Posted by miriamannelevy
Although we have built communication bridges across the ocean, the cultural differences in our adaptation remain unique in each cultural context. Accommodating these barriers has proven to be one of the most difficult and complex tasks I have encountered.
I enjoyed looking at the different emails given by Barry Thatcher to the team in Mexico (Spilka, 2010, pp. 172-173). It is evident that the emails are much more formal in Mexico than in the USA for business relations. Beyond formalities, it is evident that the revised email follows some cultural process that just doesn’t exist in our culture. Re-introducing myself in an email to someone would feel very awkward, especially if we’ve been communicating for a while.
Several times I have been in charge of managing an offshore team. Many of the areas we have employed the teams from have very different “hierarchical and interpersonal values” (Spilka, 2010, p. 170). Depending on the culture, the workers may be either too proud or too scared to communicate effectively. When email is one of the main forms of communication, this can be very problematic. The biggest issue I encounter is that questions that should be asked are not asked. Sometimes I will need to take Barry Thatcher’s approach by formalizing an email that shows respect. Other times I will need to show that I am approachable and accessible for them to communicate as a peer rather than a manager. If we do have someone from the same cultural background locally we will sometimes employ them to help build the relationship.
I have travelled to meet the offshore team a few times. It’s funny that even though technology has given us so much, travelling to meet and break some bread with offshore teams builds this relationship better than any email has ever done. Even communicating with team mates across the USA is helped by being able to put a face to a name. Bernadette Longo states that “People value human relations” (Spilka, 2010, p. 156). This is evident in this case.
Barry Thatcher also examines cultural differences in layout and composition of a website. Almost a decade ago I studied abroad in South Korea. I remember trying to navigate the websites there and it was almost impossible. Even if I was able to translate the page, the cultural differences in layout and process were much different. I had also wanted to use the popular social media site, Cyworld, but was quickly denied because it required a Korean Social Security number. Finding the correct websites were also difficult without the ability to read or write in Korean. Although Google could bring up some results, the cultural knowledge was mostly inaccessible.
To try to accommodate communication gaps across cultures, my company has its own CMS specifically for different cultures. Each user will have their own culture profile configured, and when they look up templates for documents, they will be specific to the region they are located in. If they are creating a document to be distributed in a different country, they can retrieve the document for that specified culture. This approach seems to embrace the fact that we all have different approaches to how we communicate digitally. At the same time, I cannot imagine having to maintain that system. Possibly, it may also create a sense of exclusion rather than inclusion for certain contexts.
Right now, the solution for cultural divides seem more human than machine. I can’t really see this changing either, as cultural understanding requires empathy, and is a dynamic being.
Attaching some examples of emails from other cultures. The one on the left is an email to my husband from some Brazilian Vendors, and the one on the right is from Spanish vendors. It’s interesting to note the formality differences in the messages.