Communicating across cultures can be a challenge. Did you hear that Canon had to recall a bunch of cameras because when you snapped a picture the camera went
Module 7 - Communication What's the benefit of studying this topic?
Communication is a taken-for-granted skill. But becoming a successful leader of a diverse work unit requires a wider
understanding and increased attention to your communications. Module 7
Communication for Multi-cultures: An Aspect of Leadership
Scenario 1: Bernice, at the New Jersey company headquarters, reviewed Stephan's plan e-mailed from the Polish
project location. He requested printed materials by 6/5/09. Bernice made a notation to collect and then send the
documents by carrier to arrive on June 4, a day early. On May 6, Stephan e-mailed again suggesting the documents
were late. Bernice was taken aback! What happened? Stephan was using the European form for noting dates, which
places uses day/month/year. Bernice was interpreting the due date using American practice of month/day/year.
Scenario 2: If we seek to understand people, we must try to put ourselves, as far as we can, in that particular historical
and cultural background. . . . It is not easy for a person of one country to enter into the background of another country.
(Jawaharlal Nehru in Adler, 2008, p.69)
Communication: Processes and channels by which people exchange meaning. According to Adler (2008, p. 70), ?it is my attempt to let you know what I mean. Communication includes any behavior another person perceives and
interprets: it is your understanding of what I mean. Communication includes sending both verbal messages (words) and
nonverbal messages (tone of voice, facial expressions, behavior, physical setting, etc.)?
Perception and Misperception: How a person gathers ideas and information. Because there is so much information
from which to choose, people develop patterns or habits for perceiving. These perceptual patterns are selective,
learned, culturally determined, consistent, and inaccurate, which leads to misperception.
Interpretation and Misinterpretation: When a person assigns meaning to what is seen or experienced. These
processes allow for organizing experience so that it can guide behavior and interactions. Again, according to Adler
(2008, p. 72), Communication does not necessarily result in understanding. Cross-cultural communication continually
involves misunderstanding, caused by misinterpretation, and misevaluation.?
Stereotypes: Categorization that may guide our behavior or opinion toward various groups. Stereotypes can be helpful
or harmful if inaccurate. According to Adler (2008, p. 77), stereotypes become helpful if they are: a) Consciously held; b)
Descriptive rather than evaluative; c) Accurate; d) Modified after observation.
Evaluation and Misevaluation: The activities in which a person makes a judgment about the quality of an
interpretation. These processes are also a part of forming plans and decisions. Also, interpretation should be
considered when developing a skill for decision making. For more information about decision making and multicultural, diverse workers, see module on the topic.
Semantics: The study of the meaning of words. Confusion in communication may arise when individuals consider
words to have different meanings.
Idioms: words or phrases that have a different meaning than the words on their own. They are normally unique to a
language, do not translate well, and consequently may cause confusion in communication. Some English idioms are: A
piece of cake; Break a leg; A chip on your soldier; and It ain?t over ?til the fat lady sings. Perception
Ladder of Inference Helps to Identify How People Interpret Information
Two readings in the OER touch on the concept of the Ladder of Inference: Ladder of Inference (na), and Ayers?
Leadership, Shared Meaning, and Semantics. The concept of The Ladder was first attributed to American business
theorist Chris Argyris.
The reading Ladder of Inference begins by stating ?In today's fast-moving world, we are always under pressure to act
now, rather than spend time reasoning things through and thinking about the true facts. Not only can this lead us to a
wrong conclusion, but it can also cause conflict with other people, who may have drawn quite different conclusions on
the same matter.? Adler (2008, p. 75) elaborates: ?Because we are constantly bombarded with more stimuli than we can
absorb and more perceptions than we can keep distinct or interpret, we only perceive those images that may be
meaningful to us.?
The Ladder of Inference concept uses the rungs of a step ladder as a device to illustrate the concept.
6. First step ~ Selection: Of all the possible stimuli or impressions in a situation, which one does your brain select?
Second step ~ Meaning: Tempered by our beliefs and prior experience.
Third step ~ Conclusion: Interpretation.
Fourth step ~ Assumptions
Fifth step ~ Beliefs: Developed and based on conclusions
Sixth step ~ Action: That seem ?right? because they are based on what we believe A Simple Illustration of Steps 1-3
"I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk,
and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I
cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he. "It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems
remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction (Doyle, 1897).
Communication and Leadership
If a leader is defined by the vision he creates, his ability to persuade is the currency of his success. To be able to
persuade, the leader must care about his message, must care about his audience, be able to connect with his audience
and be willing to fully share with them.
Communications is two-way and depends on both effective speaking and effective listening. Kouzes & Posner, highly
regarded experts on leadership theory stated, "Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue" (1997, p 11). But how often
do you observe a leader talking on and on? A leader's ability to master "active listening" skills will impact directly you
and your ability to engage others and then gain their commitment. Respecting people's time and ideas through active
listening paves the way for essential information flowing in several directions, not just downward. Kouzes & Posner
state, "Listening to what the other person has to say and appreciating their viewpoints demonstrates respect for others
and their ideas" (p. 168). In taking time to focus on listening actively and with respectful, a leader creates
But in today's world we have many channels for communication and all of these must be used effectively to achieve
leader success and to aid you in your professional life. Leaders must be able to simplify their messages and align them so that your meaning makes sense to multiple
audiences. The use of stories, metaphors, examples, and anecdotes are all tools of the effective communicator. Rituals,
ceremonies, visual reminders and humor add to your success. Lincoln, for example, was a master of the use of stories. His use of "down home" figures of speech, symbols and colloquial expressions helped his audiences relate to him.
Whether he was speaking to a General, Cabinet Officer or a farmer who stopped by the Oval Office, Lincoln employed
the use of stories to create an accepting context to communicate his ideas, opinions and decisions easily.
There are many twists and turns in helping people to have the meaning you intend for a plan. What happens if a worker
misinterprets the message; perceives a different message; or only receives part of the message? How do you know as
quickly as possible that you have not been clear? How do you recoup? To add insight, your mission is to assess and
look around your organization, your family, your friends, and see how messages are sent and received.
Nonverbal communication is increasingly influenced by technology. Through the use of video teleconferencing and
social media, the non-verbal forms of communications are distorted. Clues are missing. Message details, longer
explanations often echo and add to misinterpretation. How much more conscious are you about getting your intention
across to others when you are in a teleconference? Do some people talk in great detail while others are silent? Or, in a
conference call, do you notice the changes in tone of voice and pace of speech? How do you interpret the
communication filtered through technology? Interpersonal communication is also more and more distributed through software applications. We live in a fast paced
world. There are lots of new acronyms like LOL, WSY, LMAO, etc. People send emails with words that they would
never say in person to ANYONE. THEY TYPE IN ALL CAPS, which as you know, is perceived as yelling. These
communication trends also convey meaning and you must determine how you choose to use these ?or not use them?
when seeking to be professional and respectful of others.
Finally, cultural expectations within communication exchanges convey meanings from touch, use of eyes, and other
social behaviors. For instance, touching or using your left hand is not used by the Islamic and Hindu cultures. Islamic cultures generally don't approve of any touching between genders. But such touching including hand holding and hugs
between same-sex is considered to be appropriate. Eye contact is not always pertinent in every culture. Some Western
cultures see direct eye contact as positive. Ever heard your parents say, "Look at me when I'm taking to you!" Arabic
cultures make prolonged eye-contact, they believe it shows interest and helps them understand truthfulness of others.
However, in Asian and some Caribbean cultures, avoiding eye contact shows respect. What do I do if they don't speak my language? Adapted from Adler (2008) p. 90.
Challenge Action to Try Verbal Speak slowly; avoid slang or "insider" jargon.
Repeat important ideas, using different words to explain.
Use short sentences.
Use active, not passive verbs (action verbs are shorter, avoid forms of the "is, are" in the
Be face to face as much as possible. Nonverbal Use as many visual tools ?power points, images, photos, tables, graphs; consider more "on
site" demonstration to convey specific, important plans and tasks.
Use appropriate hand and face gestures (and do research beforehand to avoid gestures
that may offend).
Have summary of presentation/plan, other important information available as handouts. Interpreting Accurately Observe silences among others.
When other people are silent, wait until they speak. (This action may be especially useful
when working across a more collective-oriented society and a more individualistic-focused
Speaking errors?don't make leaps of judgment or quickly interpret these mistakes as an
When sensing an uncertainty, go ahead and consider different, not similar points of view.
(Achieving meaning) Understanding?Avoid assuming common understanding.
Ask specific questions about next steps, actions ahead to observe/measure understanding. Informational and
Design Assume there will be additional effort, which tires everyone.
Take frequent breaks.
Divide presentation units into small clusters or groups of information/material to discuss.
Allow 2-4x the time you estimate needing for developing a cooperative plan. Use Motivation Actively Appreciate, and appreciate further.
(see course module on
Draw out those who are quieter and ask for their contributions.
Do not embarrass. Research Trends: Topics relevant to the communication of leadership
Understanding the impact of leadership roles within multi-national corporate management is one of the most important topics. More than 1100 peer reviewed articles were published, 2005-12. These studies suggest that leaders need to
expand their communication so that workers in multiple units can understand more in less time.
Software to aid management and leader communication was a research theme which is likely to expand, based on
articles published 2005-12. 28 articles addressed management decisions and technology aids. For instance studies
reported on when to use online for messages and when it is more effective to combine face to face and online. Some
studies indicated increased flexibility of software applications for voice and intonation. Other technology related studies
point out the increased need to stay aware of technical terms and the impact of their use on managing (2005-09).
There was also attention to the impact of a cross-cultural workforce, when examining effective leadership practices. (16
peer reviewed articles published, 2005-12). Some of these studies emphasized the influence of tight schedules, the
perceived need for demonstrating results, and worker expectations about their leaders' successes. Related research
identified the ongoing interest to examine justice in multi-national business practices and the need for additional ethical
skill in decision making (22 studies, in 5 years).
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