Ellen Stoddard-Jones, 35, was a sales representative with a multinational data systems company headquartered in New York. She was a capable and ambitious graduate with a dual M. B. A. / Ph. D. from a prestigious European university. Most of her company’s international business was conducted in Europe and Japan while China was a growing market for its products. Ellen was recently transferred to be responsible for the Far East market. And she was fixed a schedule of the third time in two years to meet with representatives of a very large Taiwanese distributor whose product lines fit those of her company.
Ellen’s first trip to Taiwan had been basically positive, but somewhat unsettling. Very little business was discussed as she expected. Some more internationally-experienced coworkers told her before her trip that the Taiwanese definitely spend most of the time establishing a relationship. Exactly, she was warm welcomed and respected during her stay by being provided entertainment. Ellen really enjoyed such entertainment, but still frustrated by such slow approach to achieving business goals. Ellen’s second trip had more beyond her expectations as to what a business trip should be due to her more forceful lead in the negotiations.
She spent almost a full week meeting with her primary contact, Chen Wu-Ping and his colleagues. The Taiwanese team highly complimented about how well her company and theirs “fit”, especially about how he “looked forward to a long-term business relationship”. Ellen found out that the Taiwanese clearly realized the superiority of her firm and its product lines but they showed modest attitude toward their own company’s qualifications, which surprised her a lot. She knew that the distributor was among the best in the region and she regarded this opportunity as a very beneficial deal.
Unfortunately, she left for U. S. with Chen Wu-Ping’s talking “something will happen soon” and without a signed contract at the end of the week. Ellen’s third trip didn’t seem to be as smooth as Ellen thought before. The Taiwanese renegotiated major points of the proposal and said that they needed more time to discuss the contract. What made Ellen confused was that she couldn’t tell who exactly had the authority to make the decision to sign the contract because Chen Wu-Ping team did not seem to have an acknowledged leader. Ellen thought the meeting on the third day could make progress.
She clearly explained the benefits and competitive advantages of her products over the competition. And the Taiwanese asked many detailed questions about her products, which made her surprised and anxious because she had provided them long ago with substantial documentation outlining the specifications of the given product lines. When Ellen asked Taiwanese questions, they kept averting eye contact. She emphasized the deal was very competitive priced but was followed by uncomfortable silence. Then she listed again all the benefits they would receive by signing the contract and argued her company’s products would improve their outdated methods.
But the Taiwanese said they would study her proposal at the end of the meeting. Ellen felt that a company like hers shouldn’t get this kind of treatment. She thought that it would be their fault if they didn’t recognize all the advantages her company provided. A few weeks after Ellen returned to New York, she received word that the Taiwanese distributors had decided to give up signing the contract. 2. Analysis of the case The case is talking about the business between American and Taiwanese, which would involve the cross-cultural communication.
The analysis of this case will be divided into four parts as following. 2. 1 What is culture? Culture plays a very important role in the cross-cultural communication. As the case is related to the issue of culture, we should know what a culture is firstly. There are varieties of definitions for culture based on people’s different perspectives. One definition I think the most appropriate is “culture means the values and perspectives shared by people who are conditioned by similar education and life experience” (Extract from MIT Sloan Paper).
As researchers state that culture is not inherent but learnt. Where there you are, whose culture you will learn. In the case, Ellen was a Native American and always worked in US. What she said and did was all in American’s way. While Chen Wu-ping came from and lived in Taiwan which made his behavior was significantly branded with Taiwanese’s culture. And culture can encompass variety of experiences. These kinds of experiences are accumulated in the region (country, area and community) you are, the business (industry, company and department) you are with, and the group (school and club) you are in.
Ellen engaged in a multinational company and most of her company’s international business was conducted in Europe and Japan. We may say that she knew very much about the culture of European and Japanese and had her own style to do business with European people and Japanese people, while Chinese culture was still new for her then she didn’t know very exactly how to deal with the Taiwanese people. Before her first trip to Taiwan, her internationally-experienced co-workers told her that the Taiwanese would one-hundred-percent spend most of the time establishing a relationship. The remark was just a reminder or even a suggestion to her.
But she had no idea about the root of the Taiwanese’s culture, which really made her first trip unsettling as Taiwanese prefer to establish the relationship than develop a contract directly. 2. 2 Values between Ellen and the Taiwanese Ellen’s primary core value of her trip to Taiwan was to fulfill her tasks—expanding the China market. But for the Taiwanese, they had different core value compared with that of Ellen’s, that was, they hoped to build up a relationship with Ellen’s company at the beginning to the end of the business. Cultures may be classified as low context or high context.
The following table shows very clearly about the characteristics of the low context and high context. (Extract from MIT Sloan Paper) Low Context High Context Tends to prefer direct verbal interactionTends to prefer indirect verbal interaction Tends to understand meaning at one level onlyTends to understand meanings embedded at many socio-cultural levels Is generally less proficient in reading non-verbal cuesIs generally more proficient in reading nonverbal cues Values individualism Values group membership Relies more on logic Relies more on context and feeling Employs linear logic Employs spiral logic
Says no directly Talks around point, avoids saying no Communicates in highly structured messages, provides details, stresses literal meanings, gives authority to written informationCommunicates in simple, ambiguous, non-contexted messages; understands visual messages readily From this table, we can see that American culture is a low context culture while Chinese is high context one. Through the three negotiations between Ellen and Chen Wu-ping, it’s not difficult to find out that Ellen was used to going straight to the point without preliminaries. All she talked about was to sign the contract.
Chen Wu-ping team liked talking around the point and showed no explicit attitude towards the contract. Very little business was discussed on their first meeting, which was not beyond Ellen’s expectation but still frustrated her. She eagerly needed her business goal achieved as quickly as possible. On the Taiwanese side, they respected for Ellen and her company, showing her around the places of interests in Taipei and providing other entertainment in order to set up a relationship. This is the case can identify that American culture is a low context and Taiwanese culture is a high context.
Moreover, Taiwanese indicated more indirect way in the second round negotiation with Ellen. They placed many comments about how well Ellen’s company and theirs “fit” and honored Ellen to come Taipei one more time to continue the negotiations. They also praised the reputation of Ellen’s company and the quality of its products but kept a very modest attitude to their own firm’s qualifications. Ellen recognized her company’s advantage and the distributor’s strength, which was convinced of the ultimate success of the negotiation.
Unexpected, Chen Wu-ping left Ellen “Something will happen soon” by the end of the week. Ellen had no choice but go back to US empty-handed for the second time. Ellen was full of confidence in returning with a signed contract on the third trip to Taiwan. Still the Taiwanese renegotiated major points of the proposal and stated that they need more time to discuss. The most critical thing was that Ellen was confused with who exactly had the authority to make the decision to sign the contract. In Chinese culture, the decision-maker is the key person in the business.
In one word, right things can be done by finding the right person. Precisely because Ellen could not catch on the hip of the Chinese culture that led her lost the business in Taiwan. American people value individual initiative and independence greatly. Every individual seeks his own identity, makes his own decisions based on his own values. But Chinese culture value collectivism, focusing on group stability and consensus. We can see that the Taiwanese kept averting eye contact when Ellen asked them questions.
They were seeking the common ground of all the team members. On the other hand, Taiwanese are generally more proficient in reading nonverbal cues. Eye contact is the most frequent and implicit way for Taiwanese people. But Ellen could not tell what it meant inside because American people cannot master the skill in reading nonverbal cues. Then the meeting entered into some uncomfortable silence due to Ellen’s emphasis on the competitive price. This really was bad news for Ellen. Taiwanese kept silent probably because they could not agree with what Ellen pointed out.
Unfortunately, Ellen still was not able to grasp the hint of this nonverbal cue. She argued with the Taiwanese about her firm’s products would revolutionize their outdated methods, increase their management efficiency and save more money. As a result, the Taiwanese stated that they would study the proposal further. If Ellen was familiar with the Taiwanese culture and had the ability to figure out the exact meaning of “study the proposal further”, she would not felt that a company like hers shouldn’t get the treatment like “study the proposal further”.
And she would get the answer that the business was 99% lost when the Taiwanese said that they need to “study the proposal further”. 2. 3 Communication Practices Just as values vary from culture to culture, so do specific communication practices. Therefore, the understanding of the communication practices of that culture you conduct business with is a must. Below are a few of the areas that show the differences between cultures for Ellen and Chen Wu-ping: Emphasis on task versus relationship-building: American people often get down to business quickly and efficiently.
In Taiwanese culture, develop relationships is put as a priority than do business. We can see from the case that Ellen aggressively to make the deal with the Taiwanese’s company. But Chen Wu-ping kept pointing out the relationships from the beginning to the end of the negotiations. Role of meetings: meetings are regarded as the most effective way to solve problems in U. S. business. The meeting participants brainstorm with one another, propose ideas and then discuss their pros and cons. But the Taiwanese always made decisions behind the scenes.
So the consensus had been reached by the time the meeting was held. This really made Ellen confused who would be the decision-maker in the third round negotiation. Patterns of reasoning: American people are in favor of direct communication. Main points or recommendations are pointed out first. Ellen showed all her advantages and strengths about the agreement during her trip to Taiwan. Taiwanese people think that the use of direct communication may seem to be brusque or even rude. So they deliver the main points in an ambiguous, buried way or even never stated in public.
Chen Wu-ping team didn’t mention directly whether they agreed what Ellen said during all the negotiations. They just told Ellen they needed time to further study the proposal. Nonverbal communication behaviors: Nonverbal cues and behaviors vary from one culture to another. In the case, an uncomfortable silence occurred on the third meeting. Such kind of silence may be considered harmful for the communication between Ellen and Taiwanese team. Because silence meant that the Taiwanese were thinking of the Ellen’s remark about the competitive price.
Nonverbal communication behavior is very useful for clarifying meaning when business was conducted by two groups of people from different cultures. 2. 4 Factors influence the effective communication In order to get a successful cross-cultural communication, not only knowledge and preparation are required, but the following factors should also be bear in mind from the case: Patience–a willingness to accept ambiguity, confusion, frustration. Ellen was not so patient enough to accept the Taiwanese way of doing business. She felt frustrated with Taiwanese’s slow approach to achieve business goals on her first trip.
Then she surprised on the Taiwanese’s modest in their firm’s qualifications. In the final trip, she could not control her emotion but argued her products would be the best one for Taiwanese company. She could not wait another longer time for Taiwanese’s consideration of the proposal. Empathy—it means you put yourself in another’s position and to anticipate another’s reaction to a situation. From the above analysis, Ellen placed great importance on her own proposal but could not put herself in the Taiwanese position to think about what they really concerned about.
She laid stress on her company’s reputation and its advantageous products but ignored showing respect to the Taiwanese’s company. Respect—the initiative to esteem and learn from the culture of others, no matter how different from you own. Taiwanese people are good at showing respect to Ellen and her company. They gave many comments of her company and praised its products. What’s more, they provided Ellen entertainment when she stayed in Taiwan and invited her to come to Taiwan again for another negotiation. Compared with Taiwanese’s warm welcome and their great respect, Ellen was far more inferior in this field.
She didn’t show respect to Taiwanese company as Taiwanese showed to her company. Although the negotiation fell into unsettling situation, she still concentrated on the contract itself but could not shift her eyes on the Taiwanese’s need in deep. This is the great difference between Ellen and Taiwanese team. In a word, conduct business with Taiwanese means that Ellen should do things as she in Taiwan. Although the above case focuses on the differences among cultures, it’s also important to note that there are differences within cultures.
Cultures differentiate between regions, between ethnic groups within a culture, between organizations, and between individuals. So we have to be concern about another’s culture. The understanding of differences will increase the effectiveness of the intra-cultural and intercultural communication. 3. Recommendation As it is discussed above very clearly that the misunderstanding of Taiwanese’s culture made Ellen lose the business in Taiwan, the following suggestion are given to her for the future negotiations when she conducted business in Taiwan.
Relationships—Do in Rome as Rome does. She should have done a research about the Taiwan’s company and learnt the Taiwanese’s culture. To make sure the negotiations go smoothly, she could even hire a local person as a mediator between her the Taiwanese team. What’s important, she should be more patient in establishing a long-term relationship with the Taiwanese but not merely promoted her contract again and again. Moreover, she should have figure out what the Taiwanese really wanted and who was exactly the decision-maker in the Taiwan’s company before she went to Taiwan.
Then she could set up an appropriate agenda and cater to the decision-maker’s tastes, which could save her more time and increase the probability to get the contract signed. Respect—Ellen should have shown her respect to the Taiwanese as they did for her. And she should have provided the entertainment to them such as invite Chen Wu-ping team out for dinner, ask them to visit her company, etc. Informal communication—Ellen always discussed her proposal on the formal meeting, which made it too stressful all the time.
She should have invited Chen Wu-ping outside of the office and talked with him informally, then, built up a personal relationship with Chen to know the inside story. Most of the Taiwanese’s businesses are conducted on the dinner table but not in the office. Nonverbal communication cues—Ellen should have learnt of the nonverbal cues. The eye contacts, the silence, and the indirect way of expressing ideas are often stated in the Taiwanese’s culture.
So Ellen should know very clearly what these nonverbal cues mean and take the suitable actions to response for such situations. I have realized that CFM course really does me a lot of help in the communication with others, especially after my presentation on the last lesson. Professor Xu provided me with much suggestion of improving the presentation skills. I extend my appreciation here for Professor Jia Jia’s encouragement and Professor Xu’s comments. I would bear what you have taught in mind all the time and keep moving forward every day.