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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Am I Bowing Low Enough?
Why do Americans park on the driveway and drive on the
parkway? For the same reason that Japanese subtly scratch the tablecloth
to order more tea. Each culture is merely expressing the idioms of
its own communication. For the temporary tourist, learning such linguistic
and cultural anomalies can be fun, even part of the trip’s excitement.
But for the businessperson laboring hard to get the job done, a wacky
language like English, laden with slang, sports metaphors, and a mongrel-bred
vocabulary of half a million words, communication at warp speed can
prove to be, well, a real twilight zone.
To bring folks in from left field and help them learn a little international
sensitivity, the Human Resource Management Association (HRMA) of New
Jersey is sponsoring "Communication Across Cultures" on Monday,
March 10, at 11:45 a.m. at the Yardley Inn in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Cost: $40. Call 609-883-6327. This HRMA meeting features
Mercer Bing of ITAP International, a firm with offices at 268 Wall
Street in Research Park. In a fun but poignant way, she puts forth
the specific problems and solutions faced by both employees and entrepreneurs
dealing in a foreign land.
"So the British executive turns to his new American co-worker
and asks her to give him a rubber," laughs Bing. "The lady’s
stunned silence could have shattered glass." Unsnarling such little
unintentional gaffs (she finally gave him the eraser he sought) and
has been the goal of ITAP International since Bing’s husband, John
Bing, founded it back in the early 1980s.
Raised in a globe-trotting family, John Bing grew up in a series of
exotic locales, including Africa and Japan, before serving as a Peace
Corps volunteer in Afghanistan for three years. Thus his international
education and government degrees — from the University of Massachusetts
— seem appropriate.
Catherine Mercer Bing, also a veteran traveler, brought business expertise
to their firm. Trained as a New Jersey teacher, she also worked for
Chase Manhattan Bank and Lockheed prior to founding her own Princeton
business, Mercer Communications. The couple’s mutually run business,
which began as International Training Associates of Princeton, has
expanded globally to help bridge the cross-cultural gap and thus has
more aptly shifted to ITAP International.
Whether you are bringing aboard an employee from a new culture, or
taking your business onto strange new soil, learning and sensitivity
are essential to success. "There are many hurdles to cross cultures,"
insists Bing, "only one of which is our spoken language."
into "all that jazz," but neither expression means much to
that Greek shipping firm representative whose contract you would kiss
the Blarney Stone to win. "Language truly is the mirror of the
culture," says Bing, "but the global businessperson must adjust."
This entails retraining your working vocabulary to eschew our rich
sports, music, and even computer metaphors.
Remember that your new employee with the foreign accent probably learned
English as a second language in an academic setting. Thus certain
words and phrases should be used (not utilized) to facilitate communication.
For example, saying that a task is "difficult" is better than
saying it is "hard" — a word with many meanings.
It is easy to forget that the United States and other
English-speaking countries are separated by a common language. Just
because you deal with an English-speaking New Zealander does not mean
you’ll have the faintest idea what to do at a "compulsory halt."
(Hint: it entails an octagonal red sign with four white letters.)
On the other hand, boredom is never a communications goal and your
language need not be dust dry. The occasional idiom delivered with
a broad smile, then quickly paraphrased in a more prosaic way can
add stimulation. It gives the speaker an out-of-the-box, truly original
feel, yet maintains sensitivity.
often provides communication shortcuts. Interestingly, much professional
jargon is now more global than the most familiar slang English. Your
German human resource consultant may well chat knowledgeably about
an employee’s "high-pot quotient," but beware. His definition
of high potential may differ from yours.
such amazingly correct English, with scarcely a trace of an accent.
It is a shame that she is such a sluggish worker. "How well an
individual speaks," explains Bing, "in no way indicates their
English reading speed." Almost invariably the foreign worker will
need more time to struggle through the same work in this second, non-native
language. He will also have to suppress the very natural tendency
toward jealousy and resentment of his English-speaking cohorts, who
can breeze through written tasks more quickly.
Supervisors can help by avoiding comparisons and by diverting time-crunch
situations. Co-workers can add precious clarity by backing up conversations
with brief, tersely worded (but not condescending) memos as a handy
summaries, which can be reviewed at leisure. Morale can be greatly
improved if supervisors learn a few words of employees’ native languages.
If, for example, you ask over lunch for the word for "tasteless"
in Turkish, your visitor will find a relief from being the constant
student and for a moment take on the role of teacher.
think that time and personal pride are prime. While these are admirable
traits, they are not universal. Lone American entrepreneurs frequently
fumble when faced with a vast panel of Chinese all trying to negotiate
the same simple deal. "To the Japanese," says Bing, "a
long conversational pause is a sign of respect. It signifies that
"`I appreciate your point and want to consider it.’" The American,
however, is more likely to view such a pause a merely an annoying
sign of short term memory loss.
"Negotiating involves language, of course," says Bing, "but
other factors, such as non-verbal cues and national values, must be
equally considered." Non-verbal negotiating signals may include
gestures, seating, and the proper cultural distance. It takes a full
day to purchase a rug — let alone landing space — in Turkey,
whereas in the United States we would do business swiftly with the
devil if he could supply our needs at five cents a widget cheaper.
In China, it may take three months of interchange to determine that
you personally exhibit sufficient character to make you a trustworthy
over by a German business, nearly everyone grumbled and then quietly
winced, expecting a pink slip. Many got them. Yet one executive, for
some reason, seemed to get along well with the new bosses. In fact,
he flourished and was promoted, then offered a plum job in the Munich
home office. Of course, he was the only one in the office who raced
to Berlitz and blitzkrieged a mastery of German.
In addition to showing some obvious initiative, the Germans greatly
appreciated the executive’s welcoming accommodation. "It can be
little things like translating measurements into metric or arranging
more complex logistics," Bing explains. She cites an instance
where an American, an Englishman, and a Japanese manager held periodic
conference calls. Somehow the scheduling fell so that the call came
at the start of the American’s day and late afternoon for the Englishman.
The Japanese had to roust himself out of bed in the middle of the
night. "How do you think that would make him feel about the entire
business relationship?" asks Bing.
No one can deny that business is going global, for companies of all
sizes. Even if your product is locally produced and never leaves the
state, the odds that you will hire foreign employees are great. Those
energetic enough to seek out global markets and transcultural human
resources are finding tangible rewards. Yet to make the most of this
diversity, domestic firms will have to twist into a new mold and blend
a little accommodation and a little cross-cultural sensitivity into
the work day. It is, after all, in the interest of the American dream,
— Bart Jackson
Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) holds the
2003 Sarnoff Symposium on Advances in Wired and Wireless Communications
on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 11 and 12, at the College of New Jersey.
Tuesday’s sessions begin at 2:30 p.m. A reception and dinner follows
at 6:30 p.m. at the Princeton Hyatt.
and CEO of Sarnoff gives the dinner address. Wednesday’s sessions
begin at 8 a.m. and continue through 6 p.m. Cost: $230 for symposium
and tutorial and $55 for the dinner. Students pay $20 for the symposium.
Call 732-280-2020 or visit www.sarnoffsymposium.com
The Sarnoff Symposium has for many years been the premier telecommunications
event in New Jersey, attracting technical and industry experts from
the United States and from overseas demonstrating the globalization
of the telecommunications industry and the importance of New Jersey
for this high tech industry.
"We strive to present a comprehensive survey of the innovative
work in the field," says
chair and a senior researcher at the Sarnoff Corporation.
The keynote presentation on March 12 by
director of Sprint’s Mobile Computing Services Group, explores the
economics of interoperability of mobile phone companies’ networks.
A panel of telecom executives give the audience a glimpse at the future
of the industry. Speakers include
Corporation at 2540 Route 130 in Cranbury, a leading company delivering
mobility solutions to enterprises;
director of the Telecommunications Research Center, Vienna, Austria;
provider of communication networks.
of A. G. Franz Associates, a Plainsboro-based management consulting
firm, and the symposium’s technical program chair, moderates.
The technical program reflects the growing importance of wireless
communications and network security. It includes 34 papers exploring
technical advances in software radio and microwave devices, 3G mobile
systems, voice-over-IP, optical networking, military communications,
signal processing, modeling and simulation.
<d>Janssen Pharmaceutica Products and
Products are major sponsors of a Leap Into Spring, an event to
raise money for CancerCare. Leap Into Spring takes place on Tuesday,
April 15, at 5:30 p.m. at McCarter Theater. The Mark Morris Dance
Group performs at 8 p.m.
Leap Into Spring honors Mary Ellen Rybak, vice president of oncology
at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development. Rybak
is being recognized for her long-standing commitment to CancerCare
of New Jersey as well as for her work in the field of oncology research.
As the largest national non-profit organization of its kind, CancerCare
provides free professional support services, including counseling,
education, financial assistance, and practical help to people across
the country. The organization operates counseling offices in Princeton
Tickets for Leap Into Spring are available for $125, and sponsorships
are being sought. Call 609-924-8752.
Miracle Network (CMN). CMN is a national charity which improves healthcare
for children by generating funds and awareness for programs for 170
affiliated hospitals. Funds raised benefit the Children’s Hospital
of Philadelphia, Children’s Specialized Hospital, an affiliate of
Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s
Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University in New Brunswick.
The hospitals affiliated with CMN treat children with all types of
afflictions, including cancer, heart and muscular diseases, birth
defects, AIDS, and injuries incurred as a result of accidents.
the planetarium at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch.
The funds will go toward providing tools for New Jersey astronomers,
and will enable the planetarium to expand its educational services
by helping astronomers to become better teachers.
The idea for the new program comes from two current programs at the
RVCC planetarium. For years, the planetarium has conducted Starlab
workshops for teachers and Project ASTRO for teachers and astronomers.
Starlab is a portable planetarium that is easily transported and set
up in schools. More than 350 teachers have attended workshops at RVCC
to learn how to use Starlab in their classrooms. Project ASTRO matches
volunteer astronomers with teachers in grades 2-12. The astronomers
act as a resource to the teacher and his class, making at least four
visits a year to help teach astronomy with hands-on activities. More
than 100 astronomers are involved with Project ASTRO.
The purpose of the new initiative is to develop and conduct workshops
specifically for astronomers. Starting with Project ASTRO’s network
of astronomers, workshops will train astronomers in the use of Starlab.
The program is being designed to accommodate the time commitment and
restrictions of the astronomers’ work schedules.
Anyone interested in taking the workshops can call 908-231-8805 or
can E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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