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C H A P T E R

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Intercultural Communication in Organizations
CHAPTER OBJECTIVES
After reading this chapter, you should be able to 1. discuss how dimensions of the cultural context affect organizations across cultures; 2. identify how the environmental context affects doing business in other cultures; 3. identify variables in the perceptual context and how they influence business with other cultures; 4. compare and contrast sociorelational contexts on the job across cultures; 5. discuss some verbal and nonverbal differences across cultures; 6. compare managerial styles of Japanese, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, and Arabs; and 7. describe differences in manager–subordinate relationships in Japan, Germany, Mexico, China, and Arab countries.

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INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

However objective and uniform we try to make organizations, they will not have the same meaning for individuals from different cultures. —Fons Trompenaars1

I magine the following scenario:
You have just graduated from college and accepted a management job with Acme Corporation. Acme has placed you in one of its Mexican offices. During your first week in your new job, you decide to schedule a meeting with your Mexican employees. The meeting is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, you show up a bit early to prepare for your meeting. By 9:00 a.m., not a single employee has arrived for the meeting. By 9:20 a.m., two people finally show up. Not until 9:45 a.m. are all the members of the team in attendance. What has happened? You are confused, frustrated, and feeling a bit angry. Doing business in Mexico (and in many other countries) is different from doing business in the United States. Mexican cultural values, such as collectivism and large power distance; Mexican social expectations; and Mexican workplace practices of workers and managers are different from those of U.S. workers and managers. To be sure, they are so different that U.S. managers working in Mexico often find themselves ineffective. The U.S. manager who does not take the effort to learn about these differences and adjust his or her managerial style accordingly will end up just as you did in the above scenario—frustrated and disillusioned. Wal-Mart has more than 4,000 stores in the United States. Of all Americans, 90% live within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart. On average, every American household spends just more than $2,000 each year at Wal-Mart. In the United States, every seven days, 100 million people shop at a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is also successful internationally. It is the largest retailer in both Canada and Mexico, and the second largest in Britain. Worldwide, more than seven billion people shop at Wal-Mart. That’s more than the world’s population. So, this year, the statistical equivalent of every person on the planet will shop at a Wal-Mart.2 Wal-Mart is clearly a financial success, both nationally and internationally. But as Landler and Barbaro note in 2006 Wal-Mart closed its stores in Germany. The chain has had difficulty breaking into the Korean and Japanese markets as well. Something was not working in Germany, and many believe that some of Wal-Mart’s international problems stem from the company’s arrogance and overestimation of its competence. For a company that boasts seven billion customers a year, a certain degree of confidence is understandable. But in some places, Wal-Mart’s attempts to impose its values on the market just do not work—at least not in places such as Germany, Korea, and Japan. Referring to its failure in Germany, a Wal-Mart international spokesperson commented that it was a good lesson for the company and that they have learned to be more sensitive to cultural differences. For example, many Germans found the idea of a smiling greeter at the

CHAPTER 11

Intercultural Communication in Organizations

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door of every Wal-Mart off-putting. In fact, many male shoppers interpreted it as flirting. The company also...
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