Renee Cowan-Microgrant report

NCA Microgrant Report
Renee Cowan, University of Texas at San Antonio

Project Description


The National Communication Association micro grant provided through the Center for Intercultural Dialogue allowed me to begin a very productive conversation and collaboration with renowned European workplace bullying researcher, Dr. Denise Salin (Hanken School of Economics, Finland). I first connect Dr. Salin after reading her extensive research on workplace bullying and the organization from the European perspective.  Dr. Salin and I, along with our project partner, Dr. Suzy Fox (Professor, Loyola University, Chicago) are in the planning stage of a large multi-national research study on conceptions of workplace bullying.  Our conversations allowed me to better understand workplace bullying from a European perspective and helped shed light on pertinent issues when investigating bullying from a culture perspective.  In order to begin this effort, I needed to raise research funds to allow attendance at the planning meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

Renee Cowan, Denise Salin

Raising Funds for the Trip
To fund this international collaboration trip, I estimated I would need $2,400 for airfare and hotel arrangements.  I was granted $900 from the National Communication Association through the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and $1200 in a Faculty Research Grant from the University of Texas at San Antonio.  This covered the majority of costs associated with the trip and I personally supplemented the remaining sum.  Our meeting was highly successful and because of the trip we are advancing through Phase 1 of the project.

The Project
During our meeting we discussed and finalized a three-phase international workplace bullying project.  From a U.S. human resources perspective, workplace bullying (WB) is defined as “Actions and practices that a ‘reasonable person’ would find abusive, occur repeatedly or persistently, harm or are intended to harm the target, and result in economic, psychological, or physical harm to the target and/or create a hostile work environment” (Fox, Cowan & Lykkebak, 2012, p. 10). While WB is a universal phenomenon, there are institutional, legal, organizational, and cultural factors that necessitate different approaches to bullying in different parts of the world.  We determined our guiding research question: based on the assumption that the violation of national, gendered, or other cultural norms will be perceived as rude, crude, or bullying behavior, to what extent will national differences in cultural values and communication norms be associated with differences in behaviors perceived to constitute workplace bullying?

The Center for Intercultural Dialogue grant allowed me to meet with Drs. Salin and Fox to discuss and refine our three-phase intercultural bullying research project.  We held this meeting during the week of June 1-8, 2013.  During this week-long meeting we were able to discuss important logistics of our international project including securing grants, our project schedule, securing country partners, and specifics of data collection.  The meeting was very productive and we are now able to move forward with data collection for Phase 1 in Summer 2013. We hope to complete the full project by Fall 2015.  We have secured collaboration from country partners in Argentina, Poland, Bahrain, Turkey, India, Australia, Austria, China, Greece, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and we have collaborators who have expressed interest in the United Kingdom and Israel.  What follows are more details on the project:

Phase 1. In this phase we have determined the participating countries and collaborators, gained commitment and alignment of the team members, developed the collaboration protocols and project guidelines, and began creating the interview and survey measures. The two main clusters of materials will be common measures of cultural characteristics and communication norms, an initial set of bullying items based on popular Workplace Bullying measures and semi-structured interview protocols. Focus groups in the U.S. and Finland will be conducted.  We have largely completed Phase one and plan to conduct most focus groups by the end of Summer 2013.

Phase 2. Focus group, interview and survey materials will be translated and back-translated, supplemented by culture-specific questions contributed by our country researchers. Each collaborator will conduct interviews with a minimum of 15 respondents, and will include Human Resource professionals, managers who have handled bullying incidents, and union leaders or other employee representatives.

The focus groups and interviews will seek to uncover underlying cultural assumptions, values, norms, and perceptions that contribute to judgments of workplace bullying behaviors. For each culture, we will work with the collaborators to develop a comprehensive and specific set of behaviors that employees in that culture would consider to be workplace bullying. This will be the starting point for the next phase, the survey.

Suzy, Renee, Denise-sm
Suzy Fox, Renee Cowan, Denise Salin

The project will produce strong intellectual significance by attending to the question: To what extent are national differences in cultural values, communication norms and gender roles associated with differences in a) behaviors perceived to constitute workplace bullying, b) how individuals and organizations respond to perceived workplace bullying, and c) preferences for organizational and public policies, including specific roles assigned to HR professionals in efforts to counter workplace bullying?

This research will result in several direct outputs that will be beneficial for both U.S.-based and global HR departments: 1) specific guidelines for what should be effective practice in addressing WB from a training standpoint, 2) specific guidelines for anti-bullying policy for global and U.S.-based organizations, 3) guidelines for identifying and addressing WB in both local and multicultural contexts, 4) dispute resolution guidelines and procedures and 5) suggestions for incorporating anti-bullying considerations into organizations’ formal performance management and disciplinary systems.  The project’s potential broader impacts are to offer guidance to Human Resource Professionals (HRPs) and managers in defining, recognizing and responding to workplace bullying complaints and situations, and to help multinational corporations develop guidelines that enable people from diverse national backgrounds to work together.

Fox, S., Cowan, R. & Lykkebak, K. (2012). Revision of the workplace bullying-checklist: workplace bullying policy survey for HR professionals. Proceedings, Academy of Business Research, New Orleans, March 15, 2012.

[NOTE: Renee Cowan’s original project proposal is available here.]

NCA Microgrant Reports

In fall 2012, the National Communication Association funded five international travel microgrants, as described in detail here. The reports are now (as of July 2013) all turned in, and have been posted to this site to serve as models for similar projects. The authors have provided details about how they funded their trips, how they made international connections, what they did while abroad, and what they learned from their trips.

Award winners were:

Sarah Bishop
Renee Cowan
Louisa Edgerly
Andrew Spieldenner
Santoi Wagner

Once again, my thanks to NCA for being willing to support these projects.

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue

Sarah Bishop-Microgrant Report

NCA Micro Grant Report
Sarah Bishop, University of Pittsburgh

With generous support from the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and the National Communication Association, I traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica March 29-April 7, 2013 to gather the reflections of graduate students who had studied abroad at universities in the United States for academic credit.  My goal, in short, was to discover how international academic travel influenced an individual’s sense of national identity.  In preparation for the trip, I worked to familiarize myself with the relevant research about study abroad.  Additionally, I read many of the multitudinous study abroad testimonies written by students and currently available on study abroad websites at numerous institutions.  By the time I boarded the flight for San Jose, I felt confident about the kinds of effects academic travel had on students, and I looked forward to adding the dimension of “effects on national identity” to the impressive canon of existing research.  During the interviews themselves, however, I was surprised to find that the interviewees reported experiences, emotions, and challenges about multiple aspects of the academic traveling experience that I had not encountered in any of the relevant literature.

The preparation for this project included a two-month process of correspondence with the Director and other relevant staff at the Office of International Affairs at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).  I owe my deepest gratitude to this staff, including Ana Sittenfeld and Fatima Acosta, especially, for providing me with a list of interested participants as well as details regarding the group’s areas of research and U.S. destinations.  In addition, I completed extensive oral history training from Dr. Ron Zboray at the University of Pittsburgh.  One unexpected challenge arose when I estimated (based on flight costs at the time), that round-trip airfare to San Jose would cost no more than $800 USD.  The Center for Intercultural Dialogue generously granted this amount, but between the time the grant application was due and the time of my actual travel, flight costs had risen by more than $300, and I had to use my savings account to cover the remainder of the flight.  In the future, I will account for fluctuations in flight costs before finalizing my budgets.  Another challenge arose when I realized that none of the roads around the University of San Jose, where I conducted my research, are named.  In the absence of road signs, I relied on an iPhone photograph I had taken of a map I found on UCR’s campus and the patience of students willing to forgive my uncertain Spanish for direction.

UCR-smIn an effort to understand the ways an academic travel experience affects an individual’s sense of personal and national identity, as well as the intersection between study abroad, intercultural competence, and career preparation, I spent approximately one hour interviewing each graduate student.  Our conversation ranged from issues surrounding the legal preparations required before traveling abroad to negotiating needed friendships while away from home.  While I have yet to code and transcribe all of the interviews, one unexpected theme became apparent: though study abroad programs have been especially credited with encouraging a sense of global—rather than national—citizenship, in my own interviews, I found that the majority of students reported that study abroad strengthened, rather than compromised, their sense of national or geographic identity.  This finding requires further exploration and I hope to have the opportunity to find out whether study abroad alumni in other areas of the world report similar outcomes.

While multi-sited, international research is logistically complicated and time-consuming, my time in San Jose confirmed that in cases where interpersonal interaction and nonverbal communication are central to a project, video conferencing remains a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction and exchange.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to conduct this research, and look forward to reporting my full findings at a later date.


[NOTE: Sarah Bishop’s original project proposal is available here.]