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Develop enough cultural competencies to foster

Develop enough cultural competencies to foster

Develop enough cultural competencies to foster

A case study on project deadlines, the Indian ‘yes’ and high-context versus low-context communication.

Rebecca works with United Technologies, a Chicago based company. She is talking on the phone to Abhinav, the manager of one of United Technologies vendors for customer service outsourcing.

Rebecca: We really need to get all of the customer service representatives trained on our new process in the next two weeks. Can you get this done?

Abhinav: That timeline is pretty aggressive. Do you think it’s possible?

Rebecca: I think it will require some creativity and hard work, but I think we can get it done with two or three days to spare

Abhinav: Ok.

Rebecca: Now that our business is settled, how is everything else?

Abhinav: All’s well, although the heavy monsoons this year are causing a lot of delays getting around the city.

Two weeks later…

Abhinav: We’ve pulled all of our resources and I’m happy to say that 60% of the customer service representatives are now trained in the new process. The remaining 40% will complete the training in the next two weeks.

Rebecca: Only 60%? I thought we agreed that they all would be trained by now!

Abhinav: Yes . The monsoon is now over so the rest of the training should go quickly.

Rebecca: This training is critical to our results. Please get it done as soon as possible.

Abhinav: I am certain that it will be done in the next two weeks.


– Did Abhinav agree to the initial timeline requested by Rebecca?
– What might Rebecca be thinking about Abhinav?
– What might Abhinav be thinking about Rebecca?
– How will this incident affect their future interactions?

Jim’s Mistake

A case study on virtual teams, hierarchy, and direct versus indirect communication styles.

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Jim is has been managing a software development team in Pune for the past two years. He has been working closely with Aruna, the Indian team leader, to develop a new networking program. While Jim has over 25 years of experience in software development, Aruna knows the program inside and out.

While reviewing his work from the previous week, Jim discovers that he made a mistake in the programming code. He notices that Aruna corrected his error, but wonders why Aruna did not bring it to his attention so that he could avoid delays and keep from making the same mistake in the future.
– Should Aruna have informed Jim of his mistake? Why or why not?
– If Jim wants to be notified of his mistakes in the future, how should he proceed?

Sandeep is out of the office

A case study on miscommunication in multicultural teams.

Sandeep has just joined the Banglore office of a New York based MNC. As part of his training he will be spending 3 months in the US, but has already been assigned to a team with members in New York, Tokyo and Banglore. Sarah, the New York based project manager, has scheduled a teleconference meeting for Tuesday. Sandeep will be traveling to Delhi to get his US visa over the meeting time. Here’s their conversation.

Sarah: Can we do the teleconference tomorrow, 7 pm for you, or should we wait until you get back?

Sandeep: Better if we can wait, but I can do it if you like – if it’s necessary.

Sarah: Do you want to postpone it? Tell me, yes or no?


– What cultural and/or personality traits are influencing the communication?

– What is Sarah likely to be thinking/feeling?

– What is Sandeep likely to be thinking/feeling?

Cross-cultural Case Studies: The East and West

Businesses need to take steps to understand a culture prior to engagement

I’ve listened to several frustrating accounts of friends working in China or having difficulty engaging with their Asian employees and students. With my experience dealing with clients from China, engineers from Germany, programmers from India, and partners from all over the United States with diverse backgrounds, I was inspired to launch my cross-cultural communications start up. Here are some things I learned along the way.

Case Study: Amanda goes to China

Here is the story of Amanda, an entrepreneur who went to China with a dream of expanding her business overseas. She expressed to me how challenging and frustrating it was to get things done on time and to get feedback from her local team. She said she would ask her Chinese staff to do certain tasks and they would always agree only to disappoint her by not meeting her expectations and deadlines.

When I asked Amanda about her interactions with staff outside of work, she said that she refused to mix work with pleasure. She normally grabbed lunch alone and ate it at her desk so that she could continue working. After listening to Amanda, it was clear to me that she had no idea how different her American cultural behaviours were from the Chinese and how it was deterring her from launching a successful business in China. After 18 months, Amanda called it quits and returned to San Francisco.

I stayed in touch with Amanda and asked her if she would do anything differently. She paused for a while. Then I proceeded to ask her if she would dive into the ocean without learning how to swim? She said, “Of course not. But what does swimming have to do with my Chinese business?” I told her that it was my analogy for why she would go to China without first understanding the Chinese language and culture, prior to launching her business there.

In this increasingly global economy, it is quite common to meet and communicate with counterparts from all over the world. It is also quite common to neither have enough time to prepare, nor develop, a cultural competency on how to communicate with these counterparts before such interactions occur.

Oftentimes, a cross-cultural encounter ends with a lot of frustration and misunderstandings, like the one Amanda experienced. This can cost a business quite a lot of time, resources and money. If your business relies on resources from other countries or opportunities to expand abroad, you cannot afford to make such mistakes.

In fact, knowing how to gracefully navigate visits to foreign markets and meetings with international counterparts can make a huge difference that will impact your long-term relationships and business opportunities.

Develop enough cultural competencies to foster effective communication across cultures

Start by keeping an open mind and being aware of your own culture first. Here are some questions to help you define your own cultural parameter:

– What is typical of your own home country in terms of family, gender, food, leadership, ethics, communication style, etc.?

– How does a family structure or major institutions and corporations work (status of the President or CEO or head of the household in your country)?

– What are the attitudes and habits that influence the origins and day-to-day inner workings of a family unit or institution? Do kids respect and obey their parents or elders?

– What values and beliefs are revealed through these attitudes and habits? For example, about hierarchy or power?

Then compare your culture with another culture, and you will find the differences and similarities that will help you better understand and respect that other culture. Most cross-cultural responses are based on our own reality and perspective. It is important to be open to other perspectives and to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Just the term “culture” alone is vague and hard to define. One of many definitions for culture is the values and beliefs that guide social behaviors and interactions. Amanda might have gone to China with her generalization that Chinese culture is all about crowded places, chopsticks, rice, tea, communists and fireworks. However, these generalizations and stereotypes are dangerous mainly because a culture can have many subcultures and many exceptions to its own rule.

Take, for example, our own American culture – it consists of Latinos, Europeans, Asians, Africans and others. Imagine if culture is like an onion that has an outer layer of visible behaviors. What makes culture hard to define is all of the layers you cannot see inside the core of the onion – the unspoken attitudes and norms hidden deep inside.

When Amanda first arrived in China, she failed to see past the behaviors of local Chinese staff and colleagues. Her team invited her to have lunch with them, but she refused, opting to eat on her own. Coming from an individual culture like the U.S., Amanda had no idea that she offended her Chinese team who made several attempts to welcome her into the group culture but also respect her as their leader.

A lot of the relationship building and business negotiations are conducted outside the office during lunches or banquets in China. Furthermore, Amanda was so focused on tasks that she forgot how important relationships meant to the Chinese, especially between a manager and her staff. She never put in the time to get to know her Chinese team and to understand why they keep saying yes to her when tasks could not be done. She kept her own cultural preferences without attempting to embrace the culture she threw herself into.

Case Study: Naomi goes to China

Unlike Amanda, Naomi wanted to prepare for her trip to China. She had hosted a Chinese delegation in the U.S. but realized that there was a level of awkwardness during this first encounter. When the delegates invited her to China, I helped Naomi define the dimensions of the American culture and compared them with China’s. She quickly realized the vast differences between these two cultures. We also went over etiquette (especially introductions and business cards) and some of the unspoken attitudes and rules like “face.”

Naomi returned from her trip and told me how she gracefully glided through the meetings without stumbling because she knew what to expect. In fact, because she took the time to know and respect her hosts’ culture, she was able to establish a level of comfort and trust. Her hosts, in return, introduced her to even more business partners and opportunities.

Bottom Line: Learn about cross-cultural communication before you engage in global business

If you want to stay competitive in the global marketplace, don’t end up like Amanda. Do consider looking into cross-cultural communication so that you can build a more meaningful connection and develop relationships and a business that will last for the long haul.

Photo: Nitesh Bhundia (featured image), lekyu (dumplings)

Editor’s Note: This article is purely the opinion of the contributing author and does not reflect the views and opinions of Dumpling Magazine LLC or its partners and staff in whole or in part. Parts edited for formatting and style but not meaning.

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