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Analysts' identity negotiations and politeness behaviour in earnings calls of US firms with extreme earnings changes

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>18/08/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Corporate Communications
Issue number5
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)769-787
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/06/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Purpose: Financial analysts' roles and incentives mean that they have conflicting identities to maintain towards investors and firm managers. The authors study how analysts adopt various politeness strategies in their questioning to establish socially desirable identities in the Q&A of publicly accessible earnings calls. Design/methodology/approach: The study is based on a sample of US firms with extreme earnings changes. 46 transcripts of end-of-year earnings calls were investigated with the help of linguistic discourse analysis, drawing on frameworks of face and linguistic politeness. For each transcript, the authors identified the structure of the face-threatening acts (FTAs) that arise when analysts ask probing questions and ascertained what specific politeness strategies, if any, are used by analysts to mitigate those FTAs. The authors examine how analysts perform identities through politeness in language and compare analysts' politeness behaviour and identity construction in the increasing earnings sub-sample with the decreasing earnings sub-sample. Findings: Analysts negotiate different identities according to specific social contexts, promoting their identity as (1) competent professionals when firms report problematic performance by asking questions in a confrontational manner with few politeness strategies and (2) dependents of the firm by asking questions in a more polite manner when firms experience satisfactory performance. Analysts aim to present a socially desirable face in Q&A to influence managers' and investors' perceptions. Practical implications: The study raises awareness about linguistic politeness as a communication strategy in the Q&A in earnings calls. It thereby enables managers and analysts to use linguistic politeness consciously and strategically and to recognise such use by others. Originality/value: This study complements existing literature on earnings conference calls as part of external corporate communications by focusing on analysts' use of language when interacting with manages. To the best of our knowledge, this paper is the first to show that politeness underpins analysts' language use as a device for identity negotiations. This is important to understand because analysts' identities vis-a-vis managers and investors is closely related to the stability of the financial system.