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Lying: Strategies to Manage Undesirable Communicative Situations in Japan and New Zealand

This study explores how Japanese and New Zealand people manage undesirable communicative situations by applying lying strategies, specifically, how they manage refusal situations by using untruthful excuses. Lying is a communicative strategy that people sometimes adopt to manage undesirable situations in everyday conversation. However, previous studies have not focused on what types of lies are employed or how lies are delivered in such situations. In addition, the use of lies is likely to differ among different cultures and this could lead to miscommunication. Thus, it is worthwhile to conduct a cross-cultural study on this topic. The study aims to find out, by focusing on specific situations involving refusals, what types of lies—or untruthful excuses—people use, how lies are employed between different cultural groups, and how culture influences the use of lies in conversation. For this purpose, lies used in refusal conversations—one request-refusal and two invitation-refusal conversations—were analysed within an interactional sociolinguistic framework and by drawing on interpersonal communication theory. The data consisted of role-play conversations performed by 64 pairs of friends (32 Japanese and 32 New Zealanders pairs) in Japanese and English respectively. The following key findings emerged. First, the choice of type of lies differed between the two data sets. The Japanese participants chose lies to demonstrate an unequivocal refusal message, for example, showing strong rejection with a surfeit of reasoning in their excuses. Such lies preclude negotiation and, therefore, the likelihood of further uncertainty or conflict. In this way harmony was maintained. The New Zealand participants followed social protocols to lie, for instance, lying about a prior arrangement with a simple explanation. Negotiation subsequently took place based on the information provided in conversation. Second, the emergent data suggested that culture influenced how lies were perceived. Japanese participants appeared to share an implicit understanding that lies are likely to be used in the refusal situation; by contrast, New Zealand participants acted without this presumption. This interpretation follows from the finding that the Japanese often disregard the information offered in untruthful excuses. The New Zealanders however, treat untruthful excuses as a genuine source of information. Third, Japanese and New Zealand participants tended to apply politeness strategies differently. The Japanese used strong and direct expressions in their lies. These were positive politeness strategies to show closeness to friends or in-group members. The New Zealanders tended not to differentiate between in-group and out-group members and applied similar politeness strategies to everyone. Through a comparative analysis, the study provides new knowledge how Japanese and New Zealanders use different types of lies in a different manner to handle potentially difficult interpersonal communicative situations such as refusals. It also demonstrates that lying is the result of complex, culturally influenced processes: the use of lies is underpinned by cultural preferences and protocols in relation to cultural values, the perception of lying, and communication style. The study has made a strong emphasis on importance of understanding the rationale behind the use of lies particularly for intercultural settings.
Type of thesis
Nishimura, F. (2011). Lying: Strategies to Manage Undesirable Communicative Situations in Japan and New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5835
University of Waikato
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