Analyzing Intercultural Gaffes (Objs. 1, 2 and 3)

As business organizations become increasingly global in their structure and marketing, they face communication problems resulting from cultural misunderstandings.

Your Task. Based on what you have learned in this chapter, describe several broad principles that could be applied in helping the individuals involved understand what went wrong in the following events. What suggestions could you make for remedying the problems?

  1. Alert Driving, a firm that provides online driving training courses to companies with vehicle fleets, expanded into more than 20 countries before realizing that its product had cultural flaws. In Japan its product was poorly translated and failed to address geographic nuances, but the company’s Japanese customers were slow to voice dissatisfaction. As a result, the company had to spend about $1 million to revamp its product line after it was already in the market. What cultural trait caused the delay in negative feedback?
  2. The owners of the British food company Sharwood spent millions of dollars launching a new curry sauce called Bundh. The firm was immediately deluged with calls from Punjabi speakers who said the new product sounded like their word for “backside.” How important is it for companies to test product names?
  3. During a festive dinner for a delegation from Singapore visiting the government of the Czech Republic, the conversation turned to the tasty main course they were eating. One of the Czech hosts explained to the inquiring foreign guests that they were enjoying a Czech specialty, rabbit, known for its light white meat. The Singaporeans’ faces mirrored shock, embarrassment, and irritation. As inconspicuously as possible, they put down their silverware. Only later did the Czech delegation learn that rabbit is a pet in Singapore much like the house cat in European or North American households.
  4. The employees of a large U.S. pharmaceutical firm became angry over the e-mail messages they received from the firm’s employees in Spain. The messages weren’t offensive. Generally, these routine messages just explained ongoing projects. What riled the Americans was this: every Spanish message was copied to the hierarchy within its division. The Americans could not understand why e-mail messages had to be sent to people who had little or nothing to do with the issues being discussed. However, this was accepted practice in Spain.
  5. As China moves from a planned to a market economy, professionals suffer the same signs of job stress experienced in Western countries. Multinational companies have long offered counseling to their expatriate managers. Locals, however, frowned on any form of psychological therapy. When China’s largest bank hired Chestnut Global Partners to offer employee counseling services, Chestnut learned immediately that it could not talk about such issues as conflict management. Instead, Chestnut stressed workplace harmony. Chestnut also found that Chinese workers refused one-on-one counseling. They preferred group sessions or online counseling. What cultural elements were at work here?

Analyzing a Problem International E-Mail (Obj. 3)

American writers sometimes forget that people in other countries, even if they understand English, are not aware of the meanings of certain words and phrases.

Your Task. Study the following e-mail to be sent by a U.S. firm to a potential supplier in another country. Identify specific weaknesses that may cause troubles for intercultural readers.

Dear Koichi:

Because of the on-again/off-again haggling with one of our subcontractors, we have been putting off writing to you. We were royally turned off by their shoddy merchandise, the excuses they made up, and the way they put down some of our customers. Since we have our good name to keep up, we have decided to take the bull by the horns and see if you would be interested in bidding on the contract for spare parts.

By playing ball with us, you are sure to score big with your products. So please give it your best shot and fire off your price list ASAP. We will need it by 3/8 if you are to be in the running.


Chapter Review

3-6aSummary of Learning Objectives

1.    Understand the powerful effects of globalization and the major trends fueling it.

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A shrinking domestic market and four other major trends explain the need for developing intercultural communication techniques and competency. First, globalized markets free of trade barriers mean that you can expect to be doing business with people from around the world. Second, advancements in transportation technology are making the world smaller and more intertwined. Third, communication and information technologies extend the global reach of business. Fourth, these trends are giving rise to new middle classes in emerging economies. Meanwhile, the domestic workforce is becoming increasingly diverse as immigrants from other cultures continue to settle in North America, and their offspring outnumber the descendants of non-Hispanic whites.

2.    Define culture, name its primary characteristics, and explain the five key dimensions of culture: context, individualism, time orientation, power distance, and communication style.

Culture is the complex system of values, traits, morals, and customs shared by a society. Significant characteristics of culture include the following:

1.       culture is learned,

2.       cultures are inherently logical,

3.       culture is the basis of self-identity and community,

4.       culture combines the visible and invisible, and

5.       culture is dynamic. Members of low-context cultures (such as those in North America, Scandinavia, and Germany) depend on words to express meaning, whereas members of high-context cultures (such as those in Japan, China, and Arab countries) rely more on context (social setting, a person’s history, status, and position) to communicate meaning. Other key dimensions of culture include individualism, time orientation, power distance, and communication style.

3.    Discuss strategies for enhancing intercultural effectiveness, reflect on nonverbal intercultural communication, assess how social media affect intercultural communication, and apply techniques for successful oral and written interactions across cultures.

To function effectively in a global economy, we must acquire knowledge of other cultures and be willing to change our attitudes, but first we need to become aware of our own cultural assumptions and biases. Culture is learned. Ethnocentrism refers to the belief that one’s own culture is superior to all others and holds all truths. Overcoming stereotypes and developing tolerance often involve practicing empathy, which means trying to see the world through another’s eyes. We can minimize nonverbal miscommunication by recognizing that meanings conveyed by body language such as eye contact, posture, gestures, use of time, space, and territory are largely culture dependent. Becoming aware of your own nonverbal behavior and what it conveys is the first step in broadening your intercultural competence. Communicating in social networks, people tend to seek out those who are like them; the extent to which they reach out across boundaries depends on whether they are outgoing or introverted. In improving oral messages, use simple English, speak slowly and enunciate clearly, observe eye messages, encourage accurate feedback, accept blame, listen without interrupting, smile, and follow up important conversations in writing. To improve written messages, try to accommodate the reader in organization, tone, and style. Use short sentences and short paragraphs, observe titles and rank, avoid ambiguous expressions, strive for clarity, use correct grammar, and cite numbers carefully.

4.    Grasp the complexities of ethics across cultures, including business practices abroad, bribery, prevailing customs, and methods for coping.

In doing business abroad, business-people should expect to find differing views about ethical practices. Although deciding whose ethics should prevail is tricky, the following techniques are helpful: Broaden your understanding of values and customs in other cultures, and avoid reflex judgments regarding the morality or corruptness of actions. Look for alternative solutions, refuse business if the options violate your basic values, and conduct all relations as openly as possible. Don’t rationalize shady decisions. Resist legalistic strategies, and apply a five-question ethics test when faced with a perplexing ethical dilemma.

5.    Explain the advantages and challenges of workforce diversity, and address approaches for improving communication among diverse workplace audiences.

A diverse workforce can benefit consumers, work teams, and business organizations. However, diversity can also cause discord among identity groups. Business communicators should be aware of and sensitive to differences in the communication techniques of men and women. To promote harmony and communication in diverse workplaces, many organizations develop diversity training programs. You should understand and accept the value of differences. Don’t expect conformity, make fewer assumptions about others, and look for common ground.

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