Hassan Abu Bakar is an Associate Professor at Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia.  His main research interests are in dyadic communication in the workplace, leadership style, organizational communication, and intercultural communication. This article is based on his work that appears in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Development: Bakar, H. A., & Omillion-Hodges, L. (2019). The mediating role of relative communicative behavior on the relationship between ethical leadership and organizational identification. Leadership & Organization Development Journal.


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Malaysian workplace dynamics are quite unique with the uneven ethnic distribution of workers across economic sectors. One-way employees are able to interact across the ethnic divides is through the budi context in the Malaysian workplace. That is how an individual communicates emotions, feelings, and thoughts, as well as manifests kindness is known as budi bicara.  This particular communication behavior in the workplace manifests in the unique dyadic communication relationship between a leader and each individual workgroup member. For example, a person with a high level of budi, when communicating and interacting with another person, should be thoughtful and considerate, engage in socially-appropriate conduct, and be enlightened and practical. In fact, budi is reflected throughout the entire spectrum of mind, emotion, morality, goodness, and practicality in judgments of communication and interaction with another person. The aggregate of the individual leader-member dyadic relationships culminate in the collective achievement of workgroup goals and serve a crucial factor in the social relationship development and maintenance of the workgroup in Malaysia.

"How can this cultural norm activity help a leader's ethical behavior and employee's identification?"

Thus, based on the cultural norm of budi bicara can be viewed as a manifestation of the socially and culturally appropriate interactive exchanges that occur in the workplace.  How can this cultural norm activity help a leader's ethical behavior and employee's identification? First, it appears that group members may be aware of their leader's ethical behavior and aware of their relative leader-member dyadic communication behavior standing as compared with other group member's relative leader-member dyadic communication behavior in the workgroup. This is because relative leader-member dyadic communication behavior standing represents an actual position of a group member in a set of differentiated leader-member relationships in the workgroup.

Thus, managers may need to become more aware of how group members differentiate between high and low leader-member dyadic communication colleagues. Because communication differentiation plays a role in the social comparison process of leader-member relationships, it may also be associated with the relative leader-member dyadic communication behavior within the workgroup. Indeed, the results of the previous studies revealed a relationship between ethical leadership and organizational identification via communication differentiation.

Thus, managers from multinational corporations (MNCs) or Malaysian based organizations will benefit from the indirect effect of culturally based communication activities because they can identify specific communication characteristics of budi within the organization and develop a strategy to target employees' identification levels with the organization.  For instance, a company may develop an internal communication program that reflects the norms of budi bicara characteristics of a country in which that company operates as a means to enhance leader-member communication and, perhaps, employee identification with the organization.

"Are we daring enough to do this?" 

Based on the empirical evidence of the previous study, the budi based communication contributes to leadership and communication in that a budi based communication as group member's leader-member dyadic communication behavior relative to other group members' leader-member dyadic communication behaviors is related to his or her individual work behavior. In fact, the empirical findings provide support for the communication model in the workplace, thus confirming that the group leader's ethical leadership style influences organizational identification through relative leader-member dyadic communication behavior. Now it is up to the human resources manager to think about training design that reflects the cultural norms of the society. Are we daring enough to do this? u