Miscommunication With Local Staff English Language Essay

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As we have discussed in the previous chapter, proficiency and understanding of in the host country`s spoken language plays an essential role in the expatriate`s overall ability to cope with everyday life as well as more successfully perform in business. In this section we want to focus on miscommunication with local staff. At first, we want to discuss the aspect of verbal communication and related problem areas which can result in miscommunication. After that we will have a closer look on cultural driven behaviors in communication which can lead to miscommunication. In the end we will relate our findings to the hypotheses.

Some of our findings which are presented in this chapter are based on personal experiences through internships for at least four to six months at MNCs located in the Kanto area. Our superiors and at the same time German expatriates were mostly assigned to Japanese subsidiaries for periods of times between six months up to several years. Most of them hold a mid-position to high-position leading a sub department (HR Policy and Development; Controlling).

Although major importance of language skills is acknowledged, German expatriate managers often do not speak Japanese sufficiently. [1] In a comparison between their English language skills and their Japanese language skills, there often is a gap. In general, prior to going overseas preparing and training for assignees of cross-cultural or language training is suggested in respective literature. At a minimum, to ensure more effective communication, language learning strategies should be provided by the company. [2] Nevertheless, surveys find that only about 35 percent of US firms offer any pre-departure training for their assignees. [3] Numbers for Asian and European firms are likely not to differ from that. [4] 

Whereas intensive Japanese language training seems not very common prior to going overseas, during a foreign assignment many expatriate managers are given the opportunity to learn Japanese. In our MNCs Japanese language courses were organized for expatriate managers and local hires once a week. Language proficiency assessments were made beforehand to provide lessons on appropriate levels.

Many expatriates have realized that it is highly respected, even admired, by local staff if one makes the effort to learn their language. [5] However, language skills mostly remain on a mediate to intermediate level due to lack of time for studying. Additionally, in the Diaspora communities the paradox opinion has been formed that Japanese tend to change their positive attitude towards Japanese learners as they reach a high level of mastering the language. [6] This also diminishes the expatriates' motivation to study the language to that extent that communication completely in Japanese will be possible with local staff without major risks of misunderstandings. At the beginning of an overseas assignment most expatriate managers maintain communication in English if need is with the assistance of a translator. Often this is the case when content is difficult to explain and basic language skills are not sufficient to communicate logically. We were attending meetings where translators assisted to ensure employees without sufficient English skills can understand and follow. In this context we have noticed individual communication behaviors which resulted in a failure of proper communication. Translators found it difficult to translate English messages of a German expatriate into Japanese as his manner of speaking relied on using a lot of metaphors. Local staff reported that they did not understand the abstract meaning and were confused with seemingly irrelevant messages. For us, who we are used to abstract examples to depict circumstances, we had fewer problems to anticipate the actual meaning.

Kushal identifies five barriers of communication. If communication is affected by these barriers it results in miscommunication. Therefore, miscommunication can be defined as "a ruined form of communication. What is to be communicated does not get communicated and an obstructed form of the message is transmitted." [7] 

The previous given example relates to semantic or language barriers. The expatriate`s intention to reinforce his statements by giving abstract examples complicated communication and distracted from the essential content. Information should match the level of the receiver`s understanding. Faulty choice of words in direct communication with local staff and, to greater extent, faulty translations by a translator are likely to build up barriers. A translator, as intermediate function to bring meaning into words of a different language and retaining the logical context, has to understand the sender`s message at first, before he can transfer information to the receiver. This means, there will be an additional communication channel between after expatriate - translator first, and translator - Japanese staff second, which advantages barriers to be built. Accordingly, use of easy language and the elimination of any information that does not directly contribute to the purpose can be advised in order to reduce risk of miscommunication.

From the Japanese Management`s point of view violation of organizational structures are one of the major problems which can also negatively affect the relationship between local employees and expatriate manager. With regard to organizational barriers in communication expatriates are advised to adhere to existing hierarchical structures. Due to the lack of sufficient Japanese language skills expatriates tend to believe that they are not up to date about what is going on in the company. They cannot talk to colleagues and staff that easily or understand what they are talking about. Consequently they are reliant on obtaining information. Directly asking staff for necessary information seems to be the most effective and time saving way. However if this would happen and there is a Japanese manager superior and responsible for the contacted staff member, it equals a disregard of hierarchy. The result is that the Japanese manager will lose face and the working atmosphere might get worse.

Another aspect which influences communication is personal barriers. In this context expatriate managers should be aware of the concepts of "tatemae" and "hone". Honna and Hoffer define: "These two words are often considered a dichotomy contrasting genuinely-held personal feelings and opinions from those that are socially controlled. Honne is one`s deep motive or intention, while tatemae refers to motives or intentions that are socially-turned, those that are shaped, encouraged, or suppressed by majority norms." [8] For many people, one`s words and actual intentions do not always agree. Tatemae are called one`s superficial words - contrary to honne which expresses one`s actual intentions. For Japanese it is considered a virtue not to directly express one`s real feelings and intentions. [9] As a result Japanese people make use of these concepts extensively and take them for granted in daily life. Another reason for that is a great respect for harmony in Japanese society. It is called the spirit of wa (å’Œ). Tatemae is used to maintain this harmony and create a comfortable atmosphere. [10] Consequently also expatriate managers might have to see themselves confronted with tatemae, especially in situation which cannot entirely go smoothly and conflicts might occur. When asked for a personal opinion or critics one can not be sure, wheter an answer is real (honne) or just a positve response out of politeness towards a superior. In Japan these concepts are not seen as hypocrisy. [11] Knowing this background is important to avoid such like miscommunication and not to take Japanese as „two-faced", sneaky or underhanded.

Against the background of different attitudes and expectations of expatriate managers and local staff communication is influenced. Regarding decision-making there has also been found out differences in mutual communication. We will have a look at four aspects in this process. Moosmüller states that (1) German expatriates want to convince their Japanese colleagues, whereas Japanese want to "allure" expatriates; (2) Expatriates want to achieve that by "arguing", whereas Japanese staff employees want to "inform" them. (3) Therefore expatriates approach only certain people, whereas Japanese turn to everyone. (4) In the end expatriates want to "take a decision", whereas Japanese colleagues want to "bring about a decision". [12] 

But not only in communicating verbally miscommunication happens. It is a common situation for expatriates to face local Japanese staff which remains silent during a meeting. A wrong interpretation of this seemingly passive and uninterested communication behavior might result in frustration. However, for Japanese people to remain silent is an accepted response. It is not regarded as a failed attempt of communication, but moreover as a part of interaction. Lull in conversation is taken as relaxing, appropriate and polite. Who is silent, shows that he is listening and learning. He shows his respect and at the same time keeps his privacy. Contrary, who does talk a lot reveals his selfishness and shows of his arrogance. [13] 

Since the 1960 intellectuals and academics have been concerned with nihonjinron. Nihonjinron is a discourse dealing with the uniqueness of Japanese culture, language, economy, psyche and physis. It was shared through all different social and educational groups and lead to a distinctive cultural awareness of the Japanese. One of the most popular nihonjinron-authors is linguist Suzuki. He describes a "unique Japanese way of communication" which includes anticipation and intuition to a great extent. These predominant characteristics in communication behavior are evident for a high-context culture, such as the Japanese. Lebra (1976) states „the behavior of individuals in a high-context culture reflects the value of thinking before speaking, of modesty in acts and speech." This concept is related to the context of empathy, with its value on sensitivity and responsiveness. It is essential for the speaker to avoid superficiality and poor subtleties.

The model below shows a comparison of country-specific communication behavior. It shows that in Asian countries like Japan, high-context-communication prevails. Implicit nonverbal messages are of central importance; in low-context cultures like Germany explicit verbal messages are emphasized (Hall, 1976).

Another reason for silence during meetings is the fear of losing face. Negative answers and open disagreement are avoided as they cause other people to become embarrassment and tend to „strip off" their „face". [14] 

To bring to a conclusion we want to relate our findings to the key hypothesis. Conforming the results of the chapter of language barriers, for miscommunication with local staff in the background of culture-distance we come to similar results. It can be confirmed that expatriate managers with greater culture-distance will be less able to successfully use problem-focused coping strategies. It is obvious that language proficiency is a key factor for successful performance. However, someone with even limited Japanese skills will be able to maintain communication better and avoid miscommunication if his culture-distance is lower than someone with similar language skills but greater culture-distance. The explanation is that knowledge and experience about culture-based differences in communication is more profound when someone has a similar cultural background.

Coming to the second hypothesis and the relation between higher rank of expatriate managers and miscommunication. Again, we can refer to the findings of the chapter of language barriers and state that higher rank not automatically causes higher success. The expatriate`s rank and their individual language proficiency only correlates to a certain extent. Nevertheless in our personal experience we found out that expatriate in a lower position (manager position) had more time to go to Japanese language courses or join nomikais after work with their Japanese colleagues compared to our superiors in a higher position (senior manager position). That is why in most cases their Japanese skills were more profound than managers in higher positions and the risk of miscommunication is reduced. As a consequence we can even state the opposite and say that expatriates who are in lower levels in the host countries will be able to more successfully use problem-focused coping strategies, compared with expatriates at higher organizational levels.

Finally we can confirm our last hypothesis which stated that expatriates who have spent more time in the host country will be able to more successfully use problem-focused coping strategies, compared with expatriates with less time on assignment. The longer an assignment lasts the longer will expatriates have the chance to pick up some Japanese phrases and words and get used to the communication behavior. This process can be accelerated and miscommunication reduced by learning and using Japanese as much as possible at work as well as in everyday life in the community. Japanese employees will highly regard the taken efforts and condone accidental grammatical mistakes.