Sei sulla pagina 1di 5

Centre of Communication and Design English Language

Programs
Level 6: Advanced
Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners | Harvard Business Review

Recently, I facilitated a marketing meeting in Beijing with a U.S.-based multi-national food company, which
had just purchased a specialty food product line from one of its rivals. The newly-adopted subsidiary had
recently become a market leader under its old ownership, based on good market research that was driven by
a deep cultural understanding of the habits and behavioural preferences of the average urban Chinese.
The new owners sent their US team to participate in a strategy session of where this Chinese subsidiary
believes its market is heading and how it must respond to new competitive threats. The U.S. team asked
questions as they would do in any meeting in the U.S. They tried to be sensitive to their hosts but to their
surprise, the Chinese nationals reacted defensively to even the smallest and most innocent questions. "Who
were these 'outsiders' telling us about our market?" The Americans had slighted them without even knowing
how or why.
It turned out that their Chinese hosts relied on close customer proximity in developing the company's
packaging and marketing practices. So when the Americans suggested that perhaps their new Chinese
colleagues may have overlooked new competitive threats from other multinationals as well as from homegrown rivals, the local executives viewed it as a challenge to their research, and felt insulted. Interestingly,
also attending were a handful of Hong Kong Chinese who were not at all upset by the Americans' questions.
It turned out that many of them were educated abroad, including in the United States, and appreciated the
purpose and directness of the questions posed by the US execs.
At the end of the first day of meetings, the group accomplished little. The room felt like a boxing arena with
each contingent remaining its own corner. The Americans remained concerned over signs that the company's
Chinese market was about to change. Looming new government regulations would likely curb nutritional
claims and impose stricter enforcement on violators. New rivals were poised to enter the market.
Nevertheless, the local PRC nationals remained unconvinced that they might have to alter their existing
plans. There were data to validate the Americans' concerns. Unfortunately, their very presence interfered
with discussion of the issues.
On the second day, the meeting's facilitators deliberately blended the groups, and a thaw occurred in the
room. The Hong Kong participants assumed the role of cultural translators and explained to their colleagues
from the US as well as the China mainlanders that each had a legitimate perspective, grounded in different
methods of validation. The Chinese preferred to test their view deductively. By starting with an
understanding of the cultural habits and behaviours of their customers, the Chinese team believed they could
explain past, present and future outcomes. The Westerners preferred to validate their view inductively,
discovering the facts and then developing an explanatory storyline.
Fuld, L, 2012, Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners, 1 August 2012, Harvard Business Review,
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/cross_cultural_communication_takes_more.html Adapted by Judy Thompson, RMIT International
University (Hanoi)
Last modified on 10 July 2013

Centre of Communication and Design English Language


Programs
Level 6: Advanced

While the various groups still reserved their right to disagree, the session ended with something of a
consensus. The local Chinese group remained determined to focus on its rigorous marketing plans, still
largely driven by a series of cultural insights they had identified. At the same time, the group conceded that it
needed to examine the new competition more closely. It also acknowledged a need to monitor rumours of
government regulatory changes in its market.
There is nothing new about the tensions and difficulties that emerge from an intermingling of cross-cultural
groups. While the business world is far more inter-connected today, it nonetheless remains fraught with
many hidden dangers. Often, players from across the globe have become participants in the same enterprise,
shuffled together like a deck of playing cards. But unlike perfectly uniform playing cards, people can't be so
easily blended with each other.
The very richness that global yet diversified talent brings to a company can also impede its progress all
because of cultural misperceptions or unintended affronts. Absorbing the strategic insights and the
intelligence that drive any business decision or strategy requires awareness and the need for discussions prior
to a formal meeting; the use of intermediaries such as cultural interpreters may prove useful if only to bring
to the surface deeply held beliefs and assumptions.
Even in a world of globalization there remains an ever-present need for executives to anticipate and
appreciate this frequently hidden culture factor and early on to place it on both the written and unwritten
agenda of every similar meeting in the days ahead. If not, decision-makers may overlook basic data and miss
major strategic opportunities.

Fuld, L, 2012, Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners, 1 August 2012, Harvard Business Review,
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/cross_cultural_communication_takes_more.html Adapted by Judy Thompson, RMIT International
University (Hanoi)
Last modified on 10 July 2013

Centre of Communication and Design English Language


Programs
Level 6: Advanced

Vocabulary
Match the words with their definitions
Definitions from www.learnersdictionary.com

1. Facilitate (v)
2. Subsidiary (n)

a. to offend or insult (someone) : to treat


(someone) with disrespect

b. depending on something else that might or

3. Strategy (n)

might not happen

4. Slight (v)

c. to help (something) run more smoothly and

5. Contingent (on/upon) (adj)


6. looming (adj)
7. thaw (v)
8. validate (v)

effectively

d. to be close to happening : to be about to


happen

e. owned or controlled by another company


f. a careful plan or method for achieving a

particular goal usually over a long period of time

9. grounded in (adj)

g. to become more friendly and less angry

10. deductive (adj)

h. done carefully and with a lot of attention to

11. inductive (adj)


12. consensus (n)

detail

i. using particular examples to reach a general


conclusion about something

13. rigorous (adj)

j. to show that something is real or correct

14. concede (v)

k. full of (something bad or unwanted)

15. intermingle (v)

l. to say that you accept or do not deny the truth

16. fraught (with) (adj)


17. impede (v)
18. affront (n)

or existence of (something)

m. based on
n. to mix together
o. a general agreement about something
p. using logic or reason to form a conclusion or
opinion about something

q. an action or statement that insults or offends


Fuld, L, 2012, Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners, 1 August 2012, Harvard Business Review,
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/cross_cultural_communication_takes_more.html Adapted by Judy Thompson, RMIT International
University (Hanoi)
Last modified on 10 July 2013

Centre of Communication and Design English Language


Programs
Level 6: Advanced
someone

r. to slow the movement, progress, or action of


(someone or something)

Questions
Fill in the blanks using words from the text.
1. The marketing research was conducted with a _____________________ of what Chinese consumers
wanted.
2. The Mainland Chinese were upset by the questions asked and responded ____________________.
3. The Hong Kong Chinese reacted differently from the Mainland Chinese due to a number of them
having been ____________________.
4. The Americans believed that _________________ laws would cause problems for marketing food
nutritional values.
5. The Hong Kong Chinese acted as mediators on the second day of meetings which resulted in
a_________________ in tensions between the Americans and the Chinese.
6. The Chinese believed that through ________________ accessing their customers they could
understand the past, present and future outcomes.
7. The Americans, on the other hand, preferred to discover the facts to develop an explanatory
storyline _________________.
8. The meeting finished in a partial ____________________ though the Chinese were determined to
continue their style of marketing.
9. Misunderstandings between cross-cultural groups have always existed and often _____________
development.
10. Cultural interpreters could be useful to help participants understand their ______________ about
other cultures.

Fuld, L, 2012, Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners, 1 August 2012, Harvard Business Review,
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/cross_cultural_communication_takes_more.html Adapted by Judy Thompson, RMIT International
University (Hanoi)
Last modified on 10 July 2013

Centre of Communication and Design English Language


Programs
Level 6: Advanced

Fuld, L, 2012, Cross-Cultural Communication Takes More than Manners, 1 August 2012, Harvard Business Review,
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/cross_cultural_communication_takes_more.html Adapted by Judy Thompson, RMIT International
University (Hanoi)
Last modified on 10 July 2013