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Robert Brown, the president team of Brown Casual Shoes, Inc. Company from the United States intends to expand the company's sales by venturing into international marketplace. Mr. Brown decides to negotiate with Chung Sun Manufacturing Company of China so as to sign a business contract with the company. Various culture and communication problems are identified given that the two countries were different. Additionally, a literature review is included concerning the two culture/communication models that are used to analyse the case: Hofstede's model of national culture and Edward Hall's cultural/communication model. There is also a recommendation to on how the problems could be resolved to ensure that there is an effective intercultural communication.
The purpose of this report is to identify culture and communication problems in the 'East Meets West in Shoe Manufacturing Negotiations' case. Two culture/communication models are used to analyse the case so as to present appropriate recommendations that will assist in solving the communication and culture problems in future.
Identification of Problems/Issues
There were a number of intercultural, verbal and non verbal communication problems.
3.1 Intercultural communication issues
Intercultural communication takes place when two or more individuals from different cultural backgrounds assemble to exchange non-verbal and verbal symbols. Intercultural communication is generally contextual. There are various intercultural issues related to culture and communication: the meeting between Robert Brown's team of Brown Casual Shoes, Inc. Company from the United States and Mr. Li Kim Son of Chung Sun Manufacturing Company from China. The team from the United States desired to discuss about business while the Chinese team was more interested in relationships and more personal issues. This was a hindrance to communication between the two groups; this is because the conversations mainly focused on the Chinese culture and nation, the United States as well as other personal questions. The United States' team found it difficult to present their business proposal. On the second day of the meeting between Brown Casual Shoes, Inc. Company and Chung Sun Manufacturing Company, Mr. Brown managed to present his company's proposal. However, there were various communication problems: the Chinese team could not wait for him to finish with his presentation before asking questions.
Additionally, Mr. Brown did not understand the Chinese culture: he presents his first toast and he did not know who was supposed to leave first. Another intercultural issue arose when Mr. Brown realized that he dad to organise to another trip for him to close the business deal. They frequently asked questions and this made it difficult for Mr. Brown to finish his presentation. The interruptions by the Chinese made the time shorter that Mr. Brown had to organize for another business trip to sign a contract with Chung Sun Manufacturing Company. Given that two parties from different from different cultural backgrounds came together to exchange ideas by use of Mrs Wang Chu Jiang as their translator, the communication was intercultural.
3.2 Verbal intercultural communication
Verbal intercultural communication took place when the two teams from different cultures used words to communicate. The two teams were hindered by language barrier: the team from the United States was very uncomfortable during the meeting because they did not understand the Chinese language. On the other hand, only one member of the Chinese team could speak fluent English. Mr. Brown and Mr. Li used English language to orally communicate so as to set up a meeting between the two groups. The English teams also used Mrs Wang Chu Jiang as their translator: they were not comfortable because she came from the Chinese company and there was a possibility that she could be biased.
3.3 Non- verbal intercultural communication issues
Mr Brown and his team from the United States were welcomed by Mr. Li Kim Son with a handshake and a bow; this is non-verbal intercultural communication. Use of gifts is also a type of non-verbal communication; Mr. Deng received a gift from Mr Brown that was wrapped using white paper, this signifies death in the Chinese culture. Additionally, Mr. Brown's act of grasping Mr. Deng's arm gently is a type of non-verbal communication; it is a token of friendship in the United States culture while it seemed to be disrespectful in Chinese culture.
Hofstede's and Hall's cultural and communication models can be best used to examine the cultural and communication differences between China and the United States. Hofstede model of national culture mentions five cultural dimensions namely: power-distance, collectivism against individualism, femininity against masculinity, uncertainty avoidance as well as long-term orientation versus short-term orientation (Hostetler, 1993). Power distance is defined as the distance between people of different ranks within an organisation. Subordinates in an organization are less expected to contradict their superiors. Collectivism against individualism is the association between a person and his/her colleagues (Hofstede, 2001). Uncertainty avoidance is the desire to avoid uncertainties concerning the future. In femininity against masculinity, masculine cultures value ambition, aggressiveness and high profits whereas femininity is closely linked with the desire for extrinsic compensations and material achievements, the value of money and possessions, aggressiveness and ambitiousness, competitiveness and power (Vellnagel, 2010).
Hofstede's model has a number of weaknesses: the model assumes that culture characterizes National Territory (Samovar, Porter & McDaniel, 2011). Secondly, all the informers worked in one industry. The model also had technical difficulties. Another weakness of Hofstede's model is that the averages of a nation similar to the citizens of that particular country. Despite the fact that this model is appropriate when it is applied to populations in general, all people cannot be categorized into one cluster.
The model is appropriate when it is used as a lead to understand cultural differences between different nations. Hofstede's model has a number of strengths: the model is most applicable to management issues. Secondly, it is possible to compare different national cultures. The model is also highly relevant (Paul, 2011).
Edward Hall defines culture as individuals' lifestyle; he believes that culture is a combination of their learned conducts, their mind-sets as well as material things (Hall, E., & Hall, M., 1990). According to Hall, individuals are generally ignorant of their cultural habituation and the concealed differences in their way of thinking and thus, creating barriers to intercultural understanding.
Edward Hall classified communication context into low-context cultures and high-context cultures. High context cultures have long-term relationships and their mode of communication is swift, efficient and economical (Vellnagel, 2012). Additionally, they have a variety of communicative expressions and individuals who possess power are accountable for the activities within the organization. Additionally, they mainly make oral deals rather than written agreements. Additionally, the insiders and the outsiders are not treated equally; they are differentiated (Davis & Presmanes, 2000).
On the other hand, low context cultures have short-term relationships and their messages and communication is made explicit. The power is diffused and the agreements and deals are mainly put in written form and not verbally spoken. Amongst the weaknesses of Hall's model is that it mainly makes use of qualitative insights instead of quantitative data. Hall's model is helpful in understanding how different cultural groups form business relationships. Hall's model also suggests that individuals must examine the meaning as well as the context of the words for them to understand communications (Mattock, 2003).
One common limitation in both Hofstede's and Hall's models is that they both assume that 'culture' is identical to national identities, accordingly the equally ignored internal tribes and linguistic diversities. These types of diversities gradually shift and change, particularly as the processes of migration and globalization bring about fresh "third" identities that characterize complex and changing hybridizations of past cultural patterns (Mottl, 2003).
Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions model will be appropriate to understand cultural differences between the United States culture and the China culture. The 'East Meets West in Shoe Manufacturing Negotiations' case shows all the elements identified by Geert Hofstede: power-distance, femininity against masculinity, collectivism against individualism, uncertainty avoidance as well as long-term orientation versus short-term orientation (Mottl, 2003).
Power distance is defined as the distance between people of different ranks within an organisation. Power distance shows power equality and how it should be dispersed in the organization from the view point of the subordinates (Hofstede, Pedersen & Hofstede, 2002). There was power distance in the case: In the United States team, there was power distance between Mr. Robert Brown, the president of Brown Casual Shoes, Inc., and Mr. Harry Livingstone, his senior vice-president. In the China team, there was power distance between Mr. Li Kim Son and Mr. Deng Kim Less who was the president of Chung Sun Manufacturing Company. Subordinates in an organization are less expected to contradict their superiors. In this case, Mr. Brown and Mr. Deng were the key individuals in the business agreement. Mr. Harry and Mr. Li were just subordinates they were not expected to challenge their superiors. There was also collectivism vs. Individualism in the two companies: the employees have a good relationship with one another.
Collectivism against individualism is the association between a person and his/her colleagues. Masculinity is evident in the case just as proposed by Hofstede, is evident in the manner in which Mr. Brown, the Brown Casual Shoes Company's president valued ambition, aggressiveness and high profits in his company. Uncertainty avoidance was evident in the case since the teams intended to avoid uncertainties concerning the future.
Edward Hall categorized communication context into low-context cultures and high-context cultures. According to Hall's model, low context cultures like the United States have explicit and direct communication whereas high-context cultures' communication is implicit and indirect just like the Chinese. Low context cultures use informal handshakes where as high context cultures use formal hugs, handshakes as well as bows (Niemeier, Campbell, & Dirven, 1998). For low-context cultures, they mainly eat fast-foods whereas for high context cultures, eating is a social event. Low context cultures are very time conscious- promptness in valued, for them time is money while in high context cultures, they are elastic and time is equal to relationships. The mental process and learning in low context cultures is rational, linear, and sequential and they focus on problem solving whereas high context culture accept challenges in life and the learning process is holistic and agile. Low context cultures are mainly business oriented and the incentives are based on achievements. On the other hand, high context cultures are relationship oriented and incentives are awarded according to seniority (Hall, E., & Hall, M., 1990).
In this case, the United States' team can be categorized as a low context culture whereas the Chinese team can be classified as high context culture. This is because the United States team used informal handshakes where as the Chinese team used formal hugs, handshakes as well as bows for greetings. For the Chinese team, the business meeting was a social event and they were not time conscious. On the other hand, the team from the United States was mainly interested in the business proposal. The Chinese team could not wait for Mr. Brown to finish with his business presentation before asking questions. They frequently asked questions and this made it difficult for Mr. Brown to finish his presentation. The interruptions by the Chinese made the time shorter that Mr. Brown had to organize for another business trip to sign a contract with Chung Sun Manufacturing Company.
The two cultures should break assumptions: both the team from the United States and the host team from china should break assumption concerning each other's culture and come to a common understanding (Trompenaars, 1993). For intercultural communication to be effective, Mr. Brown's team from the United States need to understand that China comes from high-context culture and they are not time conscious. The United States team needs to understand that China values relationships, and the China team needs to understand that the team from the United States values time and for that reason, they should learn to ask questions after the presentation.
It is important for both teams to understand empathy so as to appreciate other people's behaviour and cultures. The team should the United States should understand that in order to come to an agreement with the Chinese, they would have to set aside extra time. Mr. Brown should have organized for a two days meeting rather than a one day meeting. On the other hand, the Chinese team should understand that a gentle grasp on the arm is a sign of friendship in the United States culture. The Chinese should also understand that the motioning of a finger is not a sign of disrespect. Empathy is important for effective communication to take place (Church et al., 2006).
The two teams should employ a one dimensional and closed technique in understanding each other's cultures. Intercultural communication can be effective if both teams are encouraged to put their cultural differences to the table and share thoughts that could be outside the box (Mottl, 2003).