Shared laughter as relational strategy at intercultural conflictual workplace interactions

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the relational functions of shared laughter in workplace conflict interactions. It is argued that two intertwined but distinct relational concerns are addressed in conflict interactions, namely ‘face’ at the individual level and ‘relational dynamics’ at the interactional level. Based on a case analysis of an intercultural conflictual meeting, it is found that laughing together can be strategically deployed to achieve different relational goals at different stages of the conflict process, including launching aligned face attack, mitigating relational tension, and facilitating reconciliation. It is also found that the audience plays a proactive role in mobilizing shared laughter to mitigate relational tension. Under the verbal constraints of their participation role, they achieve this by transforming the speaker's mitigation laughter into a laughter invitation and thereby constructing metacommunicative laughables. The metacommunicative laughable makes it possible to achieve ‘laughing with’ without ‘laughing at’ and affiliation without disaffiliation in sensitive conflict situations. The process of co-constructing the metacommunicative laughables shows how the intercultural interactants can locally and collaboratively develop shared practices at the interactional level despite possible cultural differences in values, expectations, and practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-55
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Chinese workplace
  • Conflict
  • Intercultural communication
  • Laughter
  • Relationship
  • im/politeness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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