Intercultural communication – upfront and personal

I’ve had the good fortune to travel this year to Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand relating to my research and teaching roles. In the process, I gained some insights that I would like to share in the following anecdotes. These musings are meant to be opportunities for pause and reflection. Have you had similar experiences? Comments and open discussion are welcome.

It all began when I let go

After the closing ceremony of the International Communication Association Conference in Fukuoka, Japan, I decided to venture out of the city to find the Nanzoin Temple, famous for its 41 meter long reclining Buddha statue.

I was a bit apprehensive about taking the subway to the regional train station since few of the locals spoke English. Once I showed the picture of my destination from my phone to the woman behind the ticket window, I had my round-trip ticket to Kidonanzoin-Mae. Excited to figure out the right train track and which station to get off, I had my confidence back.

As I stepped off the train with no one in sight, the little voice in my head said, “what now!” I turned to my left and noticed a woman looking at a map on her phone. “Would you happen to be heading to the Nanzoin Temple?,” I asked. Her response in English was, “Yes, want to find it together?” Esther was on holiday from her work in Australia and knew a bit more Japanese than I did.

Even so, we ended up getting lost, coming across many cultural treasures along the way. Eventually, we found the Nanzoin Temple despite missing signs.

Buddha

The entire episode was a great learning moment: Just ask and go with it! Could the essence of intercultural communication be accepting your current circumstances and being agile with your surroundings?

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Tokyo Efficiency

There were boundless opportunities to test my ability to employ intercultural communication techniques in Tokyo. Through discussions with Japanese friends, I was prepared for the basic cultural customs of an indirect communication style, distance in personal space, and emphasis on punctuality.

The Japanese also value efficiency, as I realized when scanning a map of the Tokyo train system. Transit map of Tokyo

As the photo shows, the public transportation authorities created one map showing all the routes. From the perspective of an international traveler, I admit to being completely intimidated by this map. I recall wise words offered to me, “Being efficient might not always be the best.” Those words rang true for me in this situation. As a visitor to the city, I would have been better served with a different map displaying options for traveling in specific directions. Thank goodness people were helpful when I asked questions, and asked questions, and asked questions. Get the picture. From a communication perspective, one size (of map) did not fit all!

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Recognizing the big picture

During an early morning in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, I observed several vignettes, snapshots of daily life, that seemed so familiar. A woman held a small bicycle while a little girl climbed onto the seat. With one push, the little girl pedaled and was off. With a smile, the woman jogged beside the bike and redirected the handle bars as needed. Another woman was cradling a baby in her arms and balancing a bottle. There are some security guards resting on a bench; their long night patrolling the park, I imagined,  is coming to a close. Further along, a group of mature women were exercising to music with a special percussion instruments.

Ho Chi Minh City

I could have been at Danehy Park in Cambridge, the English Garden in Munich, Herastrau Park in Bucharest, or Parque Centro America Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, seeing very similar vignettes.
A realization hit me that we all belong to one culture — the culture of humanity. When I look for differences in cultures, I can certainly find them. There is value in seeking to understand these differences. Yet, when I seek similarities, I can find those too.  Could the best means of mastering intercultural communication be finding a balance between the two?

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Maintaining cultural history

I often wonder, as we become more global, how cultures will maintain their heritage. Will stories start to blend or histories become blurred?

In Ho Chi Minh City, I witnessed just the opposite. Here, the Vietnamese authorities storyboards in Vietnamhave enshrined the legacy of Ho Chi Minh in very visual ways. In Ho Chi Minh Square, there are permanent storyboards to commemorate his life and his relationship with city.

While walking around the square, which is the hub of the city and crowded with people, one can see pictures of the revolutionary struggle and read about Ho Chi Minh’s rise as a leader, as well as the government’s role in providing services to the people and in nurturing cultural customs.

When heading to the main center of the town, more storyboards are found along the side of government buildings. This series shares more recent events and celebrations hosted by the government and the community. There is a clear sense that the emphasis is on the collective unity and shared success of the Vietnamese culture.

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Is this the kind of very public symbolism that will counteract the blurring of cultural heritages? Has anyone seen similar displays? Been to Havana?

 

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The Power of a Sign

While in Bangkok, Thailand, I experienced a real eye opener. I had spent the day with a local guide learning about Thai history and religious practices. It had been a fascinating day, one with many moments of awe and wonder. Honestly, it wasn’t until I saw this sign that I realized I had been disrespecting what I thought was a beautiful symbol of peace.

Buddha poster

I am not a practicing Buddhist and mean no disrespect to those worshiping Buddha. I appreciated what this sign communicated. I had a learning moment that intercultural communication is not always seeking to understand, but recognizing when you have misunderstood. Have you experienced such an eye opener?

 

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Intercultural Communication vs Crisis Communication

In our internet-driven society, cyber hacking is a common occurrence.  From an intercultural communication perspective, should corporations take into account different communication styles when communicating a case of cyber hacking? One example might be using Hofstede’s National Cultural Dimensions to guide wording and emphasis to tailor messages to specific audiences. Or is one message conveying clear and timely information about the hacking incident, along with sincere regret effective for all audiences?

Taking a realistic business perspective, sensitive customer data is vulnerable when exposed. A crisis management plan that takes into account clear and direct information, in a timely manner with sincere regret might be the most effective from a customer’s perspective. I received this message from Vietnam Airlines within 24 hours of the identified incident.

Hacking message

I would have liked to also know what the airline is doing to prevent future hacking. I did appreciate the quick notification. How would you rate this communication?

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

Have you LinkedIn with fellow alumni?

If you haven’t already joined our 300 member-strong LinkedIn group, join now!

In addition to scanning articles on the latest trends in organizational communication, you can plug into a worldwide network of alumni working in a wide range of communication-related roles and functions.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

How a virtual co-op evolved into a social platform empowering women to vote

Nicole Wild

Women have outnumbered men at the polls in every presidential election since 1964. Nicole Wild Merl, a recent graduate of Northeastern’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program, wants to ensure the trend continues.

Wild Merl created the first virtual co-op within the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies to launch WomenVotes.org, a social platform focused on empowering women to share their voice and vote in the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m an advocate for women and passionate about civic engagement,” says Wild Merl, who knew her mentor, Thomas Cook, felt the same way. “I asked him, ‘If we can get approval to do a co-op around creating this platform, would you sponsor it?’ He was in the middle of doing an IPO but still said, ‘Yes, of course.’”

Read the entire article by Lauren Landry, digital content manager for Enrollment, Student Life, and the Global Network at Northeastern University.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

Northeastern’s virtual networking hour

Virtual networking hour

Have you heard about this opportunity to share your experiences, exchange career tips and build your professional network?

Scheduled each month, the Virtual Northeastern Networking Hours allow you to participate in a series of 7 minute text-based chats organized by industry. You can join more than one booth to network with fellow alumni, students, and parents. The intent is to help you build your connections with those in your area or those who you’d like to meet. It’s easy and convenient to log in from anywhere to grow your network.

We’d love to hear your feedback if you’re able to participate.

The next session is scheduled for August 16, 2016, from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM ET.  Register here.

Study highlights ‘mission critical’ role of communication

We know the value of benchmarking: It provides us with a frame of reference, whether we’re assessing the effectiveness of a communication tactics, or, on a much larger scale, the evolution of a profession. Hence, the interesting insights yielded by the Conference Board’s recent study, Corporate Communications Practices: 2016 Edition, based on a survey of 45 U.S. public companies.

Survey respondents identified the top three responsibilities for corporate communications officers as being oversight of the company’s reputation, providing advice directly to the CEO, and supporting employee relations and engagement.

While the full report is only available to Conference Board members, the press release states this: “Growth in corporate communications department budgets, team sizes, and leaders’ compensation, as well as the organizational choice of having senior communications officers report directly to the CEO, point to the fact that corporate communications is becoming increasingly critical to strategy execution and business growth.”

Check out the Conference Board press release.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

 

New capstone courses in the curriculum

logo ms coc

Beginning this fall, new students in our program will select one of two 12-week experiential learning opportunities for their capstone course.

1. An online “co-op at work” experience in which a student can design a project initiative in her/his own workplace.

2. A virtual short-term consulting project with a sponsor in the private or nonprofit sectors within Northeastern’s Experiential Network.

These new capstone courses are designed to enable our students to apply the knowledge, skills, and best practices they’ve learned in their core, concentration, and elective courses. We believe this change in the curriculum leverages Northeastern’s reputation as a leader in experiential learning!

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

Bring the Experiential Network to your organization  

Experiential learning is a hallmark of a Northeastern education, and we’re delighted to offer students an expanding range of opportunities to apply what they’ve learned to real-world projects. In addition to the ‘traditional’ Northeastern co-op placement for full-time students, a new International field study course involving interdisciplinary teams, and a virtual ‘co-op at work’ experience, we will be offering a new course in the fall — an opportunity to engage in a short-term online consulting project with a sponsor in the private or nonprofit sectors.

Over the past few months, CPS has been piloting a non-credit version of what we’re calling the Experiential Network (XN). More than 100 master’s students from a range of disciplines have worked on short-term projects for scores of businesses and nonprofits. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, both for the students and the sponsoring organizations.

Sonja Pankow, a recent graduate of our program completed a project for a Boston-based marketing agency that helps corporate clients develop social media strategies. Her sponsor tasked her with producing a white paper overview of so-called’ micro-influencers,’ or non-celebrity specialists on particular topics whose expertise makes them ideal online brand ambassadors. “I learned a tremendous amount,” Sonja noted, “from the opportunity to produce a deliverable marketing piece for a real-world company. I was able to directly apply knowledge and skills I had learned in my Interactive Marketing Fundamentals and Intercultural Communications classes. It was also very useful to learn how to write in a non-academic style for a corporate audience. I think this experience will really enhance future professional prospects.” This is the kind of learning experience we want to replicate on a larger, credit-bearing scale!

In the fall, we will begin to offer the XN course as a 3 Quarter Hour elective. Students will apply to participate in the course, with requirements that include a B+ GPA and completion of our core required courses. They will develop a project plan, conduct research, develop and deliver recommendations to sponsoring organizations, and reflect on ‘lessons learned’ under the direction of an instructor in our program.

If your organization has a short-term communication-related project that could be completed during the fall 2016 term, please contact Carl Zangerl at c.zangerl @neu.edu. This is a wonderful opportunity, as well, for you to mentor one of our current students.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty

‘People Don’t Care’ – a communications story  

Patty Bianca
Dr. Patty Goodman at right, with Bianca Gasser, CPS ’16

Communications? How did I end up in Communications? This is a question I have asked and have been asked. I find the study of communications fascinating from an interpersonal perspective, intercultural point of view, anthropological, business management, economics, political science, the list could continue.  Not a simple answer for what seemingly should be a simple response. Let me share with you a defining moment in my past that secured the value of communication studies for my professional career.

We must go back to 1997 when I was the Community Support Services Director for a Central Florida mental health center covering two counties.  What inspired me most about this leadership role was the opportunity to change the face of mental illness. The stigma facing the mentally ill was associated with negativity. There was discomfort and fear in the thought of working with or even being near someone diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Literally, I was told, I can’t trust someone who is crazy. In an effort to increase mental health awareness, I collaborated with a local group from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create a community event.  Having experience with project management, I thought this would be a simple project while being beneficial for the community.

To my surprise, we had doors close on us left and right when seeking sponsorship, venue location, and media interest. How is this not an important topic? Why won’t people want to learn about mental illness? People just don’t care, was what I was told. I was shocked and more determined then ever. We need people to make a connection as they would with heart disease or cancer issues. We need to bring schizophrenia alive.

About that time, we learned of a one woman traveling show. This actress had a sister with schizophrenia and wrote a short drama about her experience.  We were able to gain support for this theatrical production within a community church. Next step was to gain sponsorship for media. Being a member of the Ocala Jaycees, I was able to secure backing from numerous rising business leaders interested in hearing about this woman’s story.

The public relations plan started to fall into place, imagine your sister, your mother, or your daughter struggling with illness, an illness of the mind…come and join us to experience the emotional roller coaster ride of a lifetime.  People were interested. We had a diverse group of audience members who may have come to see a show, but left with insights into schizophrenia.  Our event was awarded community recognition, but more importantly the event set into motion greater discussions on the topic of mental illness. People did care. It was all in listening and getting the words out in a meaningful way.

Patty Goodman, Ed.D., recently joined the faculty of the MS in Corporate and Organizational Communication program as an Assistant Teaching Professor.