In this paper we examine a key relational practice found in interactions in online discussion boards in Mainland China and Taiwan: ‘doing deference’. In drawing attention to a relational practice that has received attention in quite different research traditions, namely, linguistic pragmatics and conversation analysis (CA), we mean to highlight the possible advantages of an approach to analysis that draws from both in analysing relational work in CMC. We claim in the course of our analysis that the participants are orienting not only to relationships but also to identities through this practice. In this way, we suggest that online discussion boards afford both meaningful interaction and relational work. We further claim that this analysis provides support for the theoretical position that while relational practices may intersect with the emergence of identities, they remain distinct analytical concerns.