Cross Cultural Communication | MBA

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Professor Hee Young Kim of Rider University’s online MBA program discusses cross cultural communication and highlights important things to be aware of when communicating across different cultures.

Transcript

AJ:

Good afternoon, everybody. And thank you for joining us today. My name is AJ and I’m an enrollment advisor here at Rider University. Again, thanks for joining us today on our live webinar discussion on Cross Cultural Communication. Very quickly, I would like to take a second to introduce our enrollment team from left to right. We have myself, AJ Arroyo, followed by Valeria Bernard, Paul Eames, Cathy Rodriguez, Noel Sepulveda. Those are going to be the enrollment advisors that we have available to work with you through the application. Today, I’m joined by a very special guest, we have Dr. Kim an associate professor here in our MBA program who’s going to talk to us about cross cultural communication.

AJ:

I also just want to let everybody know that right now we do have a live Q&A box that if you have a question at any point during our presentation, please feel free to just jot down your questions there. And we’ll try to answer them as best as we can as we go throughout. And we’ll also have a Q&A session at the end of our presentation today. So Dr. Kim, please take it away.

Dr. Kim:

Thank you, AJ. I am really excited to be talking about cross cultural communication. My name is Hee Young Kim. I am currently a full-time faculty at Rider University. I teach the executive communications class in the MBA program at Rider. And cross cultural communication is a topic that is very close to my heart. It’s something that I very much care about. And I think that it’s probably because of my background.

Dr. Kim:

Just to give you a little bit of my background, I was born and raised in Korea until I was seven. And then, I grew up in Argentina, Buenos Aires, where I attended a local elementary school. So, it was a culture shock going from Korea to Argentina, two countries that couldn’t be more different from one another. And then, when I was 15 in high school, I came here to the US. Again, a very different culture from Argentina. And after college, I went back to Asia to work. I worked at places like Goldman Sachs, which is a very multinational firm where I had the opportunity to really work with people from all over the world. And I completed my grad studies at NYU, which is in New York City, again, one of the most diverse and multicultural cities that we can think of.

Dr. Kim:

And so, this kind of background that I have, where I had the opportunity to live in Asia, and Latin America, in the US and in companies where there were people from all over the place has really made me very aware of cultural differences and the different ways in which people communicate. So, I want to start out by saying that communication style, the way we talk, the way we write and the way we listen even is truly a reflection of the culture in which we were raised, the culture that have been influential in our lives. And we don’t really think about those things a lot in our daily lives. We don’t think about our communication styles. Why have we communicate, or why the other person might communicate the way they do.

Dr. Kim:

And it’s very clear, based on my experience and the research that I’m doing, that communication differences, these cross cultural differences are enormously influential in the way people communicate. Because different cultures have different rules, different norms, different ways, different assumptions. And that influence is very much how people talk and people listen to others. And why is it important to understand more and more? We’re working in places that are becoming much more global, and technological advances are making it such that cross cultural collaborations are becoming a very essential part of the workplace. And cultural sensitivity, the ability to understand and be sensitive to cultural differences is going to determine how effective and successful an organization, or a team will be. If people can’t really be sensitive to cultural differences, there’s bound to be a lot of conflicts and miscommunication leading to all sorts of issues within teams.

Dr. Kim:

So, it’s going to be very difficult in the relatively short amount of time that we have that to really talk about the myriad cultural differences that may exist in various cultures. I’m going to try to talk about really the key things that might differentiate the communication styles of different cultures. And here I have, something called, a culture map that was developed by the faculty at INSIAD, Erin Meyer [inaudible 00:00:05:02], and she’s also fascinated by cultural differences. And there is seven dimensions that she talks about, but I want to quickly point out a few of that are important. For instance, the first one in the first line, you have something called low context and high context.

Dr. Kim:

Basically, what this refers to is the extent to which different cultures expect other people to explicitly spell out everything. So in a culture, for instance, with high context, and you’ll see that places like East Asia, Japan, Korea, or China, also Southeast Asia, they’re relatively high context culture. What that means is that you’re not expected to spell out everything. Communication tends to be a little more indirect. You have to be skillful, you have to be skilled at reading between the lines, understanding things without expecting everything to be spelled out, and clearly delineated.

Dr. Kim:

Where in low context cultures, you can think of a culture like US or Germany, the expectation is that everything will be fully concisely, spelled out. Things are going to be made explicit. There is considerable dependence on what is actually being said and written. And there’s also differences in which people give negative feedback, for instance. You might expect a very different kind of feedback from your boss, depending on where your boss is from. If you have a boss who comes from, let’s say, a place like Korea or Japan, they might be more likely to give indirect negative feedback. Or the negative feedback might not be given in such a direct way. Whereas in a place where there’s more direct negative feedback, people are like to be very honest about the negative feedback that they’re giving.

Dr. Kim:

So, for instance, you will see that US is somewhere in the middle. And we know the sandwich method, where indirect feedback tends to be in between a lot of positive feedback, and that’s sort of the US style. So, if I’m a US worker and I go work for a German boss, I might be shocked at how direct that negative feedback might be. And I might be wondering, what am I doing wrong? And am I going to have fired tomorrow? So, this might be a cultural difference that might play out pretty significantly in the context of multicultural teams. There’s also differences whether a culture is more egalitarian or hierarchical. And so, again, a lot of the Asian cultures tend to be very hierarchical. And so, the way you communicate to your boss, the emails that you write to your boss might look quite different from the emails that you write to your American boss, for instance.

Dr. Kim:

Because these are important dimensions, I want to spend a little bit more time on sort of the most basic cultural dimensions. And these are also the dimensions that have been most heavily researched in academia. And so, I want to go over those with you. So, again, I briefly talked about the low context versus high context. Now, here, I want to give you a little bit of the countries that represent the spectrum from low context to higher context. So, you will see that the countries that are very low context tend to be Germany, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, where on the other extreme of the scale you have the Japanese, the Chinese. A lot of things are unsaid. A lot of things are implicit in cultures with high context communication styles. Not everything needs to be spelled out, not everything is explicit. Whereas that kind of communication style, if you’re working with a German coworker, you can already imagine that that could lead to a lot of problems.

Dr. Kim:

So, what would happen for instance, if there was an interaction between someone from a high context and a low context? Japanese, for instance, might find Westerners to be offensively blunt. And, on the other hand, Westerners let’s say, a German or America might even my find the Chinese and Japanese to be secretive, [un-forthcoming 00:09:38] with information, dishonest even. And these are all the outcome of different communication styles. The French, for instance, who are right in the middle of that scale, might feel that the Germans are insulting their intelligence by explaining the obvious, while the Germans maybe feel that the French managers are providing no direction by being more high context. So, this is an important one to distinguish and a very meaningful one.

Dr. Kim:

I also want to move on and talk briefly about something that’s called power distance. So, this is another dimension that is very salient, and very distinct in various cultures. And power distance refers to the extent to which people in that society accept inequalities as a given, or even almost as desirable. So, in certain cultures, people desire distance, they want their boss to have more power, to have more status. They desire that inequality. Whereas in certain cultures with lower power distance, they would want less difference in status and power in all these different kinds of inequalities. And this power distance, actually, it’s a key feature of cultures that really does shape and impact the extent to which people interact with other people.

Dr. Kim:

So, what are some of the countries that are high on that power distance index? You will see countries like Russia, for instance, China, India, and even France are relatively pretty high on the power distance index. You will also see that the Scandinavian countries like Sweden, also Germany, a lot of Western Europe, also Australia tend to score relatively low on that power distance index. And I actually notice that a lot, both in my work experience and even among my students sometimes, the types of emails that I get from students that comes from Asian cultures might actually look a little bit different from the emails that I get from American students, or European students. So, this power index it does get really reflected in the communication styles of people.

Dr. Kim:

In high power distance countries, you will see that bypassing your superior is going to be considered more like insubordination. Your boss will never be your equal. The way you’re going to address your boss, both in private and public, will make sure that everybody understands who is the boss. And the boss, typically, tends to be right, not necessarily because he or she is always right, but because he or she is the boss. Saving face is something that’s very important in these cultures. Subordinates will, and employees will do everything they can to save face of their managers and their boss.

Dr. Kim:

In low power distance countries, however, sometimes bypassing your superior can be not such a big deal. Your boss can often be your equal. And one of the things that I notice is that, for instance, if I go to parties or social gatherings sometimes it’s very difficult to tell apart who is the boss and who is the subordinate, or the employee, whereas this might be something that might be a lot easier to detect in an Asian party, or in countries where there’s a lot more power distance. So, you will definitely notice that in different kinds of gatherings.

Dr. Kim:

The final distinction that I want to make between the cultures, is something that we called individualism versus collectivism. Some of you already might be familiar with these terms. But if you’re not, individualism, basically, refers to the extent to which people care more about the self than about the group. Whereas, collectivism is more about the group than the individual. So, in a collectivistic culture there is a lot of emphasis on things like group harmony, saving face. Business a lot of it tends to be relational based on trust. Those are the things that are very much emphasized. Group harmony is very, very important in this culture. Individualism, on the other hand, things like space and privacy are important. Business tend to be a little more transactional and the pivotal unit is always the individual.

Dr. Kim:

So, what are the countries that are high on collectivism? Again, a lot of countries in Asia tend to be higher on collectivism. Also, countries in South America, Middle East. Whereas countries that tend to be more individualistic tend to be United States, Australia, and New Zealand, a lot of the Western Europe countries, as well as Scandinavian countries.

Dr. Kim:

So, what are the implications of having teams composed of people from individualistic cultures versus collectivistic cultures? People that come from collectivistic cultures tend not to voice their opinion very much, especially if they think they’re going to rock the boat. And group harmony is very, very important in these cultures so therefore preserving, it’s the thing that is prioritized the most. Always decision making tends to emphasize group cohesion. And a lot of times collectivistic might find individualistic rude because they’re voicing their opinions strongly at times. And significant time is spent on relationship building in cultures that are more collectivistic.

Dr. Kim:

Individualistic cultures, on the other hand, when people disagree they’re more likely to voice their opinion. And I’m not saying that everybody will voice their opinion because it also comes down to personality a little bit, but there’s definitely a much stronger tendency for people to disagree if they don’t agree with what’s being [inaudible 00:16:25]. And decision making process emphasizes that everybody is being heard. An individualist may be frustrated by a collectivist as well. And there’s more emphasis on achieving things, on achievement than relationship or rapport building. So, you’re going to see that there’s definitely going to be some meaningful differences between cultures that emphasize individualism versus collectivism.

Dr. Kim:

Due to the limited amount of time that we have. I only discussed three aspects that I saw that I thought were very, very meaningful and also very critical to understand as a lot of people work in global context these days. And I want to summarize by saying whether we realize it or not, our communication styles are very much influenced and shaped by our own cultural background. The way we’ve been raised, the way our parents speak and communicate, the way our grandparents spoke and communicated. That, also, all of those things influence our own communication styles and these cultural differences are going to be very real.

Dr. Kim:

Someone comes from Asia is likely to communicate very differently from someone that was born and raised in the US, or from one of the Scandinavian countries. And the first step is always being aware of these differences, which will lead to superior better cross cultural collaboration. Not being cognizant of this differences really has the potential to lead to misunderstanding and conflict, and really decrease the chance of success of the team. So, whenever you have an opportunity to really increase your knowledge and understanding of this cross cultural differences, I think, that knowledge will really serve you well, as you work in global and multicultural context in the future. Thank you.

AJ:

Awesome. Thank you very much, Dr. Kim. Yes, thank you very much for all of that. So, I would like to go ahead and take this time and open up the Q&A,. if anybody has any questions, please feel free to go ahead and drop that in the Q&A box, and we’ll try to answer it as best as we can.

AJ:

All right so, it looks like we got a question here. So, Dr. Kim, how would you correct, I guess, kind of a cultural communication mistake? So, I guess, for example, if you’re coming from a low context culture to a high context culture, how would you rectify maybe a misunderstanding between two different communication styles?

Dr. Kim:

Yeah, thank you for that question. Based on my experience, I have seen cases where cultural differences have led to misunderstandings. I think always the best remedy for those situations is really just to be honest, and to let them know that it was not your intention to hurt their feelings, or be disrespectful or rude, that it was just an honest mistake. That maybe you are not aware of some of these differences. And people, typically, especially in a professional setting tend to respond well when people are honest about those things. And those things can be rectified. I mean, one of the beauty of this is that it looks like there’s a lot of things, a lot of differences, but really all these differences are manageable, and these are differences that can definitely manage. And even better, if people are just honest, and if something doesn’t go the way you expect, I mean, based on my experience in professional setting, just being very honest was the best remedy all the time.

AJ:

Awesome. Very good. Thank you. Let’s see, we’ve got another here. “What is your best advice on answering emails from different context?”

Dr. Kim:

Thank you for that question. Email can be a little bit trickier because because there’s no nonverbal communication. You can’t really see the facial expressions of the person. All you get is literally the email, the written part of it. So, it can be a little bit trickier. I think one of the things, even though we have cross cultural differences, people are different in the way they communicate. There is one common thing among all human beings, which is we have a fundamental desire to be valued and respected as people. And regardless of what those differences are, or cultural differences are an email can always be respectful, an email can always be kind, and an email always can be very honest.

Dr. Kim:

I think that when we value the other party, and we treat them with respect that’s really the key. And I there can be, of course, little misunderstanding. But what I felt, as I worked in a corporate world, is that if there is some level of respect for the other person, usually, a lot of these issues that we’re going to find are going to be resolved. But you’re right, I mean, email is a little more tricky because you can’t really see, you can’t really communicate non-verbally. It’s all in the email. And I think that gives us reasons to be more careful in the way we word things in email.

AJ:

Awesome. Thank you. Let’s see, we have another question here, “Since you’ve lived in so many different countries, Dr. Kim, what was the biggest culture shock that you noticed personally?”

Dr. Kim:

The biggest culture shock? So, for me, my parents are Korean, I was brought up in an Asian household, and I have a very heavy Asian influence in the way I talk. And one of the things that the Asian culture emphasizes a lot as a collectivistic culture, as I briefly explained before, is to not stand out. I don’t know if you know the Japanese idiom, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. It’s very much true in a lot of Asian cultures. We’re not an individualistic culture. We’re very much about harmony. We’re very much about blending in, not rocking the boat, not causing trouble. And coming from that kind of culture, I had a hard time participating at times, or in classroom settings, voicing my opinion when I disagreed, when in the US, obviously, that’s very much encouraged, and very much promoted that when people disagree they’re supposed to say what they feel, what they think.

Dr. Kim:

And it took some time for me to get used to that kind of thing, because that’s not necessarily the way I was educated, or the way I was brought up. And so, it took me a little bit of effort to get to that, but hey, now I’m teaching students, and asking them to volunteer for responses, and participate. So, definitely your style will change over time, but that was one of the biggest cultural shocks that I experienced.

AJ:

Got you. Yeah, that can definitely be very, very big coming from a culture where you’re taught to not stand out, but then when you go somewhere where individualism is highly encouraged, I’m sure that can be very difficult to navigate. Let’s see, what other questions do we have? So, okay, here we go, “How can teachers reconcile cultural differences when expecting verbal classroom participation?” So I guess, how would a professor or a teacher manage a diverse and multicultural classroom?

Dr. Kim:

Thank you for that question. I’ve had many instances where I taught a very diverse classroom and, I mean, some of the things that helped me personally was having this experience in various cultural backgrounds. But for someone who might not be as familiar with various cultural differences, I think, that your willingness to listen, and I think the biggest thing is the mindset. Not imposing a single cultural method on a multicultural situation. It’s the willingness to adapt, it’s the willingness to be open-minded, it’s the willingness to listen. And it’s the willingness to constantly adjust, because none of us are going to be perfect. Clearly, I know some cultures, but I don’t know a lot of other cultures. And I think what’s really going to matter is for people to be, for teachers to be open, to listen and to adapt to the diverse composition of the classroom.

AJ:

Got you. Thank you. Let’s see, what other questions do we have here? “How well would you say other cultures understand the differences in cultures around the world?” So, I guess, how well do some cultures understand the differences between their communication style and maybe somebody else’s?

Dr. Kim:

I think that a lot of it depends. So, for instance, I think it’s difficult to generalize. It will depend to some extent on the kinds of experiences that you have, what kinds of friends you had, what kind of work experience you had, what kind of school you went to. And also, quite frankly, the extent to which you’re interested in these topic to begin with. So, I have relatives who have no idea about other cultures, they’ve mainly stayed in Korea. They interact mainly with other Koreans and it is what it is. Then, I also have relatives who’ve traveled more. For instance, I have a cousin that came to study at NYU. Obviously, the multicultural awareness of this person who studied at NYU in New York City is going to be very different from somebody who stayed in Korea their whole lives.

Dr. Kim:

So, I think in general, people who interact mainly from people from their own cultures, tend to have less of an understanding of other cultures. Now, if you expose yourself, and also if you’re interested in educating yourself and becoming more culturally sensitive, there’s definitely a lot of ways in which we can become more understanding, and have a better knowledge of other cultures. It’s difficult to generalize, to answer your question. It depends on a lot of things. For me, in particular, if I had stayed in Korea, worked there, everything there I would have definitely become less aware of some of these cultural differences that I’ve seen.

AJ:

Got you. Yeah, it’s very difficult to try to dive very deep into the details because I’m noticing it’s a lot of very minute details that come into play here. We, actually, have an interesting question here. It says, “Are there any major similarities across cultures that you’ve noticed?” We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how communication styles differ from one to another, but have you noticed that there’s any, I guess, commonality between some of the differences between a high context or low context, or maybe a high power distance versus a lower power distance, do they share anything with their communication styles?

Dr. Kim:

Yes, they share things. They definitely share some similarities, I think rather than specific forms of communications that they might share so, for instance, communication styles are certainly very different. I mean, the first thing, my reaction when I see my boss in Korea, the way I greet him might be very, very different from the way I greet my [inaudible 00:30:08] that we do have in common. And I noted that before is everybody desires, respect. I think a lot of the issues that arise from miscommunication is because one party often feels disrespected.

Dr. Kim:

It’s not this formality that creates conflict in the team. It’s like, “Oh, you didn’t say that.” Or, “You said this the wrong way.” It’s because deep down, they feel disrespected. And that’s where I think a lot of the issues arise. “Oh, you bypassed me, that’s disrespectful.” Or, “You did not communicate in this way, and that shows disrespect.” And I think that one thing that we do have in common is that everybody wants to feel valued and respected. And that’s where I start because that’s a fundamental human desire. And so, a lot of the differences are more manifestations of the culture. But something that we do all have in common is that. And if we start from there a lot of these differences can be resolved.

AJ:

Awesome. And I think you hit the nail on the head there. Everybody wants to feel heard, everybody wants to feel respected, for sure.

Dr. Kim:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

AJ:

All right. So, I will open it up to any questions that we may have from the audience. Let’s like we got one last question here. So, what is the expectation on, I guess, who conforms to which style when you deal in a multicultural setting? So, is there a baseline that we can operate around? Is it polite to ask somebody what their preferred communication style? I mean, what does that situation look like?

Dr. Kim:

I think the strategies come down to the preferences of each team, but there is different strategies that we can think about. And that’s something that we’re going to have to think about more carefully. Well, you can think about, for instance, what would be something that would make sense? Is it adapting to each other’s styles? Do we need some kind of a structural intervention? Do we need some kind of a managerial intervention? Or if all fails, sometimes groups exit the situation. Is it smart to subdivide the task, so that one culture can do this, and another culture can do that?

Dr. Kim:

What happens if the team [inaudible 00:32:58]? There is all kinds of things that might be at play. And the strategy that you’re going to use might be a little bit different depending on what kind of situation you’re in. So, I don’t know if there’s a default sort of a strategy that we might always fall back on. I think, it’s going to depend on a lot of factors, and that is something that it would be like a whole different class because there’s are so much on that topic. But just to give you a flavor of that, I think it will so much depend on the content.

AJ:

Got you. Awesome, thank you very much. Well, thank you very much, everybody. At this time, we’ll wrap up our Q&A and we’ll finish up for today. Thank you so much, Dr. Kim, I really appreciate you taking time and talking to us about this. If anybody here is even more interested, Dr. Kim is a professor in our online MBA program here at Rider, so please feel free to reach out to us, if this is something that you’re interested in moving forward with. Again, thank you, Dr. Kim, for speaking with us today. We are currently accepting applications, so if anybody is interested in applying to the online MBA program, give us a call. You can reach us at the number on your screen, 877-856-5140. You can also email us at admissions@online.rider.edu. And you can also schedule an appointment with our live vCita calendar and to speak with one of our enrollment advisors today. Again, Dr. Kim, thank you so much for joining us. Everybody in the audience, thank you so much for joining us. Everyone have a great day. Bye.

Dr. Kim:

Thank you so much.