Speaking cross-culturally: Analyzing a case

Cultural differences can affect us even in brief interchanges. What we think is important can show up in what we say, or what we expect other to say or how they respond. Analyzing even a short dialogue can reveal these issues.

Packaging targets at the China plant of a US multinational

Ms. Smith: You’re not meeting your targets this month!

Mr. Zhao: Apologies…We’re certainly trying our best!

Ms. Smith: But quotas are quotas! I want you to get the output stats up. By month end!

Mr. Zhao: We’ll get our team together to research the situation. Don’t worry! No problem!

Ms. Smith: Is it a supply and delivery snag? Seems like your old friend Zhang’s production group is not getting their raw materials to you quickly enough for finishing.

Mr. Zhao: Their whole team is under a lot of pressure.

Ms. Smith: Pressure or no pressure, the company has targets to meet. I’ll call Zhang up right now and get this squared away.

Mr. Zhao: No need to! It’s OK. We can work it out among our groups. We’ll take responsibility. Don’t worry! No problem!

Ms. Smith: Zhang’s responsible and I want this solved now! Let me just ring him, call him in, and get this sorted out.

Mr. Zhao: But…

Ms. Smith: [Putting the call through]

Mr. Zhao: Ohhh.. [turning silent, looking at the floor]

What values or other cultural dimensions do you think are at work beneath the surface of this conversation? How do you assess the approach each of the speakers are taking?

If you find situational dialogues like this helpful, we highly recommend Craig Storti’s book Cross-cultural Dialogues (1994). This situation was an adaptation of a case similar to “A New Procedure.”

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)