Article: Thursday, 4 January 2024

Businesses and practitioners benefit when they are more critical about how they value the process of communication, as well as paying attention to how they communicate. New research into a ‘relational’ approach to studying communication processes by PhD candidate Sai Kalvapalle involved studying out how prioritising the joint, mutual, and co-constructed nature of communications positively influences their outcomes. She successfully defended her thesis, Breaking the Conduit: A Relational Approach to Communication in Management and Entrepreneurship on 13 October at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and is now an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Nova School of Business and Economics.

“Communication is a relational accomplishment: my PhD research shows how organisations and entrepreneurs benefit from not taking communication for granted,” she comments.

Taking the practice of communication for granted can mean failure to overcome uncertainty between the organisation and its audience. Sai’s research moves beyond the simple understanding of the effects of communication and begins to indicate what to prioritise – for example, creating an understanding of how parties must first build a mutually beneficial means to communicate for fundraising communications to be successful.

Communication is therefore anticipating what might be relevant for the target audience and that takes into account the broader structures within which each actor is embedded

Relevance, anticipation, and embeddedness 

Sai Kalvapalle found there are three fundamental and meaningful elements in the study of communication: relevance, anticipation, and embeddedness.

Every communicator is embedded in a particular culture that infuses norms, beliefs, and practices. “Essentially, it shapes their expectations,” she explains. “Communication is therefore anticipating what might be relevant for the target audience and that takes into account the broader structures within which each actor is embedded. In a nutshell, communication takes work.”

She focused on relational approaches to communication in different organisational settings, particularly under conditions of uncertainty after realising that existing research into communications was missing essential nuances.

“I’m passionate about this topic. To me, it didn’t make sense that a lot of the research I was reading tended to over-simplify communication, when it’s something that’s so critical for organisations and entrepreneurs. It felt obvious that communication is something that people collectively and continuously accomplish, but the underlying architecture of existing research is that of something

being sent and received rather than being negotiated and co-constructed. I wanted to bring nuance back into it, and to encourage future generations of scholars to examine communication in a way that adds greater value to management.”

Sai Kalvapalle investigated different communicative processes, particularly pitching for entrepreneurial funding when entrepreneurs need to connect with investors on a relational level. She looked at how entrepreneurial pitching has evolved over the last 30 years. She found three ways that entrepreneurs and organisations can improve the relational component of their communications.

So what should a platform do?

1. Communication takes effort.

The ‘cheaper’ the communication is, the less likely it is to be successful in achieving its intended objective.

2. Humility matters to investors.

Investors value the confident entrepreneur, but also want to hear someone they can see themselves working with.

3. When thinking about ‘how’ and ‘why’

in making communications, we need to also think about who it’s for. Assuming that all outcomes apply to everyone risks marginalising people that are typically not represented in common research samples.

Why mutual understanding is important

 Understanding the multifaceted role of relational communications is important for management and entrepreneurship, particularly in uncertain conditions.

Linguistic variation – codes within cultural conventions or using figurative language like similes, metaphors and hyperbole – can either mitigate or exacerbate mutual understanding. Mutual understanding in turn promotes organised action. Conversely, a lack of mutual understanding hinders the potential for action, and that can impede business.

And understanding relational communication also shows that uncertainty is not always something that needs to be overcome or mitigated, but can actually be leveraged, by anticipating what might be important to stakeholders during times of uncertainty.


Communications to reduce inequalities 

“One of the big drivers of my PhD research is in trying to reduce inequities. I am from the global south and have been educated in the global north; that’s a privilege that enables me to research so I can reduce persistent inequities. In particular, I am interested in reducing intellectual inequities, in which non-Western populations tend to be ignored or backgrounded in research designs and approaches.

“In my research, I highlight the ways in which research fields limit their theorising by only focusing on the West, and show how expanding theoretical perspectives to include underrepresented populations has the power to reduce inequities. This is particularly so in the last chapter of my dissertation in which I analyse existing research on entrepreneurial pitching, and argue that the assumptions that this research field is based on do not adequately account for the lived experience of entrepreneurs who are not white, male, able-bodied, and from an English-speaking culture.


Sai Kalvapalle Sai Kalvapalle was born in Hyderabad, India and was raised in Mumbai, India, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Atlanta, USA. She completed her undergraduate studies with honours in Psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she also completed a Minor in English Literature. She then moved to London, UK, to complete a Master of Science (MSc) in Organisational and Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she graduated with Distinction. In 2017, she started her doctorate degree at RSM in the Department of Business-Society Management. During her PhD studies, she was also a visiting research scholar at the Technology Management Department at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Sai’s research is theoretically motivated by how communication is elaborated in management and entrepreneurship research, to explain how people organise, persuade, and make decisions. Specifically, she advances an agenda for a relational orientation to communication that is interactive, inferential, and institutionally embedded. In addition to this core focus, she investigates how technology informs and influences processes of institutional maintenance and change. She employs conceptual, experimental, and review-based methodologies to address her research questions.

Dr S.G. (Sai) Kalvapalle MSc
Department of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
NOVA School of Business & Economics
NOVA University Lisbon
Sai Kalvapalle
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