in general. The familial network of complex (and hierarchical)
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
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web of relationships and social obligations is not stressed in the United States as it is
in many parts of Asia (Nisbett, 2003), such as Thailand (Holmes & Tangtongtavy,
1995). American workers may thus be freed from some of the rigid hierarchical
pressures that Thais may feel in organizations.
As is voiced in the American Declaration of Independence, social egalitarian-
ism, respect across class lines, equality of opportunity, and meritocracy are all
mainstream core American values. These values, as Tocqueville and Max Weber
stressed, ‘‘were reinforced by the country’s religious commitment to the ‘noncon-
formist,’ largely congregationally organized, Protestant sects which emphasize
voluntarism with respect to the state, and a personal or individual relationship
to God, one not mediated by hierarchically organized churches, which predomi-
nated in Europe, Canada and Latin America’’ (cited in Lipset, 1991, n.p.). Thus, as
an American child moves through life and eventually into business, he or she
typically has been taught to value egalitarianism. Not surprisingly, decision-making
autonomy, task versus relational concerns, and less emphasis on organizational
hierarchy are commonly cited features of American business culture (for review,
see Triandis, 1994).
Communicative respect and avoidance toward people of senior status may there-
fore be less commonplace in the United States than in Thailand, though more
positive perceptions of nonmanagers’ communication with those of higher rank
might too be expected in the less restrictive American organizational setting.
7
From
the above findings, the present research therefore sets forth the following hypotheses:
H7: Young Thai nonmanagers will view their communication from managers more
negatively (accommodated less; nonaccommodated more) than do young
American nonmanagers.
H8: Young Thai nonmanagers will view their communication toward managers
differently (more respectful and avoidant in their communication) than do young
American nonmanagers.
Method
Participants
The sample (N= 348) consisted of American bankers (n= 168) drawn from the
head offices and branches of several midsized consumer (retail and commercial)
banks in and around Santa Barbara, California, United States, and Thai bankers
(n= 180) obtained from the head office and branches of a large consumer bank
in Bangkok, Thailand. The average age of the sample was 23.15 years (SD = 3.79) for
the United States and 29.22 years (SD = 2.84) for Thailand. There was a main effect
for the age of the sample (p,.001), with the United States sample younger than the
Thais. This difference may have emerged because student research assistants col-
lected the data in the United States, and they may have had access to, or relied more
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
84 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
on, those closer to their own age than did the first author while collecting data in
Thailand. That said, both groups were well within the age range commonly used for
young workers. Data were excluded from the analysis when the respondents were
older than 34 years of age. The male to female ratio was somewhat skewed (overall,
males: n= 114, females: n= 234) (by culture, United States: 52 males and 116
females; Thailand: 62 males and 118 females). The number of years work experience
(M= 5.60, SD = 3.67) was slightly (albeit significantly) higher for the Thai partic-
ipants (M= 6.10, SD = 3.33) as compared to their American counterparts
(M= 5.05, SD = 3.94), F(1, 344) = 7.258, p= .007.
Respondents in the United States were paid $5 to fill out the survey and were
recruited by several undergraduate research assistants at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. In Thailand, respondents were recruited from a large Bangkok-based
bank where the first author of this study has consulted for several years. No fee was
collected from respondents in Thailand. The bank chosen in Thailand is considered
by many Thais to be ‘‘Thai thae’ (‘‘pure Thai’’), as opposed to Thai Chinese, which is
also common in Thailand’s banking industry. It is also known for its ‘‘Thainess’’
(e.g., almost no foreign employees and wholly Thai owned), long history, well-
established customer base, and relatively conservative lending policies. The response
rate in both cultures was close to 100%.
Two other internally homogenous and well-defined units of analysis (i.e., orga-
nizational rank, industry type) were used in addition to age and national culture. By
utilizing nonmanagerial bankers aged 18–34 in each of the cultures, the internal
validity of the study should improve, as would the capacity to reveal valid cultural
differences (House, Wright, & Aditya, 1997). Moreover, a great deal of managerial
research has sampled middle managers, who are perceived to be better sources of
valid information in organizational inquiry than students (Ronen & Shenkar, 1985).
The non–student sample in this study, with an average of 5.5 years work experience,
might move us closer to achieving similar validity.
With respect to organizational type, roughly 90% of Thai businesses are small
(up to 20 employees) to medium (20–300 employees) scale family-run enterprises
(Dixon, 1998), though larger corporations also have a very significant presence in
Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. Several Thai banks, which employ thousands of
individuals throughout Thailand, are prime examples of these large corporations.
The Thai banking industry is also well established, having been in existence for
roughly 100 years.
A majority of the United States’ roughly 111 million workers are now employed
by large companies instead of smaller ones, a trend that probably began sometime
around 2000 (Hopkins, 2002). American banking now embodies the hedonistic
corporate mantra of ‘‘bigger, faster, and more’’ as mergers, acquisitions, rapid
ATM transactions, and web-based banking have turned traditional notions of
banking on its head. With the ratification of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999,
the United States joined countries in Asia and Europe in permitting banks to expand
beyond their traditional roles of deposit collecting and loan writing. This, in turn,
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 85
has led to the creation of several financial behemoths (e.g., Citigroup), though
there are still almost 8,000 FDIC-insured banks operating today in the United States.
Instrument
The instrument utilized for this study tested the hypotheses about intra- and inter-
generational communication perceptions for individuals in Thailand and the United
States. Participants self-assessed communication beliefs on the Global Perceptions of
Intergenerational Communication (GPIC) scale developed by the authors for use in
this research, as well as in subsequent studies. Some of the items in the GPIC scale
paralleled items found in the Williams et al. (1997) 41-item scale (see Harwood &
Williams, 1998; Noels et al., 2001), though several unique items emerged from
analyses conducted in prior pilot and empirical studies.
8
The GPIC scale was used to measure respondents’ ratings of their communicative
experiences in age-ingroup (young bankers aged 18–34) and age-outgroup (bankers
aged 501) contexts. The scale (see below and Table 1) comprised two major dimen-
sions: first, 10 items that dealt with perceptions of others’ communication (they are
supportive, they ordered me to do things, etc.), and second, 9 items that dealt with
perceptions of one’s own communication (I spoke in a respectful manner, I felt
obliged to be polite, etc.)
9
Table 1 Scalar items by factor
Accommodation
They were supportive
They were helpful
They gave useful advice
They complimented me
They had kind words for me
They were considerate
Nonaccommodation
They ordered me to do things
They acted superior to me
They talked as if they knew more than me
They spoke as if they were better than me
Respectfully avoidant communication
I spoke in a respectful manner
I felt obliged to be polite
I spoke in a polite way
I did not criticize them
I waited until asked to speak
I avoided certain topics
I remained silent if my opinion conflicted with theirs
I held back my opinions
I restrained myself from arguing with them
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86 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
Eight versions of this survey were distributed, with the survey varying according
to age and organizational rank of the target (older managers aged 501, older
nonmanagers aged 501, young managers aged 18–34, and young nonmanagers aged
18–34), as well as order of the items (i.e., the 14 ‘‘they’’ items first or the 11 ‘‘I’’ items
first). Respondents were asked to describe their communication perceptions
with only one of the four targets. The GPIC scale used 5-point Likert responses
(e.g., SD =strongly disagree,SA =strongly agree).
In addition to the 25 communication perceptions items, there were 2 items to
check whether the respondent was presently working and had ever worked, 3 contact
items that measured amount of contact with older workers, young workers, and the
target itself (e.g., older nonmanagers aged 501), one job satisfaction item, and
demographic items such as age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, rank in organization
(only nonmanagers selected), and years of work experience. The survey took approx-
imately 5 minutes to complete.
The entire survey was translated and then back translated in Thai. No significant
problems were encountered in translating the survey, which was translated quite
easily. Back translation (Werner & Campbell, 1970) is an extremely common pro-
cedure in cross-cultural research as it has the advantage of being able to check for
translation accuracy. Although some researchers have argued that back translation
may put a premium on literal translations (van de Vijver & Leung, 1997), it still
remains an efficient, widely used, and powerful method for tapping linguistically
diverse samples.
Validity issues were particularly salient given the survey’s sensitive nature and
complexity. Surveys were anonymous and were randomly distributed by either the
first author (Thailand) or by a team of undergraduate research assistants (United
States). In all cases, each respondent placed the survey in a manila envelope and
sealed it after completion. This was done to ensure that respondents did not fear
negative reprisals from their supervisors, because some respondents were questioned
about their communication with managers. The survey’s instructions clearly stated
that no other employees in their company would see their surveys, nor would the
names of any institutions be used when results were published. Surveys were ran-
domly assigned within each bank and were distributed to a wide variety of depart-
ments. Very few of the respondents in the Thai context, and none in the U.S. context,
knew the authors.
To further ensure the survey’s validity, the target was clearly contextualized. For
example, for those respondents queried about older nonmanagers, the survey asked
them to ‘‘think about conversations they have had with age 50 and older non-
managers (e.g., cashiers [tellers], customer service representatives, clerks, secretaries,
administrative assistants, trainee officers, staff accountants, etc).’’ On the other hand,
for those respondents queried about older managers, the survey asked them to ‘‘think
about conversations they have had with 50 and older managers (e.g., branch man-
agers, marketing managers, assistant managers, customer relations managers, port-
folio managers, chief loan officers, accounting managers, personnel managers, etc.).’’
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Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 87
The same job categories were used for young nonmanagers and managers. All the
above job categories were developed via extensive interviews with bank personnel in
each country to ensure cross-cultural similarity. Also, as mentioned above, this
research utilized a between-subjects design so that respondents should be less aware
of the manipulation, thus largely eliminating any demand effect. There should also
be little or no fatigue due to the brevity of the instrument.
Finally, it needs to be noted that there are no objective data available regarding
the number and average age of bank managers and nonmanagers who the respond-
ents were considering when rating the target. So, it is unknown whether the sample
was thinking about workers in their 50s or 60s when asked to rank older workers
aged 50 and above. Still, from the first author’s experience working in the Thai bank
utilized herein, as well as having worked in a bank in the United States, it is probable
that the vast majority, if not all, of the ‘‘older managers’’ who the respondents may be
reflecting upon are somewhere between 50 and 65. In the Thai bank, in particular,
the first author has never encountered a worker older than age 65, a fact confirmed
by bank staff. This downward adjustment of age from 65 (older people) to 501
(older workers) should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results
below.
10
Results
Confirmatory factor analysis
This study used the same factor structure on the communication items for intra-
generational and intergenerational target groups, as well as for national culture, as
was utilized in McCann & Giles (2005). Structural equivalence exists when there is
invariance of factor loadings across the studies. Equivalence may be assessed using
a multiple-sample covariance structure analysis to test a hierarchical set of nested
models with constraints on the factor loadings across the studies (Little, 1997). Using
AMOS 4.1, a multisample confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted to
determine if the factor structure in this study replicated and confirmed the three
factors from McCann & Giles. To be consistent with McCann & Giles, four ‘‘they’’
(others’ communication) items and two ‘‘I’’ (one’s own communication) items were
removed from analysis.
The results of the analysis showed that there was a significant chi-square change,
x
2
(16) = 43.54, p,.01. However, given the large degree of freedom associated with
sample, additional fit indexes were acceptable including the root mean square error
of approximation (.08), the nonnormed fit index (.98), the comparative fit index
(.98), and the incremental fit index (.98).
An additional CFA was performed to ensure that the factors were robust
across the cultures. Factor loadings from the American sample were determined
and constrained to be the factor loadings in the Thai sample. The differences in
the chi squares were not significant, x
2
(16) = 19.98, p..05. Goodness of fit
indexes were acceptable: the root mean square error of approximation (.08), the
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88 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
nonnormed fit index (.96), the comparative fit index (.98), and the incremental fit
index (.98).
Table 2 presents the derived factor loadings from the American and Thai samples
in addition to the alpha reliabilities. Clearly, the most resilient factors are the accom-
modation and nonaccommodation factors. The respectfully avoidant communica-
tion factor is less consistent, although the alpha reliability is still an acceptable .60 for
the Thai sample.
The interfactor correlations were significant at the .01 alpha level. Accommoda-
tion was negatively related to nonaccommodation in both the American (r=2.75)
and the Thai (r=2.52) samples as well as being negatively associated with respect-
fully avoiding communication in both samples (American r=2.42, Thai r=2.24).
However, nonaccommodation was positively associated in the American and Thai
samples with respectfully avoiding communication (American r= .49, Thai r= .57).
Multivariate analysis of variance
A 2 (age: young target aged 18–34 vs. old target aged older than 50) 32 (manage-
ment level: manager target vs. nonmanager target) 32 (nation: United States vs.
Thailand) MANOVA was conducted across the three factors. Gender was left aside as
a variable because it was not of theoretic interest and the samples had far too many
males to support the analysis. The dependent variables were accommodation, non-
accommodation, and respectfully avoidant communication. Additional variables (i.e.,
frequency of interaction with young/older workers, number of older and nonman-
agement workers respondents interacted with) were also examined as potential
covariates, but were removed from the analysis due to low interitem correlations
with the communication scale items. The same was the case for job satisfaction.
All multivariate effects were assessed via Pillai’s Trace due to its robustness, even
in cases where cell sizes differ substantially. Effects for target age, Pillai’s
Trace = .058, F(4, 321) = 4.974, p= .001, partial h
2
= .058; target management
level, Pillai’s trace = .045, F(4, 321) = 3.777, p= .005, partial h
2
= .045; and nation,
Pillai’s Trace = .316, F(4, 321) = 37.134, p= .000, partial h
2
= .316, were signifi-
cant. Therefore, target age, management level, and nation affected the three com-
munication factor scores and the combined factor score. However, no interactions
were significant. Results will be presented for each of the three dimensions of com-
munication perceptions separately. Refer to Table 3 for explained variance.
Accommodation (perceptions of others’ communication)
The target age group effect was not significant for accommodation, F(1,
324) = 2.178, p= .141, partial h
2
= .007, nor was there any significant target age
group by nation interaction. There was no target management-level main effect or
interaction for accommodation, F(1, 324) = 1.292, p= .256, partial h
2
= .004, but
a nation main effect emerged for accommodation, F(1, 324) = 22.59, p= .000,
partial h
2
= .065, as American respondents scored higher than their Thai counter-
parts. The scale and [items] means, as well as standard deviations, for accommoda-
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 89
Table 2 Confirmatory factor loadings in American and Thai samples
Factors Items Loadings
American Thai
Accommodation They were supportive .67 .61
They were helpful .76 .79
They gave useful advice .63 .58
They complimented me .51 .49
They had kind words for me .71 .74
They were considerate .74 .71
a= .82 a= .80
Nonaccommodation They ordered me to do things .67 .51
They acted superior to me .82 .66
They talked as if they knew more than me .70 .59
They spoke as if they were better than me .87 .73
a= .85 a= .71
Respectfully avoidant
communication
I spoke in a respectful manner .03 .03
I felt obliged to be polite .31 .25
I spoke in a polite way .01 .01
I did not criticize them .24 .22
I waited until asked to speak .35 .29
I avoided certain topics .56 .49
I remained silent if my opinion conflicted with theirs .75 .58
I held back my opinions .83 .68
I restrained myself from arguing with them .54 .44
a= .73 a= .60
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90 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
Table 3 Explained variance
Accommodation (%) Nonaccommodation (%) Total (%)
USA From Older 50.8 13.1 63.9
USA From Young 43.8 16.1 59.9
Thai From Older 34.1 20.4 54.5
Thai From Young 42.6 11.8 54.4
USA From Managers 49.6 12.7 63.4
USA From Nonmanagers 47.8 15.1 62.9
Thai From Managers 35.2 16.1 51.3
USA From Nonmanagers 40.8 15.9 56.7
Respectfully avoidant communication (%)
USA Self to Young 30.0
USA Self to Older 37.8
Thai Self to Young 24.2
Thai Self to Older 27.0
USA Self to Managers 34.3
USA Self to Nonmanagers 29.8
Thai Self to Managers 26.8
Thai Self to Nonmanagers 25.0
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Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 91
tion were as follows: USA From Older (M= 22.07 [3.68], SD = 3.60), USA From
Young (M= 23.53 [3.92], SD = 3.25), Thai From Older (M= 21.05 [3.51],
SD = 3.52), Thai From Young (M= 20.86 [3.48], SD = 3.73), USA From Managers
(M= 22.65 [3.77], SD = 3.50), USA From Nonmanagers (M= 23.11 [3.85],
SD = 3.45), Thai From Managers (M= 20.69 [3.45], SD = 3.72), and Thai From
Nonmanagers (M= 21.21 [3.53], SD = 3.52).
Nonaccommodation (perceptions of others’ communication)
A target age group main effect emerged for nonaccommodation, F(1, 324) = 18.729,
p= .000, partial h
2
= .055. Overall, respondents reported more nonaccom-
modation when the target group was older as compared to younger. A target
management-level main effect also emerged for nonaccommodation, F(1,
324) = 12.652, p= .000, partial h
2
= .038. Respondents reported higher nonaccom-
modation when the target group was managers than for nonmanagers. In addition,
a nation main effect was also identified for nonaccommodation, F(1, 324) = 14.482,
p= .000, partial h
2
= .043, as Americans scored lower on nonaccommodation than
did Thais.
The scale and [items] means, as well as standard deviations, for nonaccommo-
dation were as follows: USA From Older (M= 12.54 [3.14], SD = 3.86), USA
From Young (M= 10.36 [2.59], SD = 2.88), Thai From Older (M= 13.17 [3.29],
SD = 3.10), Thai From Young (M= 12.29 [3.07], SD = 3.08), USA From Managers
(M= 12.16 [3.04], SD = 3.49), USA From Nonmanagers (M= 10.49 [2.62],
SD = 3.33), Thai From Managers (M= 13.23 [3.31], SD = 2.86), and Thai From
Nonmanagers (M= 12.20 [3.05], SD = 3.30).
Respectfully avoidant communication (perceptions of one’s own communication)
A target age group main effect emerged for the respectfully avoidant communication
factor, F(1, 324) = 6.352, p= .012, partial h
2
= .019. Overall, respondents scored
higher on this factor when communicating with older targets (aged older than 50)
than with young targets (aged 18–34). A target management-level main effect also
emerged for the respectfully avoidant communication factor, F(1, 324) = 7.463,
p= .007, partial h
2
= .023. Respondents reported more respectfully avoidant com-
munication when the target group was managers, as compared to those at the non-
management level. Last, there was no nation main effect for respectfully avoidant
communication, F(1, 324) = 3.239, p= .073, partial h
2
= .010.
The scale and [items] means, as well as standard deviations, for respectfully
avoidant communication were as follows: USA Self to Young (M= 29.90 [3.32],
SD = 4.45), USA Self to Older (M= 30.65 [3.41], SD = 5.37), Thai Self to Young
(M= 28.26 [3.14], SD = 4.19), Thai Self to Older (M= 30.14 [3.35], SD = 4.54),
USA Self to Managers (M= 31.25 [3.47], SD = 4.98), USA Self to Nonmanagers
(M= 29.20 [3.24], SD = 4.55), Thai Self to Managers (M= 29.68 [3.30],
SD = 4.34), Thai Self to Nonmanagers (M= 28.65 [3.18], SD = 4.54).
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92 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
Review of hypotheses
H1 and H2 were generally supported. Older bankers were seen as more nonaccom-
modative than young bankers, though young bankers still felt more obligation to be
respectfully avoidant in their communication with older bankers than to their peer
age group. There was no target age group effect for accommodation. Once again,
young people have been found to favor their age ingroup over age outgroups, but
this time in a banking context and with largely homogeneous samples.
H3 and H4 were not supported, with no age by nation interactions found. The
above results, however, were still influenced by participants’ cultural origins. Young
American bankers answered in a positive manner when queried about others’ com-
munication behaviors, reporting more accommodation from others, in general, than
young bankers from Thailand. Thai bankers, in general, were also seen as more
nonaccommodative than their American counterparts. There were no significant
findings for respectfully avoidant communication.
H5 and H6 were generally supported. Young bankers across cultures perceived
their communicative interactions with managers as more difficult than their inter-
actions with other nonmanagers. Specifically, managers were seen as more nonac-
commodative than nonmanagers, though there was no target rank effect for
accommodation. Despite this perceived nonaccommodation, young bankers still felt
a greater need to be respectfully avoidant in their communication to managers, as
opposed to those of a similar rank.
H7 and H8 were not supported, with no rank by nation interactions found. In
fact, there were no two- or three-way interactions regarding nation, age, and man-
agement level. The lack of age by rank interactions, in particular, reduces the likeli-
hood of any so-called double jeopardy (age plus rank) effect where older managers
are perceived especially negatively.
Discussion
This study began with the promise of moving research forward in the quest to
comprehend some of the dynamics of intra- and intergenerational workplace com-
munication. Whereas recent research has also begun to attend to similar issues with
young/older targets in generalized settings, this was the first to do so in an organi-
zational context and cross-culturally. The results herein are therefore both novel and
vital to our understanding of intergenerational communication and organizational
communication, not to mention cross-cultural communication and Southeast Asian
studies.
Target age group main effects for nonaccommodation (e.g., they [older bankers]
were more negative, self-centered, less positive in their manner of communication)
and respectfully avoidant communication (e.g., I spoke in a respectful manner,
avoided certain topics) were revealed, whereas accommodation for target age was
nonsignificant. In general, and irrespective of culture, young bankers reported more
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 93
problematic communication with older bankers than with same-age young bankers.
Such findings paint a picture whereby young bankers, despite rather negative feed-
back from an interlocutor who they perceive as ordering and self-centered, remain
respectful to the interlocutor’s needs. It is hardly unexpected that young bankers
might also avoid such interactions. In sum, these findings further confirm research
(as intergroup theories [e.g., social identity theory (SIT), CAT] would predict) that
demonstrates that young people favor their age ingroup over age outgroups (e.g.,
Giles et al., 2001; Ng, Liu, Weatherall, & Loong, 1997). Moreover, they extend these
findings for the first time to workplace settings, as well as to a target of ‘‘younger’’
older people (aged 50 and above, as opposed to 651). The extension of our findings
to older workers aged 501is a particularly novel finding, and leads us to wonder if
ageist discourse (e.g., ageist jokes and barbs), expressed ageist attitudes (e.g., ‘‘people
should retire by a certain age’’), and, perhaps most importantly, discriminatory
practices based on age (e.g., training, hiring, and firing decisions) may occur even
earlier in the life span than originally thought.
An extensive body of intergenerational communication research conducted in
nonworkplace contexts throughout Asia and the West, as well as the comparative
literature on cross-cultural religious, philosophical, and social differences (e.g.,
Nisbett, 2003; Komin, 2000a) among Eastern and Western cultures, led us to hypothe-
size that intergenerational communication perceptions among our Thai bankers
would be more problematic than among the American respondents. This was not
the case as there were absolutely no age by nation interactions found in this
study. The paucity of interactions will be discussed at length in General Discussion.
Still, despite the surprising omission of interaction effects, main effects for national
culture on accommodation did emerge. Thai bankers perceived others, in general,
as less accommodative (e.g., they [older bankers] were supportive, helpful, con-
siderate) than did their American counterparts; hence, workplace conversations
were at least partially viewed as more difficult in Thailand than in the United
States. These findings are consistent with past research in that young American
adults perceived others in general to be more accommodative than did young Thai
and Japanese adults (McCann et al., 2003) and that young Anglo-Americans saw
others in general as more accommodative than did young Taiwanese (Giles et al.,
2001).
Thai bankers also reported significantly more nonaccommodation from others,
in general, than did their American counterparts. These findings are consistent with
other nonworkplace research that displayed similar patterns of nonaccommodation
in Asian and Western cultures. For example, Thais reported more nonaccommoda-
tion from others, in general, than Americans (McCann et al., 2003), whereas
Taiwanese described more nonaccommodation from others, in general, than
Anglo-Americans (Noels et al., 2001). Last, there was no main effect for nation for
respectfully avoidant communication.
In interpreting why there was relatively more problematic communication for
the Thai respondents, the religious and agricultural traditions of the two cultures
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94 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
may be influencing communication and cognition in culturally distinct ways. For
example, research reveals how presentation and relational pressures commonly
found in traditionally agrarian cultures such as Thailand and Japan can sometimes
lead to a stifling of self-expression and open communication (Mulder, 1996). A
release of emotions may also be moderated. In Thai culture, outward expressions
of anger are viewed as ignorant, crude, and immature (Sriussadaporn-Charoenngam &
Jablin, 1999), and Thais are taught since childhood to be sam ruam or to keep their
feelings inside (Niratpattanasai, 2002a). This sense of dependence on the attitudes
and expectations of others in Thailand may make individuals extremely sensitive to
insults and negative comments, just as has been found in Japan (Gudykunst &
Nishida, 1993; Morisaki & Gudykunst, 1994; Nisbett, 2003). Given that the GPIC
scale’s nonaccommodation items included ‘‘they talked as if they knew more than
me’’ and ‘‘they spoke as if they were better than me,’’ it is possible that Thai
respondents may be more sensitive to negative comments by others than are
Americans and respond by downgrading their ratings of others’ communication.
In sum, just as Nisbett and others have found in nonorganizational contexts, but here
extending these ideas to organizational contexts, clear East/West differences in com-
munication have emerged.
As will be discussed shortly, organizational factors likely play a large role in why
the Thais did not judge their intergenerational (e.g., age by nation) interactions
comparatively more negatively than the Americans. Still, there may be more cultur-
ally bound considerations as well. For example, many of the other-centered com-
municative dynamics (avoiding topics, preserving the ego/face of others, etc.) that
are so often described in the Thai research literature as related to hierarchical or
status differentials are, in fact, frequently utilized regardless of the age or rank of the
interactant. The Thai concept of krengjai (difference, deference, and consideration
merged with respect), for example, can be called upon when interacting not only to
those of superior status (e.g., due to age, rank) but also to those of equal or inferior
status (see McCann, 1992, for an in-depth discussion of krengjai). According to
Komin (1990), a Thai can feel krengjai toward one’s equal, one’s inferior, or even
one’s subordinate. Krengjai can be seen in situations that require a person to bother
another for help, inconvenience another in some way, or even if a person is forced
to verbally interact in a manner that might intrude on the other person’s ego
(cf., Brown & Levinson, 1987). Face issues, and one’s subsequent communicative
behaviors, such as avoiding conflict and sparing another a loss of face (Nisbett, 2003;
Ting-Toomey & Kurogi, 1998), may also be very much at play in young Thai adults’
intragenerational conversations. These dynamics could potentially blur cross-
cultural distinctions (e.g., age by nation and rank by nation) in communication as
was gauged by the GPIC scale.
This research also explored workplace communication with individuals of
different ranks, finding that young bankers across cultures perceived their commu-
nicative interactions with managers as more difficult (e.g., more nonaccommoda-
tive) than their interactions with other nonmanagers. Despite this perceived
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 95
nonaccommodation, young bankers still felt a greater need to be respectfully
avoidant in their communication to managers, as opposed to those of a similar
rank.
Research into organizational intergroup processes provides an attractive and
intuitive framework for interpreting the above results. According to SIT (e.g., Tajfel &
Turner, 1986), managers and nonmanagers can be viewed as members of distinct
groups within an organization, groups that differ in terms of their status, roles, and
relative power. Boundaries between the two are clearly demarked via job title, mak-
ing these groups high in distinctiveness that more easily leads to intergroup com-
parisons and devaluation of the outgroup (Oakes & Turner, 1986). Researchers have
even noted that communicative behavior in an intergroup context can be explained
by rejection, distrust, and dislike toward specific groups (e.g., managers) in a social
system (Brewer & Kramer, 1985). It is possible that some of this dislike was captured
herein. Given that organizational status strongly influences individual communica-
tive behaviors (Palmer, Lack, & Lynch, 1995), it is not surprising that this study’s
nonmanagers perceived the communication of managers more negatively than that
of other nonmanagers.
General discussion
Perhaps the three most intriguing and completely unexpected findings to emerge
from this research were (a) the dramatic effect size differences between the McCann &
Giles (2005) student sample study and this one, (b) the paucity of age by nation
interactions, and (c) the lack of rank by nation interactions. Looking at effect sizes
first, in the McCann & Giles study (student worker sample, rank not analyzed), there
was a strong age group main effect (50.1%), which appears even more powerful if
contrasted to the modest 5.8% main effect for age in this study. National culture
main effects for the two studies were somewhat closer, though the 66.5% effect size
for national culture in the McCann & Giles study was still roughly double that of this
study (31.6%). From these compelling and discrepant findings, it is evident that age
and national culture both play fundamental roles in organizational communication
for these respondents, though for the banker sample, the effects of age recede quite
significantly.
There are myriad possibilities for why main effect sizes diminished in this study.
However, one methodological issue, the decision to move downward the age of the
older target from ‘‘65 years of age and above’’ in previous nonworkplace studies to
‘‘50 years of age and above’’ for McCann & Giles (2005) and this one, is particularly
salient. Although this age range was lowered to be in line with commonly used
definitions of older worker (e.g., 50 years old or above; Carnevale & Stone, 1994),
and was identical in McCann & Giles, it is possible that the banker sample was
focusing in on ‘‘young–old’’ workers whom they most frequently encountered in
their own workplace, whereas the student sample (McCann & Giles) informants were
responding about more generalized ‘‘old–old’’ workers whom they might deal with
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
96 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
in a variety of settings (e.g., restaurants). Because the older targets in this study
were likely in their 50s, active in the workplace, and often in positions of power
and prestige (e.g., branch or department managers), certain age effects and cultural
differences may have been blurred (though they were still evident). Research makes
subgroup distinctions within the ‘‘older’’ category (e.g., 65 vs. 85 years; Giles, Fort-
man, Honeycutt, & Ota, 2003), and traditional norms of filial piety, which are still
evident in Thailand (Ingersoll-Dayton & Saengtienchai, 1999) as well as in the
United States (Gallois et al., 1999), may be more relevant to the old old, rather than
the young old. If respondents in this study were considering 501-year-old workers as
young old or ‘‘old middle aged,’’ it is also plausible that older person stereotypes were
not being activated here to the same degree as in McCann & Giles.
Middle-aged individuals, or those of an age group that some research suggests
may end around 50 (Harwood, Giles, & Bourhis, 1994), have also long been con-
sidered to hold the most social power and status in industrial societies (Dowd, 1980).
Age group vitality research paints a similar picture, where middle-aged individuals
are regarded as having the most power in both Eastern and Western settings as
compared to the old and young (Giles et al., 2000). Other age vitality studies con-
ducted in Hong Kong and the United States (Harwood, Giles, et al., 1994), and
Turkey, Georgia, and Canada (Giles, Kutchukhides, Yagmur, & Noels, 2003) found
similar findings. In sum, age-based distinctions, even with the older worker age
category reduced to 50 years and above, were evident in this study. Still, the atten-
uated response of this study’s banker sample (vs. the student sample in McCann &
Giles, 2005) may be due to the fact that the respondents may be relying less on
stereotypes of the old old and more on middle-aged or young–old stereotypes.
A second plausible explanation for effect size differences may be in terms of how
the respondents reacted to work. Specifically, young bankers, as opposed to students
(mostly part-time workers), may have been consumed by the daily task-driven
demands of work, and, therefore, been more focused on ‘‘getting the job done’’
than the age of their interlocutors. Research informs us that superior–subordinate
communication has been found to be primarily task based (Baird, 1974; Jablin,
1979; Zima, 1969), with one of the most consistent findings in organizational
research being that subordinates want their supervisors to ‘‘keep them informed’’
(Conrad & Poole, 1998). When workers are guided by a task focus orientation, their
attention is primarily focused on the degree to which their task goals are accom-
plished, even to the extent that workers may perceive any deviation from a clear task
focus as a lack of commitment to their work (Sanchez-Burks, Nisbett, & Ybarra,
2000). Given the above, as well as that bank work is highly procedural (Willem &
Buelens, 2002), it is possible that a task (vs. person) focus may be another logical
explanation for why the banker sample is less centered on age than their student
worker counterparts.
The above arguments may also help explain why, for the first time in this line of
research (along with McCann & Giles, 2005), there were no age by nation (and rank
by nation) interactions. These novel findings are in stark contrast to virtually every
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 97
cross-cultural intergenerational communication study conducted in nonorganiza-
tional settings (e.g., Cai, Giles, & Noels, 1998; Giles et al, 2001; Noels, Giles, Cai, &
Turay, 1999; Noels et al., 2001; Ota, 2001), albeit with elderly (aged 651) samples,
and reaffirms the need for further research in the domain (e.g., with 501-year olds in
nonworkplace settings, with 651-year-old workers).
As was suggested earlier, the workplace context itself is characterized by myriad
organizational dynamics (e.g., convergence, work tasks, lines of command) that are
uncommon in nonorganizational intergenerational contexts (e.g., family). These
dynamics may, in turn, influence intergenerational communication in unique ways
and partly explain why the Thai and American banker samples did not differ from
each other regarding their perceptions of young and older bankers (and bankers of
different ranks). Cultural convergence is one such organizational dynamic that may
help explain these findings. As the winds of cultural change whip through developing
countries such as Thailand, its effects may be particularly salient in industries such as
banking, where international transactions, foreign customers, foreign consultants,
direct capital investments, currency fluctuations, and world trade patterns are a part
of many Thai bankers’ daily lives at work. Environmental changes, and their sub-
sequent impact on societal norms and values, could potentially hasten the blurring
of certain cultural boundaries (e.g., certain ages) and create a scenario whereby
Thailand and the United States, at least in the banking context, are somewhat alike
in their ‘‘Westernization.’
Indeed, the banking industry in both Thailand and the United States has expe-
rienced virtually all the trends noted above (e.g., pressures from market changes,
technological change), and with similar effects on staff including new skill require-
ments (e.g., additional tasks for tellers), new technology training (e.g., electronic
banking), and personnel shifts (e.g., branch closings, reductions in managers, early
retirement), to name a few. Equally significant, the long-term result of these multi-
faceted and converging influences is that, perhaps for the first time, banks have
moved from being somewhat institutional in character to totally commercial and
businesslike in their structure (Holden, 1999), both in the United States and world-
wide (Wilkinson & Lomax, 1989).
Until recently, when the economy collapsed under the weight of the 1997 Asian
economic crisis, most Thai banks were private or state owned, business (e.g.,
lending) practices were conservative, job security was high, and change came slowly.
Since the late 1990s, however, there has been an emergence of many foreign-held
banks entering into joint ventures with locally owned banks. Thai banks, eager to not
lose market share to these foreign newcomers, have now begun to aggressively pursue
new products, more advanced training, and ways to improve service efficiency. Some
large banks have even gone as far as to terminate nonperforming staff, hire foreigners
to head their personnel departments, and institute performance evaluations, all
actions that would have been unheard of not long ago (Biz Asia, 2003). Thai banks
today may thus have more of the look and feel of modern American banks that
embody the hedonistic corporate mantra of bigger and faster. Indeed, in the United
Different Ages R. M. McCann & H. Giles
98 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
States rapid ATM transactions, web-based banking, and frequent mergers and
acquisitions have all turned traditional notions of banking upside-down.
Such convergent trends have not gone unnoticed among Thai researchers, who
have commented that many Thais who have been exposed to Western management
styles prefer to practice local values less in the office setting (Niratpattanasai, 2002b),
that there is a shift toward Western achievement values among educated young
Thais in general (Komin, 2000b), and that ‘‘Westernized’’ Thai managers are increas-
ingly adopting managerial styles (e.g., participatory) not traditionally ‘‘Thai’’ in
nature (e.g., strong lines of commend, authority not challenged) (Sriussadaporn-
Charoenngam & Jablin, 1999). As for the one social science study that the authors
were able to find that compares Thai and American banking samples, no cross-
cultural differences in manager’s behavior regarding task and work performance
behaviors were found (Kuntonbutr, 1999). This finding would also seem to support
some degree of cultural convergence in Thai and American organizational (e.g.,
banking) settings. In some ways, then, Thai and American workplace interactions
may be more similar than they are different.
It is important to understand, though, that even though the work of Nisbett
and other cultural divergence researchers may be somewhat less applicable in orga-
nizational contexts such as these, cultural differences (as evidenced herein by main
effects for national culture) still abound between the people of these two very dif-
ferent cultures. Cultural convergence may simply be hastening a scenario where role,
task, and other similarities overwhelm certain variables such as age and rank bound-
aries, at least for full-time workers in the banking industry.
Epilogue
By examining the intra- and intergenerational communication perceptions of young
Thai and American workers, a broader conceptual and theoretical understanding of
intergenerational attitudes has now been achieved, as has a more in-depth under-
standing of how age is perceived in daily workplace conversations in selected Eastern
and Western cultures. Equally important, the rapidly developing Southeast Asian
country of Thailand is now more firmly placed on the intergenerational communi-
cation research map.
This study, however, is not without its contextual and methodological limita-
tions, some of which provide compelling fodder for future research. First, the focus
on two target age groups, plus two target ranks (manager, nonmanager), was quite
broad, though admittedly convenient to the intergroup perspective. Future studies
may instead want to focus on more specific rank and age-varied groups within
organizations (e.g., organizational newcomers, middle managers, gender, ethnicity),
though there is surely a need to investigate other age groups as well (e.g., workers
aged 651, 18–24, 34–50). A similar study with an older worker sample would be
a logical next step.
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 99
Second, this study investigated student and banker samples in urban Thailand
and in a relatively urban region of the United States, namely, south-central California;
questions thus arise as generalizability to other settings in rural Thailand and
America (e.g., the rural South and Midwest), which might involve different inter-
generational dynamics. Indeed, data from both age groups need to be garnered from
rural centers in these countries and from a broader range of socioeconomic back-
grounds, while also better attending to target/respondent gender issues (Lee, Parish, &
Willis, 1994).
Third, the instrument used in the current investigation, though easily and mean-
ingfully translated into Thai and created with the assistance of Thai focus groups,
may still have somewhat of a Western bias. Hopefully, as is common in psychology
(Komin, 1990; Misumi, 1985), researchers will continue to develop communicative
scales that derive from non-Western perspectives.
Fourth, this research focused on worker’s perceptions regarding their intra-
and intergenerational communication. In the future, it is important to scrutinize
the actual communicative episodes of workers from varying age groups to determine
the links between communicative perceptions and communicative behaviors.
Although any exploration into the plethora of research avenues regarding the be-
havioral concomitants of intergenerational encounters is a labor-intensive enter-
prise when language analyses are involved, it would surely be a fruitful avenue of
investigation.
Fifth, researchers may want to investigate the different contexts of ageist com-
munication in the workplace. For example, what types of ageist language are used to
older individuals when they are alone, in small groups, or in large groups? Does
ageist language occur with more or less frequency when conversing with same- or
different-age workers? What type of ageist language is used in the presence of bosses,
with colleagues, and with subordinates, and what form (e.g., jokes) does this lan-
guage take? Moreover, does such communication typically take place in or out of the
office, in certain locations in the office, around customers, and directly to a member
of a different age group, or indirectly to a third party?
Finally, we need to better understand not only the dilemmas and predicaments of
aging across the life span but also the social conditions for when, how, and where
‘‘healthy’’ communication between and within generations occurs (Williams &
Coupland, 1998). From this, we can uncover methods that create successful inter-
generational workplace interactions, as well as elaborate communication models of
this complex process. This study has set us out on the path to do so.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of a George D. McCune
fellowship to the first author, as well as a grant from the University of California
Pacific Rim Agency to both authors.
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100 Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association
Notes
1 One large recent survey of American baby boomers indicated that 8 in 10 boomers
expected to work after age 62 (AARP, 2004).
2 The same authors also conducted a smaller scale study prior to this one with student
samples (McCann & Giles, 2005).
3 Some person perception studies have also found that young and older workers
with similar qualifications/competence are judged similarly (see Carnevale &
Stone, 1994).
4 Fairly well-defined age category patterns emerge in the organizational and gerontological
literatures. For example, young worker is typically operationalized as an employee
somewhere between 24 and 34 years of age (Finkelstein et al., 1995), though there is
some variation among studies. As for older workers, they are most commonly defined as
50 (e.g., AARP, 1989; Carnevale & Stone, 1994) or 55 years of age and above (e.g.,
Commonwealth Fund, 1993; Finkelstein, et al.), though this also varies (e.g., 651,
retirement age onward). Interestingly, U.S. law defines an older worker as any person
older than the age of 40, though in other countries this age differs (e.g., Spain, where
older worker is defined as 45). In order to be as inclusive as possible, yet still account for
most workers in the low end of the age range, a ‘‘young worker’’ age range of 18–34 was
chosen for the two studies herein. On the other hand, 50 years of age and above was
chosen for ‘‘older worker’’ due to the setting for data collection in this study (banks). It
was decided that the age of 50 was young enough to account for small bank branches,
which may only have one or two workers above age of 50, and old enough for young
workers
who may be aged 34 (the upper end of the young worker age scale) to still be able to make
age-based distinctions. That said, it is understood that by lowering the age range to 50 and
above for older workers, as opposed to the commonly used 651for older people in
general, some of the age group differences found in past studies may be attenuated in this
study.
5 All respondents were nonmanagers.
6 This dynamic may be undergoing some degree of change (Sriussadaporn-Charoenngam
& Jablin, 1999) and may vary by organizational type (e.g., government offices vs.
private businesses) and size (Komin, 1995).
7 Because this study (along with McCann & Giles, 2005) is the first of its kind to
investigate intergenerational workplace communication perceptions in these two cul-
tures, the authors made a decision to limit their hypotheses to a reasonable number and
not pursue (as hypotheses or research questions) interactions between rank, age, and
culture. Had these interactions indeed emerged, the authors would have been dealt
with the interactions accordingly in both the introduction section and the Discussion
of this article. Instead, they are only analyzed in the Discussion.
8 A two-part pilot study (focus groups, pilot survey design, and analysis) was conducted
prior to the first empirical study (McCann & Giles, 2005) using this scale. In the pilot,
focus groups were used for a variety of reasons. First, by conducting focus groups in
two cultures, the issue of cultural bias is reduced somewhat since the focus groups
utilized participants from both Eastern (Thailand) and Western (United States)
cultures. Second, unlike previous intergenerational communication surveys
R. M. McCann & H. Giles Different Ages
Human Communication Research 32 (2006) 74–108 ª2006 International Communication Association 101
(e.g., Williams et al., 1997), which asked participants to describe their perceptions of
communication with generalized older people, this study’s purpose was to learn about
people’s perceptions of older and young workers. New items were required, then, that
more closely reflected the communicative scenarios that workers may encounter while
on the job, as opposed to at home or in other nonworkplace settings. The focus groups
were used to help generate these items. Third, a relatively short survey was deemed
appropriate for workers who may be time constrained in filling out surveys due to job
demands. Results from the pilot study are available upon request from the first author.
9 The GPIC scale used in McCann & Giles consisted of 14 items for perceptions of other’s
communication and 11 items for perceptions of one’s own communication. Through
factor analysis conducted in that study, it was determined that internal consistency
could be improved with the removal of 4 ‘‘they’’ (others’ communication) items and 2
‘‘I’’ (one’s own communication) items.
10 Roughly 84% of Thais aged 50–59 and 46% of those aged 60 and above reported
actively working during the previous year (1996) in one large-scale survey (Chayovan &
Knodel, 1997).
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