Role of managers In cultures where egalitarianism is prized, team members tend to have equal say when making decisions and setting priorities, regardless of seniority. Managers are seen as organizers and enablers, helping to set strategy, remove roadblocks, and otherwise grease the skids for moving in the right direction.
In cultures where hierarchy is important, managers typically make decisions and pass them down to team members, who implement the decisions and report back to management.
Willingness to sacrifice personal time Some cultures abhor the notion of giving up personal time for work. Weeknights, weekends, holidays, and vacations are sacrosanct.
People from other cultures quite frequently, though not necessarily happily, forgo personal time if needed.
• Question 1 Work: What are their views about work and work rules?
• Question 2 Time: What is their approach to time, especially with regard to starting and ending times for meetings, being on time for appointments, expected response time for action requests, hours of the regular workday, and so on?
• Question 3 Beliefs: What are the dominant religious and philosophical belief systems in the culture, and how do they affect the workplace?
• Question 4 Gender: What are their views of equality of men and women in the workplace, and how do these views affect their actions?
• Question 5 Personal Relationships: What degree of value is placed on close personal relationships among people doing business with each other?
• Question 6 Teams: What part does teamwork have in their business, and, accordingly, how is individual initiative viewed?
• Question 7 Communication Preferences: What types of business communication are valued most—formal writing, informal writing, formal presentations, casual meetings, e-mail, phone conversations?
• Question 8 Negotiating: What are their expectations for the negotiation process, and, more specifically, how do they convey negative information?
• Question 9 Body Language: What types of body language are most common in the culture, and how do they differ from your own?
• Question 10 Writing Options: What writing conventions are most important to them, especially in prose style and the organization of information? How important is the design of the document in relationship to content and organization?
To be sure, asking these questions does not mean we bow to attitudes that conflict with our own ethical values, as in the equal treatment of women in the workplace. It only means that we first seek to comprehend cultures with which we are dealing before we operate within them. Intercultural knowledge translates into power in the international workplace. If we are aware of diversity, then we are best prepared to act.
2 A good overview of this subject can be found in E. A. Thrush. (2001). High-context and low-context cultures: How much communication is too much? In D. S. Bosley (ed.), Global contexts: Case studies in international communication(pp. 27–41). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
3 The questions in this section are drawn from information in two excellent sources for the student of international communication: I. Varner & L. Beamer. (1995). Intercultural communication in the global workplace. Chicago: Irvin; and D. P. Victor. (1992). International business communication. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
It might help to see how some of these issues were addressed by Sarah Logan, a marketing specialist who transferred to M-Globals Tokyo office three years ago. In her effort to find new clients for M-Globals services, she discovered much about the Japanese culture that helped her and her colleagues do business in Japan. For example, she learned that Japanese workers at all levels depend more on their identification with a group than on their individual identity. Thus Sarahs marketing prospects in Japan felt most comfortable discussing their work as a corporate department or team, rather than their individual interests or accomplishments—at least until a personal relationship was established.
Sarah learned that an essential goal of Japanese employees is what they call wa—harmony among members of a group and, for that matter, between the firm and those doing business with it. Accordingly, her negotiations with the Japanese often took an indirect path. Personal relationships usually were established and social customs usually observed before any sign of business occurred. A notable exception, she discovered, occurred among the smaller, more entrepreneurial Japanese firms, where employees often displayed a more Western predisposition toward getting right down to business.
She also discovered that Japanese business is dominated by men more than in her own culture, and that there tends to be more separation of men and women in social contexts. Although this cultural feature occasionally frustrated her, she tried to focus on understanding behavior rather than judging it from her own perspective. Moreover, she knew Japan is making changes in the role of women. Indeed, her own considerable success in getting business for M-Global suggested that Japanese value ability and hard work most of all.
Like Sarah Logan, you should enter every intercultural experience with a mind open to learning about those with whom you will work. Adjust your communication strategies so that you have the best chance of succeeding in the international marketplace. Intercultural awareness does not require that you jettison your own ethics, customs, or standards; instead, it provides you with a wonderful opportunity to learn about, empathize with, and show respect for the views of others.
This section includes guidelines for writing and designing English-language documents so that multinational readers can understand and translate them more easily.
When writing documents for other cultures, remember that your work will not be read in the cultural context in which it was written. For that matter, you may lose control of the document altogether if it is translated into a language that you do not know. In order to help solve this problem, organizations such as Intecom and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe have worked to develop and promote Simplified English, also known as Controlled English. (See Chapter 17 for more information about Simplified English style.) The goal of Simplified English is to eliminate ambiguity, improve translation, and make reading English easier for nonnative English speakers. Following are some basic guidelines to reduce the risk of misunderstanding:
• 1. Simplify grammar and style rules. It is best to write in clear language—with relatively simple syntax and short sentences—so that ideas cannot be misunderstood.
• 2. Use simple verb tenses and verb constructions. For example, constructions like gerunds and the progressive can have multiple meanings, and some languages dont have an equivalent to the passive voice.
• 3. Limit vocabulary to words with clear meanings. Compound words or phrases used as subjects of sentences can be confusing and difficult to translate. The European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA) identifies a list of approved words. AECMAs guidelines can be found at http://www.techscribe.co.uk/ta/aecma-simplified-english.pdf.
• 4. Use language and terminology consistently. Texts are easier to read and translate if they follow this rule: “one meaning per word and one word per meaning.”
• 5. Define technical terms. All good technical writing includes well-defined terminology, but this feature is especially important in international writing. A glossary remains an effective tool for helping international readers.
• 6. Avoid slang terms and idioms. A nonnative speaker or someone from outside the United States may be unfamiliar with phrases you use every day. The ever-popular sports metaphors such as “ballpark estimate,” “hitting a home run,” and “lets punt on this” present obvious obstacles for some readers. Use phrasing that requires little cultural context.
• 7. Include visuals. Graphics are a universal language that allows readers entry into the meaning of your document, even if they have difficulty with the text.
Ethics in the Workplace
This section outlines the ethical context in which all workers do their jobs. The goals are (1) to present six related guidelines for the workplace, and (2) to show how ethical guidelines can be applied to a specific activity—writing. At the end of this chapter and throughout the book are assignments in which your own ethical decisions play an important role.
Ethical Guidelines for Work
As in your personal life, your professional life holds many opportunities for demonstrating your views of what is right or wrong. There is no way to escape these ethical challenges. Most occur daily and without much fanfare, but cumulatively they compose our personal approach to morality. Thus our belief systems, or lack thereof, are revealed by how we respond to this continuous barrage of ethical dilemmas.
Obviously, not everyone in the same organization—let alone the same industry or profession—has the same ethical beliefs, nor should they. After all, each persons understanding of right and wrong flows from individual experiences, upbringing, religious beliefs, and cultural values. Some ethical relativists even argue that ethics only makes sense as a descriptive study of what people do believe, not a prescriptive study of what they should believe. Yet there are some basic ethical guidelines that, in our view, should be part of the decision-making process in every organization. These guidelines apply to small employers, just as they apply to large multinational organizations. Although they may be displayed in different ways in different cultures, they should transcend national identity, cultural background, and family beliefs. In other words, these guidelines represent what, ideally, should be the core values for employees at international companies.
The guidelines in this section are common in many professional codes of ethics. These are general guidelines and provide a good foundation for ethical behavior in the workplace. However, you should also become familiar with the ethical guidelines specific to your employer and professional organizations.
Ethics Guideline 1: Be Honest
First, you should relate information accurately and on time—to your colleagues, to customers, and to outside parties, such as government regulators. This guideline also means you should not mislead listeners or readers by leaving out important information that relates to a situation, product, or service, including information about any conflicts of interest. You should interpret data carefully and present estimates as accurately as possible. In other words, give those with whom you communicate the same information that you would want presented to you.
Ethics Guideline 2: Be Fair
You should treat those around you fairly, regardless of differences in race, religion, disability, age, or gender. You should also be aware of, and respect, differences in culture. This is especially important as business becomes more global.
Ethics Guideline 3: Be Professional
When you are working, you represent your profession. Therefore, you should act in an honorable manner and meet deadlines with quality work. You also should keep current on developments in your field, join a professional organization like the Association of Computing Machinerys Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (ACM SIGDOC), read journal and magazine articles in your field, and participate in continuing-education activities.
Ethics Guideline 4: Honor Intellectual Property Rights
Of course you should follow copyright and patent laws, but you should also respect the work that others have put into developing and presenting their ideas. Credit others for ideas, text, or images that you have used. When collaborating with others, show appreciation for their contributions, and welcome their input. Offer and accept feedback that will make the final product stronger.
Ethics Guideline 5: Respect Confidentiality
Remember that you are acting on the part of both your employer and your clients. Disclose sensitive information only with permission, and obtain written releases before you share materials. This guideline is especially important for contract and freelance workers, who must have a portfolio of accomplishments to share with prospective clients. If you share confidential information with a prospective client, you show that you cannot be trusted with sensitive material.