W T’S UP
Professional Development Seminar
Fri. 26 June 2009 1:00-2:00pm
Pentecost Building, Room 420
Understanding culture and ‘interculture’ is a process full of trial
and error and error and error. The purpose of today’s session
is to take one step towards intercultural understanding in our
every day, cross-cultural lives.
To provide insight on the basics of intercultural communication
concepts and their application to real world, cross cultural
situations (i.e. business, personal, work, school).
Points of Discussion
-Messages are filtered and meaning is interpreted through our
own understanding, reality, values, norms and perceptions :
- through our "lenses" we insert and infer meaning, make our
own connections, and deem what is logical, rational and
acceptable based on our own perceptions, a product which is
acquired through socialization (we are innately ethnocentric).
A or B?
Findings of Development
Psychologist Liang hwang Chiu:
preferred to group based
on the “taxonomic”
Chinese children preferred
to group based on
- R. E. Nesbitt, The Geography of Thought
1 or 2?
In a study conducted by Nesbitt,
his participants consisted of
Koreans, European Americans,
and Asian Americans.
Most Koreans chose group 1
based on a more obvious family
Most European Americans chose
group 2 based on a discovered
“rule” (i.e. straight instead of
Asian Americans were in
between but more similar to
What is culture?
- shared system of symbols, beliefs, attitudes,
values, expectations, and norms of
What is communication?
- process of sharing meaning by transmitting
messages through media such as words,
behaviour, material artifacts, or third
- For successful communication, receiver
must interpret the meaning of a particular
communication the way the sender
“Distortions" or "noise" alter meaning
intended by the sender that lead to
misunderstanding by the receiver.
Therefore… Culture is the foundation of communication. When
cultures vary, communication practices also vary. The more
dissimilar the cultures of those involved, the more the likelihood
Iceberg Analogy Even the Titanic sunk because of it…
- The iceberg separates culture Clothing art gestures food religion
into visible and invisible
elements which are almost forms of communication
always interrelated language symbols
- Observable cultural elements
often have deeper meaning
and are rooted in
- what we think we see is not
always what is going on; a
visible aspect of culture can
have completely different CULTURE GENERAL
meaning in different cultures
(i.e. laughing, smiling) Individualism collectivism
- Symbols, words, gestures are formality informality
loaded with cultural meaning tradition progress & change
that simply do not “translate” predictive future uncertain future
universally and may lead to activity/work people/relationships
polychronic time monochronic time
from specific to general :: cultural elements and the values that drive them
Use of third parties, notes, Face-maintenance Collectivism
signs, gesture, silence, to Harmony
convey important messages High-context
Fluid notion of time Uncertain future Polychronic Time
Respect for those with Formality Hierarchy
Direct, verbal communic- Notion of efficiency Individualism
ation; “straight to the point” Low-context
Time is a precious com- Predictive future Monochronic Time
modity; “time is money” Personal Efficacy
Idea that “anyone can be Personal efficacy Equality
President” and all humans Meritocracy
should be treated the same
applications in business
Intercultural Awareness in Business
It is crucial to understand the impact of cross-cultural differences on
business, trade and internal company organization. Poor
understanding can affect areas such as management, PR, advertising,
and negotiations, and could lead to damaging consequences.
The success or failure of a company, venture, merger or acquisition is
essentially in the hands of people. If these people are not cross-
culturally aware, then misunderstandings, offence, and a break-
down in communication can occur.
The need for greater cross cultural awareness is heightened in our
global economies. Cross-cultural differences in matters such as
language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, norms, and values
can, do, and will lead to cross cultural blunders.
a case study
Obama. Change. And a monkey.
Video brought to you today by YouTube
Silly Ethnocentrics :: Business Management and Negotiations
A Japanese manager in an American company was told to give critical feedback to a
subordinate during a performance evaluation. Japanese use high context language and are
uncomfortable giving direct feedback. It took the manager five tries before he could be direct
enough to discuss the poor performance so that the American understood.
When President George Bush went to Japan with Lee Iacocca and other American business
magnates, they directly made explicit and direct demands on Japanese leaders. This violates
Japanese etiquette. To the Japanese it is considered rude, a sign of ignorance, and/or
desperation to lower oneself to make direct demands. Some analysts believe it severely
damaged the negotiations and confirmed to the Japanese that Americans are barbarians.
A sales manager in Hong Kong tried to control employee's promptness at work. He insisted
they come to work on time instead of 15 minutes late. They complied, but then left exactly
on time instead of working into the evening as they previously had done. Much work was left
unfinished until the manager relented and they returned to their usual time schedule.
An American business person refused an offer of a cup of coffee from a Saudi businessman.
Such a rejection is considered very rude and the business negotiations became stalled.
An American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia shouted at an employee to take a boat to shore.
Since no-one berates an Indonesian in public, a mob of outraged workers chased the
supervisor with axes.
Silly Ethnocentrics :: PR and Advertising – use of words and symbols
In 2002, Umbro, the UK sports manufacturer, had to withdraw its new trainers
(sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many people as
it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews
in concentration camps.
Staff at the African port of Stevadores saw the "internationally recognized"
symbol for "fragile" (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of
broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!
A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of four for
purchase in Japan. But, pronunciation of the word "four" in Japanese sounds
like the word "death" and items packaged in fours are unpopular.
A soft drink was introduced to Arab countries with an attractive label that had
stars on it: 6-pointed stars. The Arabs interpreted this as pro-Israeli and refused
to buy it. Another label was printed in ten languages, one of which was Hebrew-
-again the Arabs did not buy.
A Laugh at Their Expense
The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name "FARTFULL" for one of
its new desks.
In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company ,could not understand why its
British branches were refusing to use its latest motto "Wang Cares". To British ears it
sounded too close to "Wankers" which would not really give a very positive image to any
American Motors tried to market its new car, the Matador, based on the image of
courage and strength. However, in Puerto Rico the name means "killer" and was not
popular on the hazardous roads in the country.
Mountain Bell Company tried to promote its telephone and services to Saudi's. Its ad
portrayed an executive talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk,
showing the soles of his shoes-- something an Arab would never do!
When Pepsico advertised Pepsi in Taiwan with the ad "Come Alive With Pepsi" they
had no idea that it would be translated into Chinese as "Pepsi brings your ancestors
back from the dead."
…and a few more….
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name
into "Schweppes Toilet Water."
A sign in a Yugoslavian hotel stated: The flattening of underwear with
pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
In a Bangkok dry cleaner's: Drop your trousers here for best results.
At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any
suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.
These examples courtesy of
Monochronic vs. Polychronic
Monochronic Culture Polychronic Culture
Interpersonal Relations Interpersonal relations are Present schedule is subordinate
subordinate to present schedule to Interpersonal relations
Activity Co-ordination Schedule co-ordinates activity; Interpersonal relations coordinate
appointment time is rigid. activity; appointment
time is flexible
Task Handling One task at a time Many tasks are handled
Breaks and Personal Time Breaks and personal time are Breaks and personal time are
sacrosanct regardless of subordinate to personal ties.
Temporal Structure Time is inflexible; time is Time is flexible; time is fluid
Work/personal time Work time is clearly separable Work time is not clearly separable
separability from personal time from personal time
Organizational Perception Activities are isolated from Activities are integrated into
organization as a whole; tasks organization as a whole; tasks
are measured by output in time measured as part of overall
(activity per hour or minute) organizational goal
(adopted from: Victor, 1992, p.234)
Definitions of Culture
Hofstede (1994): “the collective programming of the
mind which distinguishes the member of one group or
category of people from another”(p.5). Hofstede
expands the concept of ‘collective programming’ by
suggesting that culture could therefore be situated “Culture is a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs,
between human nature, which is not programmed, nor behavioural norms, and basic assumptions and
programmable on the one side – and the individual‟s values that are shared by a group of people, and
personality on the other side. This idea of the culture in that influence each member's behaviour and his/her
the individual is particularly useful for explaining interpretations of the "meaning" of other people's
the concept of culture on the one side – as well as behaviour.”(Spencer-Oatey, 2000, p.4)
allowing for the diversity of individual personalities
within any one culture.
Hall (1983) views culture as often subconscious. He
the role of culture as both an influence factor for compares culture to an invisible control mechanism
behaviour as well as an interpretation factor of operating in our thoughts. In his view, we become
behaviour. The interpretative role of culture, as only aware of this control mechanism when it is
introduced by Spencer-Oatey, is especially important severely challenged, for example by exposure
when considering cross-cultural interaction, or to a different culture. He believes that members of a
reaction towards products created in a different cultural given society, internalise the cultural components of
context. „Culture‟ consists of various factors that are that society, and act within the limits as set out by
shared by a given group, and that it acts as an what is „culturally acceptable‟
interpretive frame of behaviour.