Category: Intercultural communication

You live the way you greet

W.B. Stanford, commentary on Homer, Odyssey 5.205:

Note how the Greek greeting wished ‘joy’,

the Roman ‘health’ or ‘strength’ (ave, salve, vale),

the  Jewish ‘peace’ (shalom),

typically of each nation’s history.

via Laudator Temporis Acti.

Expert on nonverbal communication dies at 95

Anyone working in the field of communications (theoretical or applied) should be familiar with his work.

His website has links to his books.

Edward Hall – Obituary (Obit) – NYTimes.com.

A bi-cultural executive

She might have three selves, but she also has two different styles. The French one, which loves these abstract ideas of freedom and the future. And the American one, with its management clichés of teamwork and listening. The two make an odd mixture.

Perhaps she herself is a miniature version of GE in France, which she says takes 20 per cent of its culture from the US and 80 per cent from France.

via FT.com

Cultures must be seen in their wider context

A great introduction to my Spring 2009 cross-cultural communication class from UNFPA‘s State of world population 2008:

Culture – inherited patterns of shared meanings and common understandings – influences how people manage their lives, and provides the lens through which they interpret their society. Cultures affect how people think and act; but they do not produce uniformity of thought or behaviour. 

Cultures must be seen in their wider context: They influence and are influenced by external circumstances and change in response. They are not static; people are continuously involved in reshaping them, although some aspects of culture continue to influence choices and lifestyles for very long periods. 

Cultural customs, norms, behaviours and attitudes are as varied as they are elusive and dynamic. It is risky to generalize, and it is particularly dangerous to judge one culture by the norms and values of another. Such over-simplification can lead to the assumption that every member of a culture thinks the same way. This is not only a mistaken perception but ignores one of the drivers of cultural change, which is multiple expressions of internal resistance, out of which transitions emerge. The movement towards gender equality is a good example of this process at work. 

Appeals for cultural sensitivity and engagement are sometimes wrongly interpreted as acceptance of harmful traditional practices, or a way of making excuses for non-compliance with universal human rights. This is far from the case – such relativism provides no basis for action and produces only stalemate and frustration. Values and practices that infringe upon human rights can be found in all cultures. Culturally sensitive approaches determine what makes sense to people and work with that knowledge. Embracing cultural realities can reveal the most effective ways to challenge harmful cultural practices and strengthen positive ones.

French-American culture clash

A trans-Atlantic culture clash at Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American telecommunications equipment maker created in a $10.7 billion merger two years ago, hit home when the company’s top two executives said they would step down.

Patricia F. Russo, the American chief executive, and Serge Tchuruk, the French chairman, said they would leave this year. The departures of the two executives, who engineered the original deal, follow months of pressure from shareholders upset over billions of dollars in losses since the companies combined.

Analysts were skeptical from the start about the acquisition of Lucent Technologies, based in Murray Hill, N.J., by Alcatel, based in Paris. Initial talks broke down in 2001, four years before a deal was announced, because executives at the two companies could not agree on how to share control. (…) “[I]f you take two guys with broken legs and tie a rope around them, they aren’t going to walk better,” Mr. Kerravala said.

The appointment of Ms. Russo, the former Lucent chief, as the leader of the combined company struck many as a recipe for misunderstandings. Ms. Russo does not speak French comfortably, and the language barrier is one of several cultural challenges that have troubled the company.

Roger Entner, a senior vice president and telecommunications analyst for Nielsen IAG, a market research firm, said that Lucent executives had also struggled to understand the close interplay between French bureaucrats and private-sector executives.

 

Silence serves to connect in Finland

A cross-cultural case of silence:

A professor of Nordic literature at the University of Helsinki, tells a joke. How do you know if the Finn on the elevator with you is outgoing? When he’s looking at your shoes instead of at his own.

The key to the Finnish character is quietude. Finns rarely enter into conversation with strangers; words are chosen carefully; small talk is considered suspect. Instead Finns revere “sacred silence” and hold that keeping quiet is healthy and promotes thoughtfulness.

(…) Some researchers view the trademark Finnish reticence as more pathological, linking it to depression and emotional repression and citing Finns’ high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and high blood pressure. In 2004, a theater director named Turo Herala made big news in Helsinki when he began offering anger-venting classes–a true novelty. “Anger in Finland is a bigger taboo than sex,” Herala explained to a reporter.

Laughing out loud isn’t common either. Children are taught early on to resist their impulses. Bragging about personal accomplishments is the worst thing a Finn can do. “If you can’t control yourself, you are regarded as immature,” explains Keltikangas-Järvinen.

Given the right situation, though, Finns can become excited and voluble. In the familiar environment of the sauna–there’s one for every two Finns–they sometimes become embarrassingly open and candid.

And things are changing; the technical revolution has kicked the shy Finn out of the closet. They are among the most wired–and wireless–people in the world; 95 percent own a cell phone. In the remote summer cottage, the modem Finn still finds his sacred silence, but nowadays he mixes the Internet with this primitive escape.

Source: Psychology Today; Jan/Feb2007, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p28.