An Asian engineer is assigned to a U.S. laboratory and almost suffer a nervous breakdown. A U.S. executive tells his staff he’s going to treat them fairly – and creates dissension. A Japanese manager is promoted by his British president, but within six months asks for a transfer.
Each of these real-life cases involved people who were regarded as superior employees, but were ill-equipped to cope with the complexities and dangers of intercultural management.
‘Multinational companies have studied everything else; now they are finally looking at culture,’ says Clifford Clarke, founder and president of the California-based IRI International Inc., one of a small but growing number of consulting firms that specialise in teaching business people from differing cultures how to communicate and work with each other.
But simply learning the social ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ is not the answer. The penalties for ignoring different thinking patterns can be disastrous.
For example, the American manager who promised to be fair thought he was telling his Japanese staff that their hard work would be rewarded; but when some workers received higher salary increases than others, there were complaints. ‘You told us you’d be fair, and you lied to us,’ accused one salesman. ‘It took me a year and a half,’ sighed the American, ‘to realise that ‘fair’, to my staff, meant to be treated equally.’
The Asian engineer who suffered in America was the victim of another mistaken expectation. ‘He was accustomed to the warm group environment so typical in Japan,’ said his U.S. manager. ‘But in our company, we are all expected to be self-starters, who thrive on working alone. For him, it was emotional starvation. He’s made the adjustment now, but he’d be humiliated if I told you his name. That’s another cultural difference.’
The Japanese manager who failed to respond to his promotion couldn’t bring himself to use the more direct language needed to communicate with his London-based superiors. ‘I used to think all this talk about cultural communication was a lot of baloney,’ says Eugene J. Flath, president of Intel Japan Ltd., a subsidiary of the America semiconductor maker. ‘Now, I can see it’s a real problem. Miscommunication has slowed our ability to coordinate action with our home office.’
Cause of problem
Result of problem
1. American manager with Japanese staff.
2. Asian engineer in the U.S.A.
3. Japanese manager in the U.K.
IX. How much do you think international business may be improved with the help of intercultural training programmes and international business consultants?
X. Listen to the first part of an interview with Jeff Toms, Marketing Director at the International Briefing Centre. He talks about training courses which prepare people for doing business internationally. Complete the list of issues that he mentions.
Issues covered by the training course
· …………. awareness
· Practical issues of … and … overseas
- the words you use
· Dealing with … …
- the … you use
· Schooling; …care;
- how to deal with … and answers
· How to negotiate …
- managing your …
· Communication: telephone, e-mail, … …
XI. Listen to the second part of the interview. Jeff talks about the personality traits that help in doing business internationally. Which three personality traits does he consider to be important?
XII. Listen to the third part of the interview. Which two cultural aspects does Jeff mentions and what does he say about them?
XIII. Read these notes on US business protocol. How does each piece of advice compare with the situation in your country?
US business protocol
· You must arrive at business meetings on time. Only a 15-minute delay because of traffic problems is allowed.
· You mustn’t smoke in many public places. Most businesses, cabs and many restaurants nowadays have a no-smoking policy.
Greetings and polite conversation
· You must shake hands during introductions.
· You don’t have to make a lot of small talk. Americans like to get down to business quickly.
· You mustn’t ask about a businesswoman’s marital status. I t is considered rude.
· Business gifts shouldn’t be given until after the business negotiations are over.
· You mustn’t give an expensive business gift. It may cause an embarrassment.
· You don’t have to exchange business cards unless there is a reason to get in contact later.
Entertaining at home
· You should write a short thank you note to your host and hostess if you are entertained at their home. You don’t have to give a gift but flowers or wine are appreciated.
XIV. Choose the most appropriate word in the box to complete the idioms in the sentences below.
1. I was thrown in at the deep …. when my company sent me to run the German office. I was only given two days’ notice to prepare.
2. We don’t see eye to …. about relocating our factory. The Finance Director wants to move production to the Far East, but I want it to remain in Spain.
3. I got into hot …. with my boss for wearing casual clothes to the meeting with our Milanese customers.
4. Small talk is one way to break the … when meeting someone for the first time.
5. I really put my … in it when I met our Japanese partner. Because I was nervous, I said ‘Who are you?’ rather than ‘How are you?’
6. I get on like a house on … with our Polish agent; we like the same things and have the same sense of humour.
7. When I visited China for the first time I was like a fish out of … . Everything was so different, and I couldn’t read any of the signs!
8. My first meeting with our overseas clients was a real …-opener. I had not seen that style of negotiation before.
XV. Complete the idioms in the sentences below with correct form of the missing verb.
1. In many countries, people make a comment about the weather to …… the ice and start a conversation.
2. I didn’t know exactly how long I had for my presentation, and I knew nothing about the audience. The organisers had really … me in at the deep end.
3. We don’t agree what or when we should advertise. In fact, it seems we don’t … eye to eye on anything at all.
4. After a few minutes we’d found we have loads of things in common. We just … like a house on fire.
5. I’d just told my hosts I hated fish when it turned out they’d spent the whole day making fish soup, their national dish, especially for me. I had really ….. my foot in it.
XVI. Put the words in the correct order to make idioms.
XVII. Use an idiom from exercise XVI to complete these sentences.
1. That business trip to China ….. for me. That’s when I began to understand the culture.
2. Don’t be late for the departmental meeting, or you … with the boss.
3. I really … at the reception. Very few people spoke English, and those who did, didn’t have much to say.
XVIII. Complete the sentences with a preposition from the box.
1. Leo’s been to Nigeria many many times. He knows the culture inside … .
2. We’ve told you everything about this job opportunity in Uzbekistan. Now you tell us what you think. The ball is … your court.
3. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know the culture. You just need to maintain a good-natured attitude and go … the flow.
4. I had all sorts of problems with my new colleague, but now I’ve had it … with her, and we work really well together.
5. If any of the presentations runs …schedule, we’ll be late for the final plenary meeting.
6. With this conference next month, we’re all … to our eyes in work at the office.
XIX. Match the idioms from exercise XVIII with the correct explanation.
1. the ball is in your court
a) to be relaxed and not worry about you should do
2. to be up to one’s eyes in work
b) it is your responsibility to take action next
3. to go with the flow
c) to be very familiar with something
4. to have it out with somebody
d) to have a lot/too much to do
5. to know something inside out
e) to take more time than expected
6. to run over schedule
f) to try and settle a dispute by talking about it