Measuring Communication Styles in the Malaysian Workplace: Instrument Development and Validation


Hassan Abu Bakar, Timothy Walters & Haslina Halim


The aim of the present study is to access communication style in the Malaysian workplace through the development and validation of a communication scale appropriate to the Malaysian workplace. The analysis involved data from 200 state development employees, and construct and criterion-related validation using data from 510 employees, representing three organizations in Malaysia. The results provided support for the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) as crucial communication dimensions for the Malaysian workplace, which are identified from the item-generation procedure.


Communication, Cultural Context, Workplace, Organization Citizenship Behaviour, Workgroup

Communication scholars have long advocated the importance of specific cultural contexts in cross-cultural research (e.g. see Shuter, 1990, 2008). Yet, despite promising findings in cross-cultural investigation, cross-cultural frameworks often neglect the uniqueness of specific cultural contexts. In fact, research in communication still requires in-depth understandings of local cultural contexts and their potential effects on workplace behaviours and outcomes. Furthermore, cross-cultural researchers have ignored the essential nature of context for the workplace in their theory development and empirical interpretations (Li & Tsui, 2002; Tsui, 2004, 2007). These conditions should matter a great deal, because treating culture as a global measure of communication does not provide an informative insight into how culture influences employee behaviours and communication in different workplace contexts (Hsu, 2010; Liden, 2011).

Research has shown significant associations between communication and many important outcomes in workplace such as commitment, job satisfaction and organizational climate satisfaction (e.g. see Chen, Silverthorne, & Hung, 2006; Mueller & Lee, 2002). Even so, studies on communication scales or questionnaire usually only offer the overall results rather than demonstrate the applicability of the communication’s specific dimensions (Gray & Laidlaw, 2004; Koning & de Jong, 2007). Studies have also revealed that certain dimensions of communication are not applicable in non-Western organizational contexts. For example, a study of Guatemalan organizations indicated that not all organizational communication dimensions based on communication satisfaction questionnaire (CSQ) were applicable to Guatemalan organizations (Varona, 1996). Similar situations were also found in Malaysian organizations in which dimensions of communication patterns in supervisor–subordinate relationships differed extensively in Malaysian organizations when compared to those in the United States (Bakar, Mustaffa, & Mohamad, 2009). Another study in Malaysian organizations by Nasrudin, Ramayah, and Beng (2006) indicated that organizational structure and climate dimensions failed to be replicated in Malaysian organization settings. These findings point to the need for more valid and reliable measures of communication style in Malaysian organizational settings. As Tsui (2004, 2007) noted, this problem exists due to certain cultural values and contexts that are not incorporated in existing communication measures.

British colonization and the Western-based education system utilized in Malaysia have led to the wholesale transplantation of many Western practices within the managerial ranks of Malaysian organizations. As a result, organizational structure and communication practices in Malaysia and Western countries are more closely aligned than ever before (Bakar & Sheer, 2013). However, beneath the organizational structure, cultural contexts continue to influence communication characteristics in the Malaysian workplace (Bakar & Mustaffa, 2011, 2013; McCann & Giles, 2006). Even today, cultural contexts operate in the Malaysian workplace and may help determine communication style in that workplace.

Thus, the main purpose of this current research is to assess communication style in the Malaysian workplace. This is accomplished by attempting to develop and validate psychometrically sound measures for a communication scale for the Malaysian workplace that incorporates Malaysia’s cultural values. We will contribute to the literature of organizational and intercultural communication in two ways. First, we address cultural conditions and contexts as a necessary next step to extend our understanding about communication style. Specifically, whereas previous researchers have suggested that specific global communication scales such as organizational communication scales are useful, we contend that these scales or questionnaires largely have ignored the cultural context. Second, this study is probably among the first to test psychometrically communication style incorporating culture and contextual settings in Malaysia workplace. Our study adds to the small but growing literature on communication in Malaysia. Malaysia is a country with a strategic location in Asia with its vast potential for economic development.

Review of Literature

Existing Communication in Workplace Scales and Measures

Previous researchers have suggested that specific global communication scales are useful for understanding overall communication styles or patterns. However, current communication scales such as intergenerational communication scales often are not universally applicable. For example, McCann and Giles (2006) showed that young participants in United States and Thai settings differed significantly in terms of how they perceived interaction with older people. Other examples based on McCroskey and McCroskey’s (1988) self-perceived communication competence scale showed that Iranian respondents perceived communication competence differently than Thai respondents did (Dilbeck, McCroskey, Richmond, & McCroskey, 2009; Zarrinabadi, 2012). These examples further strengthened Shuter’s (2008) arguments that most of cross-cultural research fails to be replicated because of a lack of understanding of the uniqueness of specific cultural contexts. Perhaps most importantly, communication and interaction in the workplace also depend upon the cultural context (The Chinese Culture Connection, 1987).

With respect to communication in workplace, the most widely used communication scales are the organizational communication questionnaire (OCQ) developed by Roberts and O’Reilly (1974), the LTT Communication Audit Questionnaire (LTT) advanced by Wiio and Helsila (1974), the CSQ developed by Downs and Hazen (1977) and the Communication Audit Survey Questionnaire developed by Goldhaber and Rogers (1979). These scales have become essential tools in the field and have informed us about: (a) communication climate in an organization; (b) information flow in an organization; (c) message characteristics in an organization; and (d) the communication structure of an organization. These scales are useful in understanding the surface structure and communication in an organization. However, these organizational communication scales cannot be used to interpret communication uniqueness in specific cultural contexts.

Studies based on the organizational communication scales in the Malaysian workplace have demonstrated the link between overall organizational communication and organizational outcomes. For example, the overall organizational communication scale has been related significantly to performance feedback (Milliman, Taylor, & Czaplewski, 2002) and overall communication effectiveness (Limaye & Victor, 1991; Salleh, 2005). However, with respect to specific organizational communication dimensions, these studies indicated that only downward and lateral communication dimensions in an organization were related significantly with organizational outcomes. Another study in the Malaysia organizational context showed that only the supervisor–subordinated based job-related communication and co-workers information exchange were related to organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB; Kandlosi, Ali, & Abdollahi, 2010); affective commitment (Bakar & Connaughton, 2010); and workplace structure (Tan, 1998). These findings point to the need for more valid and reliable scales that capture the communication style of the Malaysian workplace.

Malaysia’s Cultural Values

Malaysian society comprises primarily three large ethnic groups, Bumiputra (or Malay) (65.1%), Chinese (26.0%) and Indians (7.7%) (Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], 2013). Each of these ethnic groups maintains its own strong ethnic identity, with its own cultural customs, practices, language, values and beliefs (Abdul Rashid & Ho, 2003). However, unlike Western heterogeneous societies, in which liberal values are applied to regulate cultural and workplace ethics (e.g. consider workplace diversity discourses, equal opportunity laws, diversity hiring goals and so on), Malaysian society remains ingrained with traditional values and historical practices. Such unique homogeneity in cultural values helps highlight the complexity of cultural norms in the workplace in contrast to culturally more heterogeneous Western societies.

Generally, Malaysians tend to value harmonious relationships, respect elders and religion, and believe in face-saving (Abdul Rashid & Ho, 2003; Abdul Rashid, Sambasivan, & Abdul Rahman, 2004). In addition, Malaysian employees are more likely to use team coordination to integrate their work tasks, and use team workflows to deal with task uncertainty (Bakar et al., 2009; Pearson & Chong, 1997). A high preference also existed for achieving teamwork goals rather than individual goals (Chan & Pearson, 2002), and workers tend to be more idealistic with respect to in-group performance (Karande, Rao, & Singhapakdi, 2002; Pearce & Herbik, 2004). Studies based on Hofstede and Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE) cultural dimensions indicate that Malaysia: (a) is collectivist in nature and emphasizes the importance of the group; (b) has a high-power distance that emphasizes the importance of the leader and his or her status and power difference with respect to the group; and (c) has group-based rewards that emphasize the importance of group work and performance (Ashkanasy, 2002; Hofstede, 2003; Hofstede & Hofstede, 2004; Kennedy, 2002). Cultural norms and conditions based on global scales are important to help us understand organizational members’ behaviour and how climates are formed in organizational environments. However, it is well documented that in the Malaysian organizational context, social context in workplace dictates an employee’s communication behaviour in workplace settings (see Shephard, 2001). For example, Kennedy (2002) has argued that acceptance of power distance in Malaysia is less extreme than reported in Hofstede’s (1984) original work and than in Abdullah’s and Lim’s (2001) and Lim’s (2001) reports when compared to some other countries involved in the GLOBE study. Kennedy (2002) further argued that, even though Malaysia can be considered to be a culture with high power distances, this dimension is balanced by a strong human orientation in the superior–subordinate relationship. Thus, effective leaders in Malaysian organizations are expected to show compassion while using an autocratic style when interacting with their subordinates.

The above example shows the important of context in the Malaysian workplace, in which Malaysian managers and employees’ communication behaviour tends to be based on the situation in which the behaviour unfolds in the workplace (Abdul Rashid & Ho, 2003). Therefore, communication and context for a workplace is essential for inclusion in communication scales for the Malaysian workplace setting.

Communication and Context in the Malaysian Workplace

Uneven ethnic distribution across economic sectors is a factor in the Malaysian workplace. The majority of Bumiputra (the Malay) work in the manufacturing and the public sectors, the Chinese dominate management and professional positions along with a small number of Indians, and a majority of Indians work in the plantation sector (Abdul Rashid & Ho, 2003). Such unique heterogeneity (with-homogeneous subdivisions) highlights the complexity of communication and context for Malaysian workplaces, especially if viewed in light of more culturally heterogeneous societies in Asia and elsewhere. For this reason, we argue that to understand more about Malaysian culture, we need to understand ethic majorities in workplace. Previous studies have indicated that an ethnic majority tends to preserve its distinct communication style in the workplace (Ashcraft & Allen, 2003) and therefore influences the communication climate in that workplace (Keyton, 2010). Furthermore, Nair-Venugopal’s (2000) study indicated that Malaysia English, which mixes the English and Malay languages, was the most common way of speaking in the Malaysia workplace setting. For this reason, we argue that understanding communication style based on the ethnic majority is a significant and powerful issue, and relational demography can be viewed as a way of understanding communication and context in the Malaysian workplace.

The Malay comprises the majority in Malaysia society and in workplace so understanding the communicative behaviour of ethnic Malays is critical. The Malay as a native of Malaysia not only shapes the cultural norms of society but also shapes communicative behaviour in workplace. According to Storz (1999), in order to further understand Malaysian workplace culture, understanding the concept of budi in Malays’ daily life is necessary. Budi is the essence of a Malay’s social relationship, formulating the norms of an individual and social behaviour. The way an individual Malay feels and thinks about himself and others is guided by budi. Abdul Rashid et al. (2004) noted that budi encompasses systems of Malay values, which comprise the qualities of generosity, respect, sincerity, righteousness and discretion in their social relationships; including feelings of shame at the collective and individual level if something goes wrong in those relationships. These qualities, norms and expectations produce certain types of social relationships including both high-quality relationships and low-quality relationships and are accepted norms among major ethic groups in Malaysia (Selvarajah & Meyer, 2006, 2008). In sum, budi for a Malay is a set of internal values that shapes individual mentality and personality. For the Malay, budi shapes the values that help mould individual manners and actions. In addition, the values of budi also help form relationships with (and between) family members and society (Wan Husin, 2011).

The word budi is based on the Sanskrit word buddhi defined as wisdom, understanding or intellect (Monier-Williams, 1956). The concept of budi has been part of the Malay culture, and the meaning has been extended to encompass ethics as well as intellect and reason. Lim (2003a, 2003b) further emphasized that the meaning of budi in Malay culture can be indentified through five dimensions consisting of reason (rasa), intellect (akal), effort, interactions (bicara) and language (pekerti). Reason (rasa) is the way an individual should feel and think about himself or herself and others. Intellect (akal) is the way an individual should make judgments about certain issues. Interaction (bicara) is the way an individual should interact with others, while language (pekerti) is that which should be used or presented in the interactions or conversations with others. These five dimensions reflect the ethical and behaviour of an individual Malay. According to Lim (2003a), these five dimensions are always interconnected and intertwined, thus increasing the likelihood that they could fall into one or two dimensions reflecting the communication style of the Malaysian workplace.

In the mind of a Malay, budi determines his/her thinking, judgments, moral attitudes, goodness, and how communication and interaction should be presented. In the Malay cultural context, budi is reflected throughout the entire spectrum of mind, emotion, morality, goodness and practicality in judgments of the communication and interaction with another person. A person with a high level of budi, when communicating and interacting with another person, should be thoughtful and considerate, engage in good conduct and be enlightened and practical.

In Malay culture, Malays are expected not to speak in a loud tone to an elderly person or a superior because such as a tone is perceived to be ill mannered. Superiors or people considered to occupy a higher level in the hierarchy should be addressed with appropriate humbleness using their title (Abdullah, 2001; McLaren & Abdul Rashid, 2002). According to Abdullah (2001), Malays are motivated by their affiliation to groups, families and individuals. Malays respond better to demands for productivity increases if they see benefits accruing not only to the organization but also to their families, community and nation. Malays are attracted to concrete tangible rewards. They are also satisfied doing work if they have opportunities to show and receive appropriate respect from superiors, peers and subordinates. Mostly, Malays are Muslim. As such, Malays believe strongly in the concept of the Supreme Being—Allah the Almighty. Malays, therefore, expect their leaders to act as role models who are spiritually and religiously in tune. In communication, Malays practice caution and indirectness. This is done through the use of metaphors in their daily communication, a practice also found in other South Asian countries (see Gupta, Surie, Javidan, & Chhokar, 2002) which can be construed as similar to Hofstede’s (2003) concept of dimensions of femininity and indulgence or restraint. Malays also uphold the values of self-respect or face, politeness, sensitivity to feelings and value relationships. An apologetic behaviour is a symbol of modesty to Malays (Abdullah, 2001). Thus, these communication styles are essential for inclusion in communication scales capturing the Malaysian context.

This argument is also consistent with Kim’s (1994) conversational constraint theory, which says that conversational strategies differ across various cultures. The central idea of this theory emphasizes how people in certain cultures communicate. Kim (1994) used the concept of “social appropriateness,” that is what constitutes appropriate communication behaviour in certain cultural contexts. Kim (1994) also noted that social appropriateness could only be determined through interpersonal relationships and task-orientation interaction, with the emphasis on a high relationship quality between people and also depending upon the cultural context of the interactions. In short, Kim emphasized that an intercultural model of conversational constraints should recognize the cultural basis of communication and the shared social knowledge of the cultural context. Within the framework of conversational constraints, prior studies have demonstrated links between culture and interactions (e.g. see Lapinski & Rimal, 2005; Matsumoto, 1999; Park & Levine, 1999). From the above, and both in and out of Asia, previous research has provided valuable evidence regarding communication and context for the workplace. However, this same research also has bypassed the critical culture norms of employees and communication in workplace. Studies such as this one thus fill a research void in that we are capturing and measuring workplace communication and context.


Our approach in evaluating communication styles for the Malaysia workplace capturing the context for the Malaysian workplace was to develop a scale designed to assess different aspects of communication in different culture setting. We followed an accepted approach to scale development that DeVellis (2011) and Hinkin (1995, 1998) outlined. Bond (1988) also used these approaches in developing a Chinese Value Survey as Zhang and Oetzel (2006) did in developing a measure of immediacy in China.

This approach involved four stages. First, items were generated from an understanding of the organizational communication and context from Malaysian workplace literature, as well as from reports of individual experiences from the workplace setting. Second, items were validated for content. Third, items that survived content validation were sent to a large and diverse sample of employees, and again, several weeks later, to generate re-test data. Finally, items that had survived the analyses were then administered to employees from three organizations. This approach for scale development was designed to assess the scale and criterion-related validity of the new communication and the workplace scale. The following are the details of process undertaken.

Item Generation for the Communication Style at Malaysian Workplace

Based on the dimensions of budi identified in the literature, we generated an initial set of 23 items. These items focused on thinking, interactions, effort, initiative feeling and language structure as indicated in the studies of Lim (2003a, 2003b), Storz (1999) and McLaren and Abdul Rashid (2002). Consistent with Hui and Triandis’s (1985) suggestion to validate cross-cultural measures, in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals from management and professional groups (three people); the middle-management group (five people); and the supporting group (five people), drawn from three organizations. These samples were reasonably diverse in terms of gender (60% male and 40% female) and age (M = 31.5, ranging from 23 to 44) and represented both public and private organizations in Malaysia. The participants were asked about the kinds of work values they had in their organization and to give specific examples about how the cultural values were implemented in their work routines. The reasons for conducting in-depth interviews were to determine the applicability of the budi that had been identified and to discover any new budi dimensions that might not have been captured in the literature. Participants’ descriptions of budi included the social relationships, initiative feelings, judgment, and spirituality and religiosity Lim (2003a, 2003b), Storz (1999), Wan Husin (2011) and McLaren and Abdul Rashid (2002) previously identified.

Following these interviews, transcription and confirmation of transcripts of the recordings were conducted to verify transcription accuracy. Prior to analysis, we conducted inter-coder reliability and reliability among researchers (Creswell, 1998). To analyse the data, we employed qualitative methodologies to uncover themes and relationships from the discussions of each interview, utilizing various theoretical lenses (Sandberg, 1997). Transcribed discussions from each interview session were read and analysed by two researchers, and the results discussed between the two and as well as with an independent researcher. Next, the two researchers re-read the data and began identifying the descriptions of the budi and the communication context that could be extracted from the transcribed interview sessions. During this phase, we examined the budi with specific examples—illustrations that revealed key themes indicative of participants’ communication character at the workplace that have been underdeveloped or underplayed in current literature. Finally, based on the descriptions of budi meaning that had been identified, the two researchers re-read, discussed and categorized these descriptions into specific categories (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The themes were situated around (a) pekerti (the use of language) and (b) bicara (communication and interaction). As mentioned earlier, budi dimensions are always interconnected and intertwined, thus most likely the various categories would fall into one or two dimensions. Based on our analysis from interview transcriptions, the two elements of budi, which were pekerti (the use of language) and the bicara (communication and interaction), were seen as crucial in the applicability of budi in work routines. The pekerti (the use of language) is defined as the language used by an individual to reflect his/her manner, actions and relationships toward others. While bicara (communication and interaction) is defined as the way in which an individual expresses emotion, feelings and thoughts and manifests kindness toward others. We believe that these two dimensions (bicara and pekerti) are essential in understanding communication style in the Malaysian workplace setting.

To reflect the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) as budi, we developed 20 items with the interview responses serving as guidelines. Based on the two dimensions that had been identified, we conducted interview sessions with other Malaysian scholars who were familiar with Malaysia’s workplace culture and cultural values (Abdul Rashid & Ho, 2003; Abdullah, 2001). The interview sessions with the scholars served two main objectives. These were: (a) to confirm the two dimensions of budi that had been identified and (b) to ensure items that had been written for the two dimensions captured the communication and Malaysian workplace settings. Based on these interviews, another 10 items were developed. Therefore, a total of 63 pool items were generated to reflect the communicative budi context in Malaysian organizations.

Content Validation

Content validation of the 63 generated items was performed in two phases. First, two faculty members, specializing in organizational and intercultural communication, served as expert judges; they were asked to critique the two defined dimensions and the 63 items intended to capture the communicative budi context (the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara)) in the Malaysia workplace context. This approach allowed us to drop, change or add items, and mark unclear items. In addition, comparisons of judgments across the judges for each of the items were also made. Based on the comments from the judges and a high degree of inconsistency in identifying particular items related to one dimension, eight items were dropped from the item pool. Thus, only 55 items were retained (DeVellis, 2011; Hinkin, 1995).

Second, four faculty members specializing in organizational and intercultural communication from three prominent universities in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, served as a second set of expert judges for content validation of the remaining 55 items. The main reason for the second experts’ judgment was for selecting items to be retained and to determine the items that belonged to a specific dimension. Items that reflected agreement about the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara), from at least three out of four judges were retained. Based on the expert judgments, 10 items were dropped and 45 items survived the second content validation.
Finally, these 45 items were visited for theoretical content adequacy prior to submitting them for empirical analysis. The content adequacy evaluation aim in this stage was to determine whether or not these items reflected the defined dimensions of the communicative budi context (the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) in Malaysia organization. This approach helped us ensure that the items retained for empirical analysis clearly reflected the communicative budi context in Malaysian organizations and the underlying theoretical dimensions of budi. Each item was then reviewed for an indication of communicative budi context in an organization, namely, the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara), for consistency. As a result, two items were dropped from further scale consideration.

Thus, 43 items were retained, and the dimension distributions of the items were: 14 items for the use of language (pekerti), and 29 items for communication and interaction (bicara). In order to gain some insight into the relevance of the items to the theoretical and communication in context, the next stage involved quantitative analysis.

Participants and Procedure

This study consisted of data drawn from three samples. In the first phase of our research, we evaluated our 43 items in a pilot study (pre-test) and 33 items of a social desirable scale, with a sample of 200 state development corporation employees. In this phase, data were analysed for item variance and social desirability response. The demographic breakdown for the employees was as follows: 57% male, 43% female; and ethnic group, 60% Malay, 30% Chinese, 5% Indian and 5% others. Average age for these employees was 35 years; average organizational tenure was 7.8 years and average of job tenure was 5.4 years. Participation was voluntary, and confidentiality of responses was assured.

In second phase of our research, we evaluated stability over time (test–retest reliability) of the new communication scales for the Malaysian workplace setting that survived in phase 1 with 270 employees (45% response rate) from a regional development authority employees (110) and state secretary office employees (160). These employees received the first questionnaire in January and the follow-up questionnaire in March. Data from this questionnaire were analysed for reliability testing and exploratory factor analysis. The demographic breakdown for the employees was as follows: 54% male (145), 46% female (125), ethnic group, 70% Malay (189), 28% Chinese (75) and 2% Indian (6). The average age of these employees was 35.5 years, average organizational tenure was 5.6 years and average job tenure was 4.5 years.

Finally, in third phase of our research, we collected data from 510 employees (65% response rate) from regional development authority employees (80 and these participants were different from test–retest participants), state secretary employees (180 and these participants were all different from test–retest participants) and semiconductor company employees (250). In this phase, items that survived in phase 2 analysis and 14 items of team-level OCB scale were administrated. Data obtained from this phase were used to conduct confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and to assess the predictive validity of the budi dimensions. The demographic breakdown of the full-time working sample was: gender, 65% male, 35% female; and ethnic group, 60% Malay, 35% Chinese and 5% Indian. The average age of this sample was 45.6 years, average organizational tenure was 8 years and average job tenure was 6 years. All the participants represented multiple work groups.

Social desirability response

Social desirable response bias was measured with a 33-item social desirable scale (Arnold & Feldman, 1981; Crowne & Marlowe, 1960). The scale is an assessment of the effects of bias toward socially desirable responses to self-inventories like self-reports of effort, motivation, performance and attitudes. In this study, the scale was used to identify correlations between this scale and the individual items of communication scales for the Malaysian workplace setting that are subject to a social desirability bias. Items that were correlated significantly with the Crowne-Marlowe Social Desirability scale were removed. An example item was “I never hesitate to go out of my way to help someone in trouble” (α = .89).

Team-level OCB

To measure group member team-level OCB, we used Smith, Organ, and Near’s (1983) 14 items. Team-level OCB refers to the normative level of OCB performed within the team (Ehrhart & Naumann, 2004) based on team members understandings of their own jobs and the collective tasks and cooperation with others required for the purpose of achieving team effectiveness. The decision to include the team-level OCB measurement was taken because the OCB provides employee attitudes about the work itself and is used widely in scale development studies. Furthermore, we believe that the team-level OCB was likely to capture the rich collectivist work culture in Malaysian workplace. An example item was “Team members make innovative suggestions to improve department” (α = .97).
Responses to all measures included in the phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 surveys were scaled from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).


All of the initial item analyses were conducted using the state development corporation employees’ sample.

Tests of Item Variance and Social Desirability Response Sets

The first step in analysing the data was to calculate the variance on each of the 43 items. Items that show little variance were eliminated. Although no established criterion for adequate variability exists, a standard deviation of 1.0 was chosen as representing an adequate amount of variability for usefulness as an item (Armenakis, Bernerth, Pitts, & Walker, 2007; Liden & Maslyn, 1998). All 43 items had standard deviations exceeding 1.0 with a range from 1.05 to 1.67, and thus no items were removed for lack of variability.

Next, all items were correlated with the social desirability scale (N = 570). Five items that correlated significantly with the social desirability scale were removed (Loo & Loewen, 2004). These five significant correlations ranged in size from .55 to .72 (all p < .05). At this point, 38 items remained for consideration in the scale.

Test-Retest Reliability and Factor Analyses

Using data collected from the sample of 270 employees from the regional development authority and state secretary office employees, we conducted test reliability and exploratory factor analysis. Test–retest reliability coefficients of .85 for the use of language (pekerti) and reliability coefficients of .81 for the communication and interaction (bicara) were found. Tests for normality for each dimension of communication for the Malaysian workplace were computed for each individual item. Tests for normality included those for kurtosis and skewness and visual inspection of histograms. The communication for Malaysian dimensions appeared to be normal. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted based on principal components analysis with an unspecified number of factors. Two factors emerged with eigenvalues of more than 1 which explained 72.6% of the variance; a scree plot also indicated the presence of two factors. To better interpret the factor loadings, oblique rotation was employed because of the anticipated intercorrelation among the factors. We interpreted each factor based on Hair, Black, Babin, and Anderson’s (2010) suggestion with a loading of at least .5 on the intended factor and no cross-loading on any other factor (Allen, Titsworth, & Hunt, 2009; Hair et al., 2010). Following Allen et al.’s (2009) guideline, items that had a factor loading below .5 or had cross-loading were considered as non-interpretable. The breakdown of these items was for the use of language (pekerti) nine items, and for communication and interaction (bicara) 25 items. The rotated factor loadings for these 34 items appear in Table 1. Next, the 34-item scale was validated by CFA and a structural model was used to assess whether the dimensions of budi might explain variance in team-level OCB.

Table 1 Communicative Budi Context Items: Oblique Rotation, Pattern Matrix.

Confirmatory Factor Analyses

The confirmatory analyses were conducted exclusively with the data collected from 510 employees from the regional development authority, state secretary employees and semiconductor company employees. CFA produces assessments of goodness of fit and can be used to confirm previously hypothesized models. The CFA was based on the covariance matrix, and we used maximum likelihood estimation (Wefald & Downey, 2009); the results are shown in Table 2. Consistent with exploratory factor analysis results, our hypothesized model was a two-factor model. We interpreted the CFA results using the standards of goodness of model fit that Hu and Bentler (1999) provided. These are: normed fit index and Comparative fit index ≥.96, standardized root-mean-square residual ≤.10 and root mean square error for approximation ≤.06. The two-factor hypothesized model reflected the two dimensions, those of the use of language (pekerti) and of communication and interaction (bicara). We also tested one alternative model (one-factor model), but the model did not produce a better fit than the hypothesized model. The chi-squared difference tests shown in Table 2 revealed that the two-factor model was significantly better than the one-factor model. Factor loading for the items are presented in Table 3. The items for the use of language (pekerti) and for communication and interaction (bicara) fitted statistically significantly into their respective factors.

Together, the results of both EFA and CFA provided evidence for the distinctiveness of the scales of communication style in the Malaysian workplace in this study and suggested that the common method variance was not responsible for the relationships between the dimensions (Hu & Bentler, 1999; Podsakoff, Mackenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). Based on a strict interpretation of the factor loading, that is a factor loading of equal or more than .85 indicates a distinctive loading and a factor loading of .70 indicates a moderate loading (see Kline, 2004), we eliminated items with less than a .70 factor loading. The breakdown of these items after CFA was the use of language (pekerti) that had nine items with a .87 coefficient alpha and communication and interaction (bicara) that had 13 items with a .89 coefficient alpha.

Table 2 Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the Structure of the Use of Language (Pekerti), and Communication and Interaction (Bicara) in Malaysian Organizational Setting.

Table 3 Standardized Factor Loadings for the Communication Style in Malaysian Workplace.

Predictive Validity

To assess predictive validity, we evaluated the new communication scales for the Malaysian workplace with team-level OCB based on a sample of 510 drawn from regional development authority employees, state secretary employees and semiconductor company employees. Dynamics of OCB do not operate in a cultural vacuum. Instead, the effects of team-level OCB act in association with communication and cultural context configurations. Therefore, we argue that employee perceptions of communication at the workplace should be related to how team members understand their job and cooperate with their co-workers in a team. Furthermore, through communication in a workplace is based on the use of language (pekerti) communication and interaction (bicara), team members should articulate their attitudes towards team effectiveness. Based on this logic, we believed our communication scales for the Malaysian workplace should relate to team-level OCB.

Using latent composite structural equation modelling, we sought to determine if our communication scales for the Malaysian workplace could predict a significant amount of variance in the team-level OCB. Table 4 provides the means, standard deviations and intercorrelations between the response to communication scales for the Malaysian workplace and the criterion variable (team-level OCB). Table 5 shows the fit indices for the use of language (pekerti), communication and interaction (bicara) and OCB based on Hu and Bentler’s (1999) guidelines. The chi-squared and fit indices tests revealed that the structural model based on communication scales for the Malaysian workplace could predict a significant amount of variance in the team-level OCB. Figure 1 shows the significant direct effect of: (a) the use of language (pekerti) (β = .34, p < .01), and communication and interaction (bicara) (β = .32, p < .01) on team-level OCB. In the model, 35.4% of variance in team-level OCB was accounted for by the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara).

Table 4 Means, Standard Deviations and Correlations.

Table 5 Fit Indexes for Information Flow, Communication Climate, Message Characteristics, Communication Structure, Group Bond, Respect and Job Satisfaction.

Figure 1 Multiple Regression Coefficient Model.
Note. The coefficients are standardized regression coefficients. *p < .01.


In this current study, we developed and tested communication measures for the Malaysian workplace. Exploratory factor analyses provided support for two communication styles in Malaysian workplace settings, namely, the use of language (pekerti), and communication and interaction (bicara), providing evidence of the scale validity. The resulting two-dimension scale consisted of 22 items, the use of language (pekerti) included nine items and communication and interaction (bicara) included 13 items. Providing further support for the validity of the scale, communication style in the workplace explained the incremental variance in workgroup member’s OCB.

The development of a communication style scale in the Malaysian workplace context contributes to the literature on intercultural communication and work-group diversity in several ways. Tsui (2007) suggested that, although the implications of culture upon the workplace within workplace settings have been discussed in organizational behaviour and communication literature, the workplace in specific cultural settings has not been tested empirically in a systematic manner (Fay & Kline, 2011; Liden, 2011; Lowry, Roberts, Romano, Cheney, & Hightower, 2006). Current communication scales and questionnaires tend to generalize or make a comparison between cultures, thus missing specific cultural context variables. This study provides empirical evidence by incorporating a specific cultural value in the workplace, through the development of a communication style scale and a regression coefficient model test. The results of the communication style scale in Malaysian workplace development highlight the importance of specific workplace values that influence the relevance of communication behaviour and group behaviour relationships.

Specifically, we found that the degree to which individuals subscribed to pekerti and bicara values may affect group citizenship behaviour. Individuals with high pekerti and bicara values are likely to demonstrate OCB towards their workgroup. There may be two explanations for this phenomenon. First, for high-level pekerti and bicara individuals, relationship development among group members may be an important goal per se, and they may pay a great deal of attention to the extent to which information exchange behaviours among group members and workgroup activities lead to the joint achievement of workgroup goals. Second, because pekerti and bicara carry with them strong individual cultural identities and have strong group OCB, the extent of communication exchange behaviours (pekerti and bicara) among group members and activities that lead to the joint achievement of workgroup goals may be a crucial factor in social relationship development and maintenance (with managers and co-workers) within the workgroup (Erdogan & Liden, 2006).

These results indicated that a communication and the workplace scale for Malaysian organization holds promise as a framework for understanding how communication and the workplace influence the attitudes and behaviours of Malaysian employees. In this case, the interplay of both bicara and pekerti are manifestations of dynamic cultural values in the Malaysian workplace and team-level OCB. With respect to validity, all items for communication and the context for the Malaysian workplace setting were shown to be unrelated to social desirability response. Further support for this scale was provided by the structural model showing that each communication and the context for the Malaysian workplace dimension contributed differently to the explanation of variance in team-level OCB.

Although previous communication measures developed in a Western or in a Chinese setting are useful for understanding communication behaviour, we strongly also contend that that broadening the literature via Asian-based studies such as this one are essential as we move toward more meaningful and deeply thought through comparisons and contrasts between and among people from nations located in various regions (see also Ota, McCann, & Honeycutt, 2012). So-called “Asia specific variables” such as the Confucius value or guangxi may indeed share commonality with other Asian countries (Loi & Ngo, 2009), and perhaps can be considered to be a special form of context for the workplace (Robertson, Diyab, & Al-Kahtani, 2013).

While we are not suggesting that the Confucius value or guangxi is central to our research in Malaysia or to other Asian countries (though it could be a consideration with overseas Chinese), we hope that research such as this can ultimately move us toward better “deconstructing Asia” (and even the notion of so-called Asian collectivism), with aims to unbundle specific communication styles in the workplace as what we are doing here to uncover the budi in a Malaysia organizational setting. This type of research can be achieved by not only showing one unique face of the Asia culture, but also highlighting inter-Asian similarities between this and prior work in Asia.

In summary, support for the Malaysian communication and the workplace scale was provided by a consistent set of results: (1) factor loadings from exploratory factor analysis provided support for two separate dimensions; (2) the confirmatory factor analyses results showed the two dimensions of communication style in Malaysian workplace; and (3) the two dimensions of communication and workplace in the Malaysian workplace were correlated with team-level OCB and were significant in explaining the variance in team-level OCB.

The emergence of pekerti and bicara based on our interviews was also consistent with conversational constraint theory. As mentioned earlier, conversational constraint theory predicts that people would emphasize the cultural basis of communication and the shared social knowledge of the cultural context. These two dimensions are crucial components in the communication and Malaysian workplace (Lim, 2003a, 2003b) and were salient dimensions in an investigation involving three diverse organizations in Malaysia. Results of the current investigation also support the description of the special qualities of communication in the Malaysian workplace. The values of pekerti and bicara are reflected in both daily verbal and non-verbal communication including the use of language and paralinguistic practices (McLaren & Abdul Rashid, 2002; Storz, 1999).

One weaknesses of this study was that the organizations involved in the validation segment of the study were public service-related organizations. To extend its generalizability, the new scale needs to be used in a wide variety of public and private organizations in Malaysia. Another main weakness of the study was the outcome variable used in this study. Current investigations limit themselves to OCB. Thus, we do not know if the newly developed communication styles scale for the Malaysian workplace will correlate significantly with other outcome variables such as organizational commitment or individual performance in organization. Future studies should combine commitment to organization with other outcome variables such as performance. Another weakness of this study was the lack of comparison between established measures of communication in the workplace. The current scale should be validated with more established communication and cultural scales.

The main strength of this investigation was the thorough process used in creating the item pool. Many items were based on interviews designed expressly for this study. The interview process used in this study helped find the pekerti and bicara dimensions. Previous communication and cultural studies had not recognized the importance of specific cultural context dimensions and assumed that the scales were applicable across cultures. Also, improving upon previous communication literature was the rigorous content validation procedure involving faculty members and the evaluation of all items and scales for the social desirability set. Finding two dimensions that matched a priori dimensions using the conservative approach of exploratory factor analysis with the unspecified number of dimensions provided strong support for the hypothesized communication and cultural dimensions in the Malaysian workplace. Lastly, the scales developed for the Malaysian workplace from organizational employees were validated using CFA through data collected from three diverse organizations.

The specific context for the Malaysian workplace measure that is the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) capitalizes on the inherent strengths of the behavioural approach by assessing what people do in a specific cultural setting, rather than what they intent to do or say (Ting-Toomey, 2012). It allows for culturally descriptions of the elements of communication effectiveness in workplace to be assessed with culturally specific behaviours. It allows for the perceived use of language and interactions between members of work group to be accounted for. The scale as currently constructed can be used to make predictions about communication effectiveness, as well as to make assessments of the communication climate in workplace. The summary scale may serve as an indicator of communication effectiveness and group communication climate. While recognizing that these tenets are necessarily subject to more rigorous empirical testing in other cultural settings, the scale is a promising tool for use by practitioners and scholars.

Practical Implications

Results of our study suggest that the new communication in Malaysian workplace scales may enhance OCB for Malaysian employees. Our findings indicate that the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) may inspire employees’ OCB towards their workgroup in a Malaysian organization. When a manager in an organization embraces the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara), he/she may succeed in nurturing and developing his/her employees’ workgroup OCB. In Malaysia, a workplace seeking to create a positive atmosphere should be careful to select mangers who have not only good communication skills, but also the ability to develop the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) among employees. Doing so involves conscious efforts in getting to know the context of Malaysian workplace and its values. Indeed, results of the current investigation revealed a relationship between the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) dimensions that help employees’ OCB towards their workgroup.

Implications for Future Research

The value of identifying multiple dimensions of communication and the workplace in Malaysia lies in understanding when and how these dimensions relate to the issue of the applicability of Western-based organizational communication in specific cultural settings, and their impact in the prediction of organizational outcomes. For example, many researchers have addressed the relationship between communication and commitment or satisfaction and have used organizational CSQ or OCQ. However, all those studies failed to consider the culture of the country (Koning & de Jong, 2007; Varona, 1996). In addition, the comparisons of scales based on self-perceived communication competence global perceptions between cultures also fail to incorporate specific cultural context explanations. One immediate need for research attention is to revise the current scales and meet the demand of specific communicative cultural contexts. As part of this effort, more scale development effort should be considered so that the scale is suitable for use in multiple indicator structural equation models. Creative item writing will be necessary so as to capture specific communicative cultural contexts without suffering from biases.

The greatest need for further research using the current communication scale is longitudinal research on the communication-in-workplace process because the results of the current study may differ between and within organizations in Malaysia. Perhaps the use of language (pekerti) and communication and interaction (bicara) takes a longer time to be developed in the workplace and might correlate with the working environment. Or perhaps, organizations that are based in central, southern Peninsular Malaysia or East Malaysia have different focuses of communication and context for workplace dimensions. Research examining differences in the relative importance of communication and context for workplace dimensions of new and current organizational members within the organization is also needed. Only longitudinal tests of the two dimensions can address such causal issues.

Nonetheless, this current research provides support for a new communication style scale for Malaysian organization settings. The results also provide psychometric support for the Malaysian communication style in workplace. Use of the communication and context for the Malaysian workplace may enrich intercultural communication literature through an exploration of the different components of the communication styles scale in Malaysian organizations. In addition, future studies may include other Western countries such as the UK, Canada or the United States to compare and validate the scale.


A previous version of this article was presented at the 64th International Communication Association Annual Conference. The authors would like to thank Professor Stephen Croucher and the reviewers of this article for their many helpful comments.


Note. All bold values are significant at 0.05.
Note. NFI = Normed fit index; CFI = Comparative fit index; SRMSR = Standardized root-mean-square residual; RMSEA = Root mean square error for approximation. All χ2 and Δχ2 values are significant at p < .01.
* All factor loadings are significant at p < .001.
** p < .05.
Notes. RMSEA = Root mean square error for approximation, CFI = Comparative fit index, TLI = Tucker–Lewis Index. p > .01.


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