Analyzing the Communication Breakdown
Roos Dekker works in Rotterdam, Netherlands, for Global Healthcare, a major global leader in home and business healthcare electronics,19 Her responsibilities include coordinating global logistics for the company's healthcare products, including supplies and product deliveries. In this regard, she must coordinate her efforts with other logistics managers around the world, including Javier Gutierrez. Gutierrez lArorks in Buenos Aires for Global Healthcare Argentina (GHA), which represents the manufacturing, import and export, and disiribution operations of Global Healthcare throughout South America. Operating through about a dozen plants in the region (mostly Brazil and Argentina), GHA makes components and products specialising in consumer electronics, small appliances, lighting equip-ment, and electronic medical equipment, which are then distributed and sold under ihe Global Healthcare brand.
Although Dekker and Gutierrez are both logistics coordinators, they report to different supervisors in different divisions of Ihe company, Global Healthcare and GI-IA. Organisationally, they are on the same level in the company hierarchy. Still, they must coordinate their efforts and work together to achieve maximum results for the entire enterprise. Dekker and Gutierrez both speak fluent English, and have livorked together several times, although they have never met in person and each knows very little about the other.
Recently, Roos Dekker was given an assignment involving major product deliver-ies from South America to the European Union. For reasons she did not know, these deliveries arrived in Europe at a slower pace than was scheduled, and she was under considerable pressure to catch up. Her point of contact for this problem was Javier Gutierrez. Dekker tried several time to contact Gutierrez, mostly by e-mail, but failed to get any definitive response regarding the late shipments.
Finally, out of desperation, Dekker sat down at her computer and wrote one more e-mail to Gutierrez expressing her frustration. When she finished writing the message, she realised that she had to cool off a bit before sending it, and put the message away for one hour. When she returned, she decided that she should edit the message so it was just the facts. Still, she needed to express her sense of urgency. She edited his message as follows and sent it to Gutinez:
To: Javier Gutierrez, 61 IA, Argentina
From: Roos, Global Healthcare, Netherlands
Re: Recent shipments to Global Healthcare-Europe
I just had a conversation with Mr. Van den Berg (my boss) about the late shipments from Argentina and Brazil. He is concerned that this delay may have significant impact on our division results as we are losing sales. He blames us for these delays and asked me to provide a report justifying the delays as soon as possible.
Cross-Cultural Conflict and Stereotyping
I need the following information from you today:
• A full explanation for the cause of the shipment delays,
• A detailed timetable with a realistic Forecast of when the shipment will anive,
• A specific plan of action to get GHA back on track and avoid these delays in the future.
From now on, I would like to receive a copy of all shipment reports coming out of Brazil and Argentina.
The net day, Gutienez sent his response to Dekker:
To: Roos Dekker, Global Healthcare, Netherlands
From: Javier Gutierrez, Global Healthcare Argentina c/c: Antonio Rodriguez, Global Healthcare Argentina Re: Shipments to Global Healthcare-Europe
Dear Ms. Dekker:
am not surprised that your boss is upset. However, 1 think you may have misunderstood the situation. I do not wish to be rude here, but you leave me no choice but to be frank. I am the logistics coordinator here, not the boss. The management of GT-TA schedules both production and deliveries, and several people are involved in these decisions, including the 5 Communicating across cultures 169 is our unions. If we push the workers too hard, they will shut down entire plants and this helps no one, as you would agree.
In addition, GHA has many recipients within Global Healthcare, not just your division, and to make matters more complicated, our Asian markets are growing faster than those in the EU and they, too, are demanding more product, And you know of all the customs issues we had in the last few weeks due to the new regulations regarding medical equipment and the additional papenvork required to satisfy safety requirements that came at a time in which we are short staffed. And should I remind you that this particular order is a special order that was outside the original forecast and has been accommodated as a special case.
I don't understand how you can blame me for the delays? Can't you see that this just makes things worse? And how can you expect me to provide you with information that I don't have? I can't provide you with the information that you requested until I hear from the production and legal departments. We work for an international firm and should work together to resolve issues, not just blame others for our problems. That is what I most believe.
I am sending a copy of this message to Mr. Antonio Rodriguez (my boss) as it is important that we all become aware of what is happening. I suggest you infomi your boss that he needs to be patient and learn to respect his colleagues and partners in other countries.
What was Dekker main intention in sending her message?
What cultural assumptions underlie Dekker's message to Gutierrez?
What cultural assumptions underlie Gutierres's response to Dekker?
How should Dekker respond to Gutierrez? Come up with two or thre options and evaluate the benefits and/or risks for each option.
Analyzing the Communication Breakdown
The case study takes into account an instance of communication between Roos Dekker and Javier Gutiérrez, two employees of Global Healthcare and Global Healthcare Argentina. Both employees are in charge of coordinating global logistics for the parent company which deals in business and home healthcare electronic equipments. The two logistic managers are expected to communicate and collaborate with each other in order to facilitate product deliveries, supplies and shipment. On one such occasion, Dekker was supposed to receive a huge shipment from Argentina. However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, there was a delay which was damaging to the organization as a whole. The following report analyzes the communication between the two logistic managers and their implications. A few models and frameworks pertaining to global cultural communications have also been studied.
As has been mentioned in the case study itself, Roos Dekker had typed out the email in a fit of rage, which is evident from her mail. The main intention of her email was to highlight the shortcomings of the logistics team at Global Healthcare Argentina. She wanted to render them incompetent and undermined the authority of Gutiérrez. She failed to acknowledge the fact that Gutiérrez was her counterpart in Argentina and not her subordinate. There might have been some cultural undertones in her message. There is a common misconception about people in South America and their work culture. It is often assumed that people in South America are inefficient and lacking in work ethics. This cultural stereotyping can be sensed in Dekker’s message. The cultural schema theory may be used to study the cultural assumptions made by Dekker. According to this theory, human beings use classification to gain insight into other cultures (Mandler, 2014). These are also known as cognitive structures which determine cross cultural communication (Chang, Yuan & Chuang, 2013). It can be said that certain false stereotypes or prejudice may be responsible for her cultural assumptions.
Gutiérrez is relatively more informal and harsh in his message as compared to Dekker. He seems to be agitated and accordingly reacts to Dekker’s message. He has probably been able to perceive the demeaning cultural undertones in Dekker’s message. He tries to point out the differences in organizational structure in Europe and Argentina and says that he did not have all required information as he was not the boss. He may have gotten defensive and retorts saying that it would be detrimental to simply transfer blame. Instead, they should strive to work together and resolve conflicts. He feels that their European colleagues did not respect them or their work culture.
Cross-Cultural Conflict and Stereotyping
This is a classic example of cross cultural conflict within the organization. At this point, there are a few things Dekker could do. They are:
- Dekker could send a copy of Gutiérrez’s message to her boss and report his behavior. Since she had sent a polite email to Gutiérrez, it was his responsibility to do the same. However, this could fuel bigger conflicts between Global Healthcare and Global Healthcare Argentina. That could ruin their functional relationship, making it all the more difficult to collaborate.
- On the other hand, Dekker could reply to the message in a polite and firm manner clarifying her stance. She should make it clear that she was not blaming Gutiérrez. She merely required a justification for the delay because she would have to formulate a report on the same. She should also state that Gutiérrez was wrong in reacting negatively to her message and that a certain code of decorum should be maintained within the organization. Such a message would be a step towards effective cross cultural conflicts within the organization.
Communication systems involve both verbal and non verbal means of communications, which are closely associated with culture. This is because language is intricately connected to thought process and mental learning. Both are by products of culture and values pertaining to a specific country or location (Klitmøller & Lauring, 2013). In organizations like Global Healthcare, international business is directly affected by cultural differences. It can be asserted that the main reason behind Dekker and Gutiérrez’s miscommunication could be due to difference in their thought processes. Some theorists have even discussed about the relationship between language and culture. According to them, language is deeply rooted in the culture of a region. An analysis of the language used by a person for communication would help one gain insight into the culture he or she belongs to (Martin & Nakayama, 2013). For example, Gutiérrez belongs to a culture where people use direct and explicit language to communicate. This can be seen in the emotional undertones of his message. On the other hand, Dekker belongs to a culture where messages are implicit and harbor inner meanings.
According to Hofstede, collective programming of an individual’s mind distinguishes him from others or other categories. He believed that cultures could be analyzed on the basis of six dimensions (Dartey-Baah, 2013).
- Power distance – This refers to the way an individual would be more willing to accept unequal distribution of power in an organization. While Argentina ranks at 49, Netherlands ranks at 38 in this aspect. This means that the mode of operations in both countries is very different.
- Individualism – Netherlands is a much more individualistic society than Argentina, where each member of the organization is interdependent. This is why Roos Dekker might not have been able to perceive why Gutiérrez lacked sufficient information on the cause of delay.
- Masculinity – Argentina is a highly masculine country as compared to Netherlands. They are driven by success, achievement and competition. This is why Global Healthcare Argentina was more inclined towards the Asian market than the European one.
- Uncertainty avoidance – Argentina which has higher uncertainty avoidance is more likely to be lagging in rules and regulations. It also shows that people in Argentina would feel more threatened by unknown situations than the people in Netherlands.
- Long term orientation – Argentina consists of a normative culture. More than Netherlands, people in Argentina pay greater attention to norms, values and cultural traditions. This could be why Gutiérrez became defensive when he sensed the cultural undertones in Dekker’s message.
- Indulgence – Argentina has a relatively high score of indulgence, standing at 62. This means that people in Argentina are twice as more likely to give in to their impulses and react instead of dealing with situations in a diplomatic way. This can be seen in the case of Gutiérrez.
This framework is an extension of Hofstede’s model and adds a few other dimensions (Venaik & Brewer, 2013). They are:
- Institutional collectivism – Argentina shows higher institutional collectivism than Netherlands. Their organizations, unlike that in Netherlands, are divided and subdivided into groups and categories.
- Assertiveness – This refers to the fact that certain cultures, like Argentina, believes that people should be more competitive and tough as compared to modest.
- Future orientation – People in Netherlands are more future oriented and focused on planning and strategic management. However, in Argentina, organizations are not flexible. This can lead to conflicts.
- Human orientation – This also takes into consideration the behavior of people towards others. As Gutiérrez wrote in his email, he expected a degree of cooperation and patience from his counterparts in Netherlands. This shows that people in Netherlands are less human oriented as compared to Argentina.
- Performance orientation – Netherlands has a higher performance orientation as compared to Argentina because they have a more planned and structured approach to business.
- In group collectivism – In group collectivism is higher in Netherlands than in Argentina, which may have fuelled the conflict.
- Uncertainty avoidance – As mentioned above, Argentina has higher uncertainty avoidance than Netherlands which could have triggered the cultural conflicts between Dekker and Gutiérrez.
- Gender differences – Gender inequities are more prominent in Argentina than Netherlands. Javier Gutiérrez thus found it difficult to accept the authority of Roos Dekker, a woman.
According to Edward Hall, there are three factors that affect cultural communications. They are – time, space and context (Ferraro & Briody, 2013). With respect to context, it can be said that Argentina has a low context culture and Netherlands has a high context culture. For example, messages exchanged between people in Netherlands would have implicit and covert meanings and metaphors that need to be understood. In the case study, Dekker’s message was full of metaphors hinting at her fury and her language was enough to imply the same. Moreover, Netherlands work culture is characterized by monochronic time which requires detailed planning and execution. On the other hand, the culture in Argentina is characterized by polychronic time which pays more attention to human needs and interests. Additionally, as seen in Gutiérrez’s responses, people in Argentina demonstrate high territoriality. When threatened or questioned, they react impulsively and in a defensive manner.
Language and Culture in Communication
According to Martha Maznevski, the growing economy requires people across geographical barriers to collaborate and work together as part of a team. She opines that people across remote locations would bring in more knowledge and talent to the operations (Maznevski, 2013). It is the responsibility of the organization to make the most of such a situation, despite cultural differences. She also asserts that culture will have an impact on the individual perceptions of a person. It would affect his or her social relationships and interactions. In the case of Global Healthcare, people across Europe and Argentina should be more considerate of each other’s feelings, beliefs and values.
A cultural metaphor may be defined as a distinctive institution, unique activity or phenomena which are characteristic of a specific culture. Every member of the culture would be able to identify with the distinctive traits which help in expressing the values of the culture (Sharifian, 2013). Similarly, outsiders or people belonging to a different culture would be unable to relate to the said culture. The purpose of using cultural metaphors is to reduce such conflicts in cross cultural management. For example, the organizational culture in Argentina is heavily influenced by certain principles and values that are alien to the people in Netherlands. However, an understanding of each other’s cultures would facilitate smoother working relationships within the organization. Moreover, it would ensure harmony within the teams, thus improving deliveries and supply chains. For both Gutiérrez and Dekker, it would be beneficial to be more tolerant of each other’s cultural values. A scripts based view of collaborative efforts would be recommended in order to resolve future conflicts. This is because such a practice provides cognitive accounts of activation and creation of expectations related to group work (Scherman, 2013). Using this model would enable both wings of the company to understand the purpose of group work and the importance of coordination between both teams.
Cultural myths would refer to the stereotypes prevailing about a certain culture. For example, human beings have a tendency to develop myths based on common perceptions about people belonging to different cultures. For example, people like Gutiérrez believe that their counterparts in Netherlands are harsh, inconsiderate and look down upon them. Such negative myths could adversely affect the social relationships within the organization. It would lead to conflicts and get in the way of smooth operations.
To conclude, it can be said that an analysis of interactions between Roos Dekker and Javier Gutiérrez shows the influence of culture on communication. An organization that is operating on a global platform would include people belonging to different cultures and traditions. Such people have different organizational structures and work culture. Thus, for a person sitting in Netherlands, it can be difficult to understand the mode of operations in Argentina. This could be due to cultural myths, or stereotypes, which can be sensed in both Dekker and Gutiérrez’s messages. This affirms language of a person and the verbal and non verbal methods of communication are steeped in his respective culture.
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