Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bibliography #3

McGovern, Linda. When "Yes", means "No" or "Maybe" - Avoiding Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings in Global Business. Copyright 1998. [Click to view link]

This article is very very interesting.

The article discusses the frequent misunderstandings, frayed tempers and mistrust in intercultural business communication. It also focuses on how different cultures have different ways in communicating a message and that goals of communication vary across cultures and languages. Interestingly, this article also highlights how similar gestures and facial expressions are often used differently across cultures; for example frowns, smiles, nods. The article also outlines tips on how to avoid misunderstandings in communicating across cultures.

There is one interesting point in the article that I think illustrates well, about how a lot of international students from Asia (referring to Asian students born and bred outside western societies) generally think that students who grew up in Western societies for example like Australia, are being considered too talkative or too opinionated during class, and mumbles around an idea or an argument that is already clear and doesn’t need extra emphasis. Most Asian students opt to remain quiet, and only voice out their opinion if they really really need to, or if they fail to find an answer to a problem after very thorough research of their own. Asian students, who lived in a Western society for quite sometime, will slowly adapt to the culture of being opinionated and are more likely to voice what is in their heads. But still, this doesn’t mean they are being Westernized.

Another key point of this article also mentioned about the important and crucial things to consider when engaging in communication with someone who has English as their second language.

To examine this concept more fully, check out the article below.

An American businesswoman comes away from a meeting delighted; she finally got her Japanese supplier to agree to a price. A few days later, she receives questions about price. Its almost as if she imagined the meeting. "What's going on here?" she asks. "We agreed on the price already, didn't we?"

The businesswoman recalls all the Um-hmms and Yesses she heard in the meeting. "They agreed to the price, they said yes," she mutters to herself. "They even nodded and smiled."

Welcome to the world of intercultural business communication--a world fraught with frequent misunderstandings, frayed tempers and mistrust. This American Businesswoman is not the first or last to feel frustrated in this way. Other people have misunderstood a "yes" response.

Ways of Communication:
The businesswoman needs to understand that irrespective of language, different cultures communicate in different ways.

Good communication American style is to say what you mean precisely, in as straightforward a manner as possible. Be direct, get to the point, and say what the bottom line is. For other cultures, this style is rude, abrasive and self-centered.

Many cultures--including Japanese, go to great lengths not to be direct. The risk of disharmony with other group members is too great to be outspoken. Its better to agree to somebody’s face and negotiate with them afterwards than to blatantly disagree. In our opening scenario, the Japanese supplier appeared to say yes, but continued to negotiate a price, days after the supposed agreement.

Direct communicators like Americans in general, consider this indirectness deceptive, two-faced and lacking in integrity. What do you think?

Goals of Communication:
The goals of communication vary across culture and languages. In the US, speech is often used to demonstrate eloquence, power or lack thereof. The presidential debates are good examples of this. So too are the expressions "For the sake of argument" or "I'll play the devils advocate and..."

But in many Asian cultures, the goals of communication are to achieve consensus of opinion and to promote group harmony. "Yes" can mean "no," "maybe," or even "we've got to think a little more about this and we don't want to fall out with you."

Styles of Communication:
So how do you know when yes really means no? Simply listen to the silent messages and read the invisible words.

US culture, with its long tradition of rhetoric, values verbal messages greatly. Other cultures are more sensitive to non-verbal means of communication, such as:
1. Body posture
2. Hand gestures
3. Facial expressions
4. Eye contact
5. How close people stand to each other

Misunderstandings and blunders result from failing to recognize and understand many forms of non-verbal communication. Going back to our opening scenario, the businesswoman remembers the nods and smiles. But what did they mean in the context of that business meeting?

Not what the American businesswoman thought. They meant disagreement, displeasure, and uncertainty. The lesson to be learnt here is that similar gestures and facial expressions are often used differently across cultures. The meaning of a smile is not universal. Neither is a frown.

Avoid misunderstandings in communicating across cultures:

1. Be conscious of body language and non-verbal messages:
What message is communicated in the smiles, frowns, head movements or silence?

2. Watch eye contact:
Reserve judgment on the correct amount of eye contact. Some cultures encourage plenty, others frown upon it. You may have to adjust the amount of eye contact according to the status of the person you're talking to.

3. Listen without interrupting:
Americans are often considered too talkative. People from other cultures may interpret many interruptions as disrespectful.

4. Summarize what you hear often:
Keeping in mind point #3, clarify what you think you have heard, rephrasing as simply as possible.

5. Speak slowly, enunciate and avoid idioms:

Only 5% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language. You may be doing business with a person who speaks fluent English but who has difficulty understanding your accent, the idioms, jargon or slang you use. Remember, the simpler the English, the better.

I think the article could be of help to any of you guys who has interest in spreading their wings over Asia in the future. As they say, Asia is going to be the central of economic boom in the future. Why not be prepared from now? Cheers, IZ.


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