Value of Intercultural Communication Several years ago, I worked with a very intelligent, lovely young woman whose name myself and fellow coworkers could not pronounce, but called Katy, at her request.

Value of Intercultural Communication

Several years ago, I worked with a very intelligent, lovely young woman whose name

myself and fellow coworkers could not pronounce, but called Katy, at her request. Katy had been

born and raised in India, in New Delhi. Her father had moved the family to the United States

when she was in her late teens so that her brother could attend school in America. Katy had

obtained her business and economics degrees from the Arkansas State University. Although she

could have lived alone if she had wanted, she still lived at home. She said she would live there

until she married.

Katy’s job involved researching changes in the economy for the bank she and I worked

in, she was normally excellent at correctly guessing the economy’s effect on the loan production

of the bank, and the interest rates it needed to charge customers. At that time, Frank Weiss

headed the department she worked in, a man born and raised in Germany around World War II

who had lived in the United States since the 1950s. Frank was very good at his job, but he was

often viewed as cold or abrupt. People respected his talents but did not normally feel comfortable

around him. He was known for being brisk, to the point, and as having the ability to dominate a

conversation or intimidate people.

One afternoon I remember Frank called Katy into his office to discuss her latest forecast.

The economy had begun to turn down and although the media continued to say the economy

was strong, Katy felt several trends in the economy pointed to the need to cutback on lending

activity or raise interest rates to secure earnings for the bank. From the minute, she entered

his office it was clear he was unhappy with the latest report she had authored and distributed

to bank employees. He asked her why her conclusions were so different from that of the local

newspaper and she felt herself knowledgeable enough to disagree with the national reports

from Dun and Bradstreet. I remember glancing at the office glass divider and seeing her put her

Value of Intercultural Communication

head down to look down at her hands while he talked. As he continued to receive no response

from her, his voice became louder and she became quieter. Finally, she stated, quietly, that her

research showed the trends pointed to declines. At this point, again, he asked her why she was so

confident everyone else was wrong, did she think herself more intelligent. She said no. At that

point, he told her to rewrite the report, send out a correction, and never do that again unless she

had a good enough reason to support her findings.

I remember seeing her quietly walk out of the office and to the bathroom. When she

returned it was clear she had been crying. I felt bad for her, but did not want to embarrass her any

further. She did not speak about this incident again and just continued to do her work. However,

from what I could tell she did not make any conclusions that did not match that of the media

resources. Frank never mentioned the incident again, but he later hired a man with slightly less

experience than Katy and gave him many of the same responsibilities she had. No other action

was taken before I left the job.

I believe the problem here was mainly one due to different cultures. Indian culture,

while legally recognizing the rights of women, remains patriarchal and still believes women

are to defer to male opinion and authority. Women in India are normally raised to accept male

authority, from their fathers to their husbands. They are raised to be quiet and helpful but not

to contradict nor differ on matters with men. They are to be polite, proper, and quiet (Coonrod,

1998). This cultural norm is very different from that found in American and certainly in German

culture. On the other hand, German culture is one where men and women are equal and one,

which tends to value discussion and logical reviews. Germans also discuss their viewpoints and

their beliefs in support of many things. Discussion may become argumentative, but that is not,

necessarily by German standards, rude or a problem (German Language Guide, 2008).

Value of Intercultural Communication

Unfortunately, neither Katy nor Frank thought about their cultural differences that

day. Frank pursued Katy as he would have any other person at work, but Katy responded in the

only way her culture, despite her years in America, had taught her to act since she was a small

girl. She remained polite and did not argue with her superior, her boss. Frank, unfortunately,

failing to obtain a response from Katy, become frustrated with her lack of engagement then

began to wonder, I think, if she had any basis for her conclusions. For this reason, they failed

to obtain what they needed or to provide the other what they needed. In short, there was no

communication in their situation, only two people talking at each other.

Everyone needs to be aware of our cultural traditions and methods of communication.

While one culture may enjoy interaction that involves logic, proof, or discussion, another may

view these things as questioning someone’s intelligence or abilities or even insulting. Frank

did not consider the fact that he could be quite imposing and that his tone was often harsh. He

believed this was just conversation in pursuit of quality work, but Katy felt it was punishment.

Katy, for her part, did not understand that being able to support ones’ conclusions about

something is normal in American and German life and a part of work in many places. She felt

she was being polite by not disagreeing with Frank and looking down, but he viewed her action

as insulting and showing a lack of knowledge.

As the superior in this exchange, Frank needed to realize that he needed to be more

polite when he spoke to any employee. Secondly, Frank needed to realize that an employee will

normally defer to a superior and he should have asked Katy for an explanation of her work,

rather than demand her to tell him why she felt “superior” to others and why she should be

believed over others who disagreed with her. Lastly, Frank should also have taken into account

the needs of Katy, given her work persona and her manner of being, that she needed a more

Value of Intercultural Communication

subtle approach. At the same time, Katy needed to realize that to succeed in her career she will

need to begin to support her conclusions and be more direct in explaining her conclusions,

particularly in the United States, where a person is expected and often celebrated for speaking

up for themselves. Both could have benefited from carefully observing the other and reacting in

ways such observation told them the other person expected.

For example, Katy could have asked Frank to please not raise his voice or Frank

could have approached Katy in a calmer manner or asked his questions so that she did not feel

attacked. Because it was obvious the encounter did not go well, given Katy’s tears, Frank should

have perhaps asked Katy to discuss the situation with him again so he could learn what had

gone wrong, if he did not otherwise know. He could have also taken the opportunity to discuss

with her what he felt she needed to do, if he asked about her work again. Only by asking each

other what they needed, could these two avoid failed communications in the future due to their

diversity.

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