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Understanding the Contexts
Elaborate on the importance of understanding the context and business protocol for a human service organization that operates in a macro environment that is diverse both in terms of population involved and organizations that serve as change agents. Find one academic source that presents a study of cultural context while developing recommendations for human service organizations. Share your findings from this article.
CULTURE AND CONTEXT
We have stressed throughout this book that communication is context dependent. Social interaction is not arbitrary, nor disorderly, nor randomized. It occurs in culturally determined, patterned rituals that dictate normative ways of speaking and behaving in each specific situation, such as in the classroom, interviews, casual conversation, sports events, etc. Our point is that communication does not occur in a void; to some degree, the social and physical setting, more commonly referred to as the communication context, influences communication.
Culture plays a primary role in establishing specific, shared rules that stipulate the communicative behaviors appropriate for different social and physical contexts. When communicating with members of your own culture, you rely on deeply internalized cultural protocols that define acceptable behavior for each particular communication situation. These rules, which facilitate your ability to communicate effectively, are so ingrained that you do not have to think consciously about which rule to use when moving from one context to another.
During intercultural communication interactions, difficulties can arise because you and your communication partners rely on different standards. Communication rules exhibit a great deal of cultural diversity, making the possibility of miscommunication an ever-present consideration. To avoid these pitfalls, you need to be aware of the potential problems that differences in culturally based protocols can bring to an intercultural exchange. This chapter aims to demonstrate how cultural norms can vary across three social contexts common to intercultural communication—the business, education, and healthcare settings.
Human interaction does not occur in a void. To some degree the social and physical setting, commonly referred to as the communication context, can influence everything, including seating arrangement, topic selection, attire, posture, and eye contact.
ASSUMPTIONS GROUNDING COMMUNICATION CONTEXTS
Before beginning our examination of context influence and in order to further emphasize just how important the social context is in any intercultural communication contact, we will examine three basic assumptions about human communication that are directly applicable to any discussion of context: (1) communication is rule governed, (2) context prescribes the appropriate communication rules, and (3) communication rules vary across cultures.
COMMUNICATION IS RULE GOVERNED
Both consciously and unconsciously, people expect that their interactions will follow appropriate and culturally determined rules—rules that inform both parties about the proper communicative behavior for specific circumstances. Communication rules act as guidelines for both one’s own actions and others actions. As Wood points out, these rules “are shared understandings of what communication means and what kinds of communication are appropriate in particular situations.”1
Communication rules govern both verbal and nonverbal behaviors and specify not only what should be said but also how it should be said. Nonverbal rules, as we saw in Chapter 9, apply to paralanguage, touch, facial expressions, eye contact, and other nonverbal behaviors. Verbal rules govern such things as topic selection, turn taking, voice volume, and the formality of language used as well as directness and indirectness.
Rules are also used to manage interpersonal relationships. Morreale, Spitzberg, and Barge explain that an extensive set of rules governs friendships (emotionally trusting the other person vs. keeping secrets) and conflict (raising your voice vs. not showing any emotion).2 These cultural rules, like most aspects of culture, are learned, integrated into the self, and adhered to when communicating.
CONTEXT DICTATES COMMUNICATION RULES
Our second assumption is that the context specifies the appropriateness of the rules to be employed. Your personal experiences should validate that position. Consider how such diverse contexts as a classroom, bank, church, hospital, courtroom, wedding, funeral, or sporting event determine which communication rules you follow. In an employment interview, you might use formal or respectful words, such as “sir” or “ma’am,” when responding to the interviewer. Yet, at a football or basketball game, your language would be far less formal, incorporating slang phrases and quite possibly good-natured derogatory remarks about the opposing team. For that job interview, men might wear a dark suit with white or blue shirt and conservative tie, and women would probably dress in a dark suit with a white or pastel blouse. At the sports event, jeans or shorts and a T-shirt could be appropriate. Your nonverbal behavior would also be different. At the interview, you would probably shake hands and maintain eye contact with your prospective employer, but at the football game with friends, you might embrace them when you meet, slap them on the back, or hit a “high-five.”
COMMUNICATION RULES VARY ACROSS CULTURES
Our third assumption is that communication rules are, to a large extent, determined by culture. While social contexts are similar across cultures (e.g., negotiations, classrooms, hospitals), the rules governing communication in those contexts are often dissimilar. Consequently, concepts of dress, time, language, manners, and nonverbal behavior differ significantly among cultures. A few examples will illustrate the point.
When conducting business in the United States, it is not uncommon for men and women to welcome each other to a meeting by shaking hands. In the Middle East, however, some Muslim businessmen may choose to avoid shaking hands with a woman. This should not be perceived as rude or insulting but rather as a reflection of the man’s religious proscriptions. This was seen during President and Mrs. Obama’s 2015 visit to Saudi Arabia to express condolences after the passing of the late King Abdullah. As Saudi officials filed past to greet the Obamas, some men shook Mrs. Obama’s hand, but others did not, instead acknowledging her with a nod.3
In an Asian college classroom, students may appear reserved, hesitant to participate in discussions, and reluctant to ask questions. This is due to the cultural standards regarding the hierarchy that governs interaction between Asian students and their professors. Cultural differences can also be found in the business context when you compare business hospitality in Turkey and the United States. In Turkey, for example, your Turkish colleagues will be adamant about paying for everything associated with your entertainment. Turkish hospitality is legendary, and you will not be permitted to pay for any part of an official meal.
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION IN CONTEXTS
To provide a perspective on how intercultural communication varies across cultures and contexts, we have selected the business, education, and healthcare settings for analysis. The level of cultural diversity within the United States will necessitate that many of you interact with a wide variety of cultures if you seek a career as a teacher, a healthcare provider, or business executive. Some of you may find yourself working abroad for a globalized organization. In that position you will certainly have to interact with members of the host culture in both a professional and a social capacity. Additionally, you may require medical care during your sojourn. To be successful in those settings, it is essential that you be aware of your own culture’s rules and how they might differ from the rules of the person with whom you are interacting. It is also important for you to keep in mind that intercultural communication plays a vital role in many other contexts, a few of which are illustrated in
INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION IN GLOBALIZED BUSINESS
The extensive changes that globalization has brought to nearly every aspect of life on this planet have been noted throughout this book. There is probably no segment more impacted by these many changes than the business community. Over the past several decades, “outsourcing,” “offshoring,” “multinational enterprise,” “globalized markets,” “workforce diversity,” “cultural intelligence,” and similar terms have become common business terms. U.S. corporations’ customer-service call centers are just as likely to be located in India, the Philippines, or Mexico as in Utah, Texas, or Florida. Online shopping has accelerated commercial exchanges across national borders. PayPal, for instance, manages approximately 2,000 international transactions every minute. This type of activity requires companies to open storage warehouses in various countries in order to expedite merchandise delivery.5
TABLE 10.1 Contexts for Contemporary Intercultural Communication
Military exchanges/Joint exercises
Arms reduction verification
Armed conflict (interrogations
U.S. corporations focusing on the domestic economy must also be prepared to manage the contemporary cultural diversity that characterizes both their clientele and their workforce. For multinational corporations (MNCs), the requirement for competent intercultural skills extends across all phases of their enterprise—management, production, marketing, and sales. To gain market location-specific advantages, MNCs commonly establish manufacturing sites, distribution centers, and sales and marketing forces in separate countries. This type of organization requires executives, managers, and often members of the workforce to be familiar with cultural differences among clients, employees, and local government regulation enforcement agencies. These same people need to possess the ability necessary to communicate across these multicultural boundaries. Hence, cultural knowledge and intercultural communication skills have become fundamental to almost every type of commercial endeavor—international or domestic.
“Globalization can be conceptualized as a situation where political borders become increasingly more irrelevant, economic interdependencies are heightened, and national differences due to dissimilarities in societal cultures are central issues of business.”
The requirement to engage in intercultural communication always increases the potential for misunderstanding and conflict, but in business relations, it can also mean the difference between success and failure. To illustrate the very vital role that culture plays in globalized commercial activities, we will examine five culturally sensitive areas: (1) business protocol, (2) leadership and management, (3) decision making, (4) conflict management, and (5) negotiations
Business protocol involves forms of behavior such as establishing initial contact, greeting conventions, personal appearance, gift giving, and communication improprieties, with cultural differences in these protocols varying widely. For instance, while informality is the norm in most U.S. business settings, that protocol is not shared by all cultures. When conducting business in another culture it is highly important to understand and follow the prevailing customs. Knowing how to dress and introduce yourself, for instance, is especially important during initial interactions, when making a positive impression is critical to continued good relations.
Making initial contact is an important aspect of globalized business. The methods used to establish these contacts vary among cultures and can range from sending an email, to placing an unsolicited telephone call, to writing a formal request for a meeting, to using a “go-between” or emissary to help obtain an appointment. The appropriate procedure to use relates directly to the culture of the person you wish to contact. In the United States, initial contacts are often facilitated by a third-party introduction, but this is not a necessary requirement. “Cold calls” can also be used to gain access, and every U.S. embassy has an office dedicated to helping businesses make preliminary contact. In many cultures, however, business is based on established, trusted relationships. For instance, in Northeast Asia (China, Japan, and Korea), India, and Latin America, having a trusted third-party provide the initial introduction is often the only way to gain access to an organization’s executives.
After gaining entry, it becomes important to acknowledge and attempt to practice the established cultural greeting behaviors of that nation. By knowing the appropriate greeting behavior and a few expressions in the language of the host culture, you will have a general idea of what to expect. This will enable you to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. You will also have an advantage in making a positive first impression. A significant consideration when meeting someone of another culture for the first time is knowing the proper form of address. What is the order of names? Should you use the first name, last name, or title? What gestures are appropriate?
Your experience has taught you that in the United States, first names precede family names, a firm handshake is expected, and after exchanging initial greetings, individuals often begin using first names. Titles such as “doctor” or “professor’ are appropriate only in certain settings and are often dropped after establishing relations. However, in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and several other cultures, the family name precedes the given name. Thus, in Seoul, Kim Eun-Ju would be Ms. Kim, whose given name is Eun-Ju (there are no middle names in Korea). If Ms. Kim has a professional title, that should be made part of any address to her. It is also important to know that in Korea, married women retain their own family name. Thus, Ms. Kim’s husband may be Mr. Lee or Dr. Park. On meeting, a bow is usually rendered to Korean women and men, accompanied by a handshake between men. Although it may be normal in the United States for men to grasp the shoulder or upper arm of another man when meeting, this behavior should be avoided in Asian cultures. However, among close associates in Mexico, a brief embrace (abrazo) on meeting and departing is entirely appropriate. In the more formal German culture, where all titles are used, Herr Professor Doktor Schmidt would expect a firm handshake.
Personal appearance is yet another critical aspect of business protocol, as it creates a first impression and plays a significant role in establishing credibility.8 The relaxed dress code common in many U.S. organizations is a reflection of the informal U.S. culture. Casual dress has become even more popular among the dot-com generation in the United States, and the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, made informal dress his hallmark. But while this informality is often seen as a mark of status among the younger U.S. generations, it can be perceived quite differently in cultures where formality is the norm. In China, Germany, France, much of Latin America (including Mexico), and many other nations, conservative dress, such as dark suits and white or pastel shirts, is the norm for the business environment.
The exchange of gifts in the international business context can be somewhat challenging, as expectations differ among cultures. In individualistic Western cultures, gift giving can be associated with attempts to curry favor. The attitude against corruption is so strong that the United States has a federal statute prohibiting bribery, and the Internal Revenue Service limits gift deductions to $25.9 Such restrictions make it necessary for the international business representative to be able to distinguish between what may be considered a gift and what might be seen as a bribe. From the perspective of the United States, suitable gifts for exchange with representatives of another organization are small, relatively inexpensive mementos intended to commemorate an event or organization or to serve as an expression of appreciation and solidarity. These include such things as cups, key rings, glasses, books, etc., which are inscribed with the company’s logo.
When engaged in business with a foreign organization, it is useful to know not only the local views concerning gift giving but also what is considered an appropriate gift. In some cultures the color white is associated with death, so white flowers and white gift wrap should be avoided. Of course, giving alcohol to a Muslim host would be most inappropriate. In China, Korea, and Japan, you should use both hands when offering or receiving a gift. In the United States the number thirteen is considered bad luck, but in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, a gift set containing four items should be avoided because their words for “four” and “death have similar sounds. There are, of course, numerous other cultural nuances related to gift giving, so before setting out to visit a business counterpart in another country, learn as much as possible about what is considered suitable in the host country, when to present the gift, and how it should be presented. Although these details may seem trivial, without an appreciation of what is appropriate and inappropriate, you run the risk of destroying any goodwill before discussion of the business proposal even begins.
You undoubtedly know the value of using “small talk” to get to know another person. You will also have learned that there are some topics that should not be addressed during these early meetings or perhaps ever discussed at all. The choices of initial conversational topics during social interactions are dictated by standards that often differ across cultures. In order to avoid embarrassing social blunders, it is necessary to understand which topics are acceptable in the host country and which subjects are considered off limits.
In the United States, an initial meeting may begin with comments about the weather and quickly proceed to more personal questions, such as “Do you have a family?” or “Where did you go to school?” While these may be perfectly acceptable between Americans, they could be considered too personal in many other countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, one should avoid asking about a man’s wife.10 Because status plays such an important role in Japan, asking what school someone attended could be a source of embarrassment. In the United States, the topics of personal salary and income are seldom part of social conversation, and the question of one’s age can be a sensitive topic for many people. But in China, employees at state-owned enterprises (SOE) usually know the salary structure and may inquire about yours. And the Japanese may ask you very early on about your age, if you have a hobby, and even your blood type, which they believe can forecast personality. The Taiwan situation can be a controversial subject in China. Again, before traveling to another country, we encourage you to conduct research to determine which topics should be avoided.
As we discussed in the chapter on language, humor generally does not travel well across cultural lines, particularly in professional settings—a joke in one culture can be an insult in another. Irony is common in the United States but is seldom understood in Japan. A standard attentiongetting technique for Americans is to begin a presentation with a joke. But in Germany and France, this would be inappropriate because business meetings are serious events. Our advice is to wait until you have established a good relationship with your international counterpart before attempting to inject humor into your conversations
Leadership and Management
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 25.3 million foreign-born workers in the U.S. labor force in 2013. Another report indicated that there were as many as 600,000 people working in the United States under the H-1B visa program, which allows foreign specialists to stay in the country for as long as six years.11 These workers are integrated into U.S. organizations alongside native-born employees, requiring the management of cultural and linguistic differences within work teams. Nor is this situation unique to the United States, as globalization has internationalized workforces around the world. Concern about the changes arising from globalization prompted one organization to commission a major study on the changing nature of work and growing workplace diversity. Two key findings related to intercultural communication are provided here:
[A 2009] survey found that it is cultural and linguistic differences that present by far the most pressing challenge for virtual-team managers. Differences in culture appear in a broad range of attitudes and values, greatly increasing the potential for a breakdown in team cohesiveness. Such differences span a wide range of areas, including attitudes toward authority, teamwork and working hours. Cultural and linguistic misunderstandings, both internally and with prospective clients, can be very costly.
[A 2012 survey] found that one-half of companies admit that communication misunderstandings have stood in the way of a major cross-border transaction, incurring significant losses for their company.12
Globalization has created circumstances where business executives from all over the world are meeting face-to-face to establish joint ventures and negotiate contracts.
In these increasingly culturally diverse work groups, every employee possesses culturally specific expectations toward management issues such as organizational structure, employee-supervisor relationships, motivational factors, and reward allocation, all of which can vary. To be successful, a global manager must be aware of the potential that cultural differences carry. Table 10.2 contains some culturally influenced management considerations and provides a generalized comparison of normative practices and employee expectations in Northeast Asian and Euro-American organizations.
Most Euro-American organizations subscribe to a “flat” structure, where work team members and managers consider each other more or less equal. Communication is informal and forthright. This organizational structure is thought to encourage a collegial atmosphere that promotes individual creativity and initiative. Pervasive individuality among Euro-Americans results in worker responsibilities and entitlements being contractually specified and little sense of organizational loyalty, which creates a highly mobile workforce as employees move from job to job in pursuit of greater personal benefits. In contrast, companies in Northeast Asia are usually characterized by a “vertical,” or hierarchical, organizational structure, and employees subscribe to a well- defined hierarchy, showing deference to seniors. Work groups are expected to follow the directives of their supervisors. In China, Korea, and Japan, traditional norms dictate that employees of large, multinational organizations demonstrate loyalty to the company,13 although there are signs that this is changing. The role that relations play among Northeast Asians was revealed in a report that showed that 60 percent of the Chinese surveyed considered interpersonal relationships as being important in their lives but that only 29 percent of the U.S. Americans in the study felt that way.
TABLE 10.2 Cultural Variances in Organizations
MANAGEMENT CONCERN NORTHEAST ASIAN EURO-AMERICAN
Organizational structure • Vertical • Horizontal
Organizational relationships • Hierarchal • Egalitarian
Basis of trust • Interpersonal relations • Legal system
Basis for promotion • Time/age • Merit
Reward allocation • Equal for all • Equitable to individual
Involvement in personal life • High/expected • Low/undesired
Employee morale and motivation are also influenced by a worker’s cultural preference for individuality or group membership. In Western organizations, especially in the United States, individuals are normally singled out for recognition and reward. This trend is evident in many workplaces where photos are prominently displayed of “Employee of the Month, Quarter, and/or Year.” These individuals may receive a certificate or a plaque at a formal ceremony, along with additional rewards, such as a small bonus or perhaps a dedicated parking space for a specific period of time. In contrast, employees in Northeast Asian organizations consider all work group members to be part of an integrated team and equally responsible for the success or failure of a project. Accordingly, rewards are expected to be distributed equally. Personal recognition can lead to friction within the group and potential embarrassment for the individual
A globalized Silicon Valley firm sought to motivate its multicultural workforce using posters saying, “Slay the Dragon”. However, the Chinese workers objected because in China, dragons are considered good luck. The posters were removed.15
Different cultures also have varied perspectives on how mentoring should be conducted. In Euro-American organizations, mentoring often assumes a structured, programmed format designed to assist a specific group, such as the highly talented, socially disadvantaged, or physically challenged, for a specific time period. Quite in contrast, in Japanese corporations, the mentor—mentee relationship is personal, often emotionally based, and intended to be long term.16
Dissimilar culturally instilled attitudes toward work and leisure can also impact globalized organizations. Recalling our discussion of values in Chapter 6, the United States is considered to be a “doing culture,” where work is an important, valued activity that usually takes precedence over almost everything else. However, employees from some other cultures may have very different attitudes and priorities. Table 10.3 illustrates the different views of work and leisure that must be managed in a multicultural workforce.
Religion is yet another consideration for global managers. In some cultures, religion is personal and separate from professional life, but in other cultures, religion permeates every aspect of work and social activity. Religion presents a host of considerations for the global manager—workweek schedule, holidays, diet, alcohol consumption, dress, accessibility to place of worship, worldview, etc. Some nations have laws governing how religion can be treated, as a New Zealand manager of a bar and restaurant in Myanmar discovered. After an advertising poster of a blue Buddha, wearing headphones, on a psychedelic-colored background was posted on Facebook, he and two other individuals were arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Myanmar has a national law prohibiting the insulting, damaging, or destruction of any religion, and the Facebook posting was considered an insult.18
TABLE 10.3 Attitudes Toward Work17
STATUTORY MINIMUM ANNUAL DAYS LEAVE
A central part of any business venture is decision making. Every executive and manager, regardless of culture, must continually weigh a range of variables and decide on the best course of action. In a globalized organization, culture takes on added importance in decision making. In diverse contexts, such as personnel management, new product development, market expansion, and sales campaigns, cultural norms have significant impact. Global managers must weigh cultural variables for both domestic and international markets while managing cultural differences among employees, clients, and any other stakeholders. Globalization has also increased awareness of the role of culture in the decision-making process. Effective multinational corporation managers must understand who makes decisions and how those decisions are made. Table 10.4 compares decision-making styles in Northeast Asian and selected Western cultures.
Broadly speaking, decision making for Northeast Asians is a collectivistic process that attempts to reach an orchestrated consensus that sustains group harmony and preserves the participants face. There are, however, distinct differences among the three cultures. “Leader-mediated compromise” is how Wenzhong, Grove, and Enping have described decision making in Chinese organizations. This process incorporates data collection and analysis, canvassing subordinates for their opinions, distribution of background data, and meetings to discuss the issues. Senior members retain and exercise personal power by ultimately making a top-down decision crafted to reflect the groups assessments and efforts. The final result is a “harmony-within-hierarchy arrangement” designed to convey a sense of shared responsibility, create cohesion, and lessen loss-of-face opportunities among the work group participants.19 In Japanese organizations, the stronger sense of institutional collectivism produces a much more inclusive consensus-based decision-making style, one structured to avoid relational disharmony. Japanese managers employ what could be called a middle-level up-and-down process. All affected personnel subject disseminated ideas and proposals to comprehensive discussion. If an agreement is reached, the proposal will be sent to upper-management and executive levels. When a consensus emerges, the proposal becomes policy. This method provides the opportunity for everyone to engage in the process of decision making. But shared decision making often requires considerable time to reach a final decision.
TABLE 10.4 Cultural Variations in Decision Making
NORTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS (China, Japan, Korea) WESTERN NATIONS (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States)
In Western nations, specifically those listed in Table 10.4, decision making is more individualistically oriented, with delegated authority usually vested in one person or a small group of personnel who are expected to take full responsibility for the final decision. This results in an expedient, top-down decision style based on the careful analysis of various options and potential outcomes. The opinion of experts and others may be solicited during the process, but there is no requirement or guarantee that their advice will be followed. This type of decision making is a reflection of the strong sense of individualism, egalitarianism, independence, and low levels of uncertainty that characterize Western culture. A Western manager working in a globalized organization will have to recognize and accommodate to the importance placed on face, group orientation, and positive social relations when engaged in decision making with employees from Northeast Asian nations.
At almost every level of commercial activity, the potential exists for interpersonal and organizational conflict. Given that cultural beliefs and values contrast, the methods, opinions, and attitudes regarding the completion of tasks and achievement of goals also differ. Quite naturally, these variations provide fertile ground for disagreements that can adversely impact organizational relationships, both internally and externally. Yuan points out that in globalized organizations, the array of cultural differences within employee work groups and between clients presents an environment that heightens the potential for conflict and the ability to intensify discord.20 Indeed, conflicts can even be caused by cultural variances that are beyond participants awareness.
It is imperative that global managers be able to recognize when a conflict is driven more by cultural differences than by substantive disagreement. They must also be cognizant of how different cultures perceive and manage conflict. Some of these differences are listed in Table 10.5, which provides a comparison of how conflict is perceived in Northeast Asian and several Western nations, respectively. To illustrate, among in-group members in Northeast Asian cultures, conflict is considered undesireable because it carries the possibility of harming interpersonal relations and can be face threatening. As a result, open, direct conflict between in-group members is normally avoided if possible or managed indirectly. For someone from Japan, the strong interpersonal connections within an in-group can create a sense of interrelatedness between a conflict and the members’ personal relationships. Moreover, an open conflict can result in loss of face for one or more of the group. As a result, disagreements are usually approached indirectly and resolved through lengthy discussion of the problem. And discussions can continue outside the workplace during the evening in bars and restaurants where alcohol serves as a social lubricant. If the conflict cannot be reconciled informally, Northeast Asians, driven by particularistic inclinations, prefer to use trusted intermediaries to help reach an amicable solution.21
TABLE 10.5 Conflict Management/Resolution
NORTHEAST ASIA (China, Japan, Korea) WESTERN NATIONS (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States)
Source: E. R. McDaniel.
This contrasts with individualistic Western nations, where debating conflicting opinions and ideas is seen as a useful tool for airing differences and finding compromise. Face concerns in the West are individual based, and there is generally less concern for that of others. This is, of course, amplified by the lack of close, interdependent relationships in the work setting. Professional conflict situations are considered separate and apart from one’s relationship with the other party. This detachment from the professional conflict allows Westerners, particularly those from the United States, to engage in heated, sometimes boisterous debate over an issue but concurrently retain affable relations with each other. The universalistic perspective of Westerners pushes them to quickly move to employ legal counsel or professional, third-party mediators for conflict resolution.
In the business world, negotiations are fundamentally a formal process designed to assist disparate parties in the management of differences and to assist in making decisions that lead to mutually agreeable, cooperative interactions. In the global market, corporate agents are continually negotiating mergers, joint ventures, imports/exports, patent licensing agreements, intellectual property rights, foreign direct investment, and a host of other cross-cultural commercial endeavors. The central element in these or any type of negotiation is communication. When representatives of different cultures engage in bargaining, the critical role of communication brings added challenges. Thus, intercultural communication can be the key to success or failure in cross-cultural negotiations.
Every negotiator will develop a strategy that reflects his or her personal style, but each individual is also influenced by a national negotiating style as has been substantiated by numerous academic studies and research reports. The varying national styles are products of dissimilar historical legacies, definitions of trust, cultural values, decision-making processes, approaches to risk taking, attitudes toward formality, perceptions of time, cognitive patterns, and of course, communication styles.22 Research has also disclosed that national negotiating styles are strongly influenced by culture, and the behaviors displayed during bargaining sessions often reflect the more prominent cultural characteristics of that nation. For example, although China, Japan, and Korea have different national negotiation styles, all adhere to bargaining procedures that reflect a collectivistic theme. On the other hand, Western nations normally display individualistic-based negotiation behaviors. To demonstrate further, Table 10.6 presents an overview of the primary Chinese and U.S. culturally based negotiation characteristics, which will be more fully developed in the following discussion. But before beginning that discussion, we need to explain our decision to use China and the United States as examples. Our rationale is quite simple—in the global market, China and the United States represent the two largest economies, which means that both commercial and diplomatic negotiations between representatives of the two nations will continue to occupy a prominent position well into the future.
The national negotiation styles generalized to Chinese and U.S. business representatives are rather disparate. The most conspicuous difference is the ultimate objective. Although each side strives to obtain the most advantageous agreement possible, there are signal differences in the underlying attitude. The Chinese approach negotiations with a vision toward establishing a continuing, lasting collaborative relationship. They usually seek agreements that have a long-term, relational basis. This will be evident in the Chinese initial efforts to socialize and become better acquainted with their U.S. counterparts. This objective of building a trusting relationship is another reflection of the importance of guanxi (i.e., social network/relationship) in Chinese society. The goal is to develop an affiliation founded on mutual respect and trust, an association that not only will smooth the way for the current project but also holds the possibility of future collaborations. To achieve their goal of a cooperative relationship, the Chinese spend considerable time discussing issues, examining data, and engaging in social entertainment.
TABLE 10.6 Negotiation Styles
CHINA UNITED STATES
In contrast, U.S. negotiators, driven by the value of individualism and self-reliance, normally prefer a logical, linear procedure, where points are examined and bargained over individually and sequentially. Due to the cultural value placed on time, U.S. negotiations move through the bargaining sessions as quickly as possible. They are focused on the immediate end result of a contractually based agreement and are much less concerned about relationships and future collaborative projects than are their Chinese counterparts. The shorter time horizon among U.S. business representatives is also due to the importance given to quarterly earnings statements, stockholder expectations, and bonus agreements. In contrast to the Chinese, negotiations for the U.S. team are between organizations, and personal relationships are a separate, unrelated entity.
The Chinese prefer negotiations that develop through a holistic process rather than a linear advance. Intraorganizational and governmental oversight considerations, coupled with cultural concerns for face, hierarchy, and group consensus, tend to lessen the ability to make quick decisions. Considerable time must be spent in discussions with colleagues and gathering data to respond to actual and anticipated questions. As a result, negotiation topics may be discussed in random order, and previously concluded topics may be reopened due to Chinese deliberations with the greater work group. This slower pace may be perceived as a delaying tactic by U.S. negotiators, who regularly exercise considerable autonomy in decision making. U.S. delegates usually have little concern for the thoughts and opinions of their general employees and would seldom see a need to consult them. Employee turnover is normal in the United States, and the greater concern is for the well-being of the organization.
Chinese and U.S. representatives approach the establishment of trust, instrumental to almost any negotiation, differently. Despite its long history, China has never had a comprehensive legal system that protected the rights of all its citizens. This helps explain the importance of interpersonal relations and social networks (guanxi). Unable to rely on an established legal framework, the Chinese turned to a network of family, clan, and close friends. Today, trust is extended only after a period of social interaction that, if successful, leads to a positive, dependable interpersonal relationship. The U.S. view is to immediately extend a degree of initial trust to others, a “hail fellow, well met” attitude arising from the cultural preference of egalitarianism and universalism. For U.S. negotiators, long-term trust will be guaranteed by a highly detailed, legally binding contract that clearly specifies requirements for each side. Moreover, contracts in the United States are considered static, and any proposed change requires renegotiation. The Chinese view contracts as a dynamic agreement among friends that is subject to adjustment as conditions change. These different views of contracts once again illustrate the inclination by the United States toward universalism and the Chinese preference for particularism.
Their varied approaches to conflict management can also conflate relations between Chinese and U.S. negotiators when problems or differences occur during the bargaining sessions. Chinese negotiators may endeavor to promote and maintain positive relations with the U.S. side and employ an indirect communication style to avoid confrontation when discussing differences. U.S. representatives, accustomed to dealing with negative information in a direct manner, may be confused by the indirect approach and even consider the Chinese to be disingenuous, possibly leading to a breakdown in the negotiations. Conversely, the U.S. direct style, a product of a historical legacy of rhetorical argumentation, could also create problems. If a U.S. negotiator resorted to abrupt, confrontational dialogue as a means of persuasion, the Chinese side could well consider this behavior as offensive and immature, resulting in a loss of face for the U.S. bargaining team and their company.23 This aptly demonstrates the necessity of intercultural competence among cross-cultural negotiators
THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE IN GLOBALIZED ORGANIZATIONS
Throughout this text we have stressed the need to gain second-language competency, and nowhere is that skill more critical than in a globalized organization. Whether working abroad or with a multicultural workforce, knowing another language provides numerous benefits. One of the most important aspects of second-language skills when combined with cultural knowledge is the awareness that literal translations do not always carry the same meaning into the other language. As an example, in the United States, the phrase “we are on a parallel course” is commonly used to indicate agreement with the other party. However, for the Japanese, the phrase would connote irreconcilable differences because “parallel lines” never meet. From the U.S. individualistic cultural perspective, being on a parallel course suggests agreement but retention of everyone’s individuality. But the group-oriented Japanese would be more comfortable with terms conveying feelings of inclusiveness.
When working abroad, knowledge of the host country’s language will greatly ease the stress of cultural adaptation and integration. A common problem that plagues newly arrived expatriates is an inability to function in the new culture as efficiently as in their own. Learning about the host nation’s cultural norms before departure will reduce a great deal of uncertainty about your new environment, but knowing some of the language provides exponential benefits in adapting. Moreover, the ability to speak even a little of the new language will facilitate your development of interpersonal relationships with members of the host population.
BENEFITS OF GLOBALIZED ORGANIZATIONS
The preceding discussions have clearly illustrated that global business managers are faced with a variety of culturally based challenges when working in a multinational environment. Being successful in meeting these challenges requires a comprehensive appreciation for cultural differences and the ability to employ competent intercultural communication skills. In an effort to convince you to exert the time and energy to prepare for these challenges, it is worthwhile to examine the benefits of the multicultural workplace.
Given the globalized market and the growing diversity of U.S. demographics, contemporary organizations face little option but to incorporate cultural diversity and adapt to the new requirements. Today, companies must market their product to appeal to a variety of cultures and concomitantly draw on employees of that same variety. Although these requirements have presented new challenges and problems, they have also brought numerous benefits to the workplace, and we will explain three of them: (1) increased perspectives, (2) greater flexibility and adaptability, and (3) expanded market share.
As you have learned, it is common for people of different cultures to have dissimilar worldviews and approaches to life. This lack of commonality in a multicultural workforce offers the benefit of expanded perspectives, which in turn can increase creativity within the organization. Having people with different perspectives focus on a problem will produce more innovative, viable solutions, and collaborative solutions are normally adopted and implemented much faster than when directed from above. A multicultural work environment also brings about greater flexibility and adaptability for the organization as a whole. Employees of a globalized organization, possessing attributes of various cultures, have already learned to adapt to changing environments and how to best deal with uncertainty. That experience provides them with insight into helping the organization as a whole adapt to changing market conditions and manage new customer requirements. This diversity of talent and experience also offers the organization a venue for expanding their customer base.
On the off chance that you remain unconvinced of the merits of diversity and the need for corporations to meet the demands of the globalized marketplace, we offer you the following example of what can happen when organizations fail to accommodate. In 1995, the Fortune Global 500 list included 147 Japanese companies, but only sixty-two were listed in 2013, a 42 percent drop. According to academic reports, this decline was a result of Japan’s inability to adapt to the forces of globalization. Diversity is a major driver of innovation in organizations today, but Japanese companies and many of their technologies have remained surprisingly insular and unable to integrate into the larger global market, a condition commonly called the “Galapagos syndrome.” Japan’s resistance to change, a product of high uncertainty avoidance, has also inhibited the growth of start-ups, a prominent driver of the global economy. The misfortunes of Japanese MNCs attest to the requirement for contemporary organizations to embrace cultural diversity and acquire intercultural competence.24
EDUCATION IN THE GLOBALIZED SOCIETY
Globalization and accompanying migration patterns have significantly changed the demographic composition of nearly all U.S. and most European Union (EU) nations’ classrooms. Many EU countries have long had diverse populations due to immigrants from their former colonies. Now, new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa are making their way to Italy, Greece, and Spain and moving northward into other European nations. The United States is not immune to these kinds of demographic shifts in its school populations, as immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East are coming, both legally and illegally, to classrooms in the United States. Many of these new arrivals bring their children—or in some cases, are children themselves—who add to the diversity of U.S. primary and secondary school classrooms. The impact of these changes can be seen in Table 10.7, which shows the continued growth of the cross-cultural student population in the United States. Moreover, in the 2011—2012 school year, more than 9 percent of U.S. public school students were English language learners, and over 20 percent of U.S. students spoke a foreign language at home, according to census data. In California, 45 percent of households speak a foreign language. At one high school in San Diego, California, 80 to 90 percent of the 1,100 students were first-generation immigrants in 2013. The students, teachers, and staff had to manage communication that crossed thirty-four languages and thirty-seven dialects.25
TABLE 10.7 U.S. Public School (Pre-K-12) Enrollments26
RACE/ETHNICITY % BY YEAR 2001 2011 2023*
White 60 52 45
Black 17 16 15
Hispanic 17 24 30
Asian/Pacific Islander 4 5 5
American Indian/Alaskan Native 1 1 1
Two or more races — 3 4
Increased cultural diversity in the U.S. educational system has not been limited to primary and secondary schools. Higher education has also experienced larger numbers of co-culture enrollees. Perhaps you have noted this diversity on your own campus and in some of your classes. Globalization has also raised the number of international students and foreign-born faculty in U.S. universities. In 2011 there were 115,000 foreign-born educators and researchers working at U.S. higher education institutions, an increase of approximately 29,000 over a ten-year period. The number of international students enrolling in U.S. universities and colleges has grown over 70 percent since 2000.27 The numbers of educators and students would probably have been higher except for the restrictions placed on visas in the aftermath of 9/11 and other worldwide terrorist attacks.
TABLE 10.8 International Students Attending U.S. Universities, 2013-2014 (Top 10 Countries)28
COUNTRY NUMBER OF STUDENTS % OF TOTAL
All nations 886,052 100.0
China 274,439 31.0
India 102,673 11.6
South Korea 68,047 7.7
Saudi Arabia 53,919 6.1
Canada 28,304 3.2
Taiwan 21,266 2.4
Japan 19,334 2.2
V ietnam 16,579 1.9
Mexico 14,779 1.7
Brazil 13,286 1.5
Increased cultural diversity in today’s classrooms presents challenges for students, teachers, counselors, and administrative staff. In addition to the language issue, learning styles, attitude toward education, classroom deportment, and student-teacher relationships are some of the factors that vary across cultures. Educational systems that for decades have served their communities well must now adapt to the needs of a growing, dynamic multicultural student body. It is the responsibility of schools and educators at all levels to prepare students to participate fully in the ever-evolving global community. This requires an expanded knowledge of the role of culture in the classroom.
Our discussion on culture and communication in the educational context is designed to inform you on how the approach to education varies across cultures, the different ways that students learn, and the demands of the multicultural classroom. Before beginning that discussion, however, we will take a moment to illustrate what and how culture teaches.
What a culture teaches, and how it teaches it, can provide insight into that culture.
CULTURE AS A TEACHER
By now, you know that culture is a tireless teacher that starts your learning process at birth and never pauses. You will also have discerned that every culture adheres to a very selective curriculum. This selectivity is embodied in the ancient Chinese proverb “By nature all men are alike, but by education widely different.” The Chinese sage was pointing out that cultural variations are the result of people being taught different beliefs, values, customs, and perspectives. What is taught in a culture is critical to the maintenance and perpetuation of that culture, and much of the responsibility for that instruction comes from the formal educational systems within the culture.
Formal education, regardless of the culture, includes a variety of common subjects—mathematics, science, history, language, literature, and in some nations, religion. Although the subjects are similar, the content often varies. For instance, history is taught in almost every culture, but the focus is usually different because each culture emphasizes its own past. As we discussed in Chapter 5, history teaches you the values of your culture, assists you in making sense of the present, and helps you identify with a larger group. With only infrequent variation, each culture highlights those events that serve to promote positive ideals and tends to deemphasize actions that carry a negative connotation. As the late Israeli scholar and diplomat Abba Eban pointed out, “A nation writes its history in the image of its ideal.” To illustrate, U.S. history classes devote considerable time to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and the westward growth of the young nation. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, much less attention was devoted to the topic of slavery and the plight of American Indians. History classes in China are accustomed to examining the achievements of 5,000 years of continuous civilization and the Chinese Communist Party’s rescue of the nation from the tyranny of Western and Japanese colonial powers. Often left unsaid is the devastation brought about by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Mexico’s history would likely focus on the cultural heritage of the pre-Columbian era and the Mexican Revolution, while little attention would be paid to the long record of political corruption and drug cartels.
Formal education can easily become an outlet for cultural ethnocentrism because every culture tends to glorify its own achievements and focuses less on the accomplishments and contributions of other cultures. This is particularly true of history but also occurs in other subjects. In the United States, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg receives more attention than the Chilean Pablo Neruda, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Studying only one religious text—Bible, Koran, Torah, Vedas, etc.—while disregarding others is a quiet form of ethnocentrism. The pitfalls of ethnocentrism and the constraints of prejudicial nationalism that can creep into educational curricula can be avoided. Through exposure to a range of different perspectives, philosophies, and histories, complemented by critical thinking skills, you can develop a greater awareness and understanding of cultural diversity and enhance your intercultural competency.
LEARNING FROM CULTURE
After reading that what is taught in schools varies among cultures, it should be no surprise to discover that there are also differences in how students and teachers participate in the educational process. Knowledge of what a culture teaches can provide an understanding of what that culture considers important; knowing how a culture teaches is equally significant because (1) it provides insight into the characteristics of the culture, (2) student-teacher relations offer a perspective on the structure of interpersonal relations throughout the culture, and (3) it illustrates the importance that a culture places on education.
The process of formal education in a culture is tied directly to its beliefs, values, and characteristics. In some cultures, the normative way of teaching is for the teacher to lecture while students sit quietly and dutifully take notes. Tests involve iterating the previously received facts. In other cultures, students actively engage their instructors in give-and-take verbal sparring. Exams may involve creative and critical thinking skills. The relationship between teacher and student also varies among cultures. In some countries where teachers enjoy considerable social status and power, the student-teacher relationship is very formal, but in other nations, the relationship is more relaxed and egalitarian. Even nonverbal aspects, such as space, distance, time, and dress codes, are cultural variables reflected in classroom behavior. For example, in some cultures, informal attire is acceptable in the classroom, but other cultures demand that students attend class in identical uniforms. To further illustrate this aspect of education, we will look at some of the behaviors that characterize culturally based educational differences in Japan, the United States, and China.
Students walking to school are a familiar sight on any weekday morning in Japan, as well as the United States, although less common in the latter due to parental concerns and fewer public transportation options. But there are some other marked differences. Japanese elementary students usually assemble at a neighborhood location and proceed together to their classes. They will form one or two lines, with one older student at the front and one at the back. All will be wearing hats identical in color and shape. The younger students are learning the cultural values of group membership, hierarchy, and social conformity. The older students are learning about leadership, social responsibility toward others, and mentorship. In the classroom, interdependence is stressed as students work on projects in assigned groups and are seldom called on to answer questions individually. Upon entering middle school and throughout high school, the students will wear uniforms reflective of their school and will generally remain with the same group of classmates from class to class, a continual reinforcement of the importance of group solidarity.
What is taught in the formal education system of a culture is determined by its values and also promulgates those values.
For U.S. high school students, however, choice and freedom of expression are constants. Their day begins by deciding what to wear and perhaps even how to get to school—walk, ride, or drive. Their choice of classes can vary yearly and even by semester. Each high school class is likely to have a diverse group of students as they move from room to room for each lesson. Additionally, there will be a wide selection of extracurricular sports and clubs for after-school activities. For any group project, U.S. students may even be allowed to choose their own teammates. In student- centered classes, learners will be encouraged to voice their own opinions (hopefully with supporting evidence), even if different from the instructor’s. Students rarely experience open, public critical feedback in their classes. These practices serve to inculcate the cultural values of individual self-worth, independence, self-reliance, and freedom of choice.
Traditional Chinese classrooms are characterized by the teacher lecturing and students furiously copying everything so that it can be memorized and replicated on exams. The instructor’s questions, when asked, will frequently be responded to en masse. This form of classroom teacher-centered behavior is a reflection of China’s Confucian heritage, which elevated the values of hierarchy and social cooperation and placed memorization of established precepts above creative thinking. The student-teacher relationship is formal at all times, and like their Japanese counterparts, Chinese secondary school students usually wear uniforms, have a larger class size than in the United States, and remain together as a class for all subjects. In their study of preschools, Tobin and Hayashi observed that Chinese students received open, honest critical comment from their teachers and peers, another Confucian attribute. As an example, a student experiencing difficulty with a math problem may be requested to come to the front of the classroom and try to work through the problem. This allows the teacher and the class as a whole to offer assistance. The thought is that this experience will cause the student to reflect on his or her efforts and work harder, quite in contrast to the individualistically oriented positive feedback procedures used in U.S. classes. From this brief overview, you should be able to appreciate that in addition to subject material, the Chinese classroom also instills the cultural values of a hierarchical social structure, group identity, social harmony, and the importance of determination and perseverance.29
CULTURAL ATTITUDES TOWARD EDUCATION
How you perceive education is strongly influenced by culture, or, as stated by McHugh, “the cultural attitudes of the society toward education greatly affect the education of its citizens.”30 The contrasting attitudes across cultures can readily be seen by comparing the United States with two Asian nations—China and Korea.
Clearly, education is seen as important in the United States, but it is not considered an absolutely essential prerequisite for success. The strong sense of independent meritocracy among U.S. Americans, partly fed by media stories and programs, conveys a belief that if someone has an idea and the determination, one can fulfill one’s dreams. Stories abound of young dot-com entrepreneurs dropping out of college to start their own businesses—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg being but three among many.31 Declining U.S. test scores in comparison to other nations have also contributed to a growing ambivalence toward the contemporary U.S. education system. Today’s parents demand choices for the education of their children, as seen in the growth of charter schools, homeschooling, and private schools. There is also vocal concern that the federal government has too much influence on local schools and the curricula. And although U.S. American parents take an active role in school activities, Ripley found that they tended to focus on the “nonacademic side of their children’s school” and felt that the best setting for learning was an unstructured environment. Additionally, building self-esteem was considered an important part of the classroom experience.32
In China and Korea, along with most Asian cultures, including Asian Americans, educational achievement is among the highest of values, and parents are involved in all phases of their children’s schooling. Unlike in the United States, where students expect to do “fun things” in class, Chinese and Korean students see education as a serious undertaking centered on “hard work.” This is, in part, a result of the Confucian influence that persists in both nations and results from the status and material benefits acquired through education. Each year, graduating high school students in both nations take a single exam that largely determines the course of their adult life. In Chin