Communication with Foreign Co-Workers on Overseas Assignments

There is no doubt that we are globalizing ourselves and that we are more diverse than before. The United States has become a land of many cultures. Communication has become better through technology and the socialization of the human species. Yet, how can we prepare employees for an overseas assignment? This is something that can be seen in two ways, a structured plan for the assignment itself and the in-depth cultural communication factor.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky and Melissa Hahn write that there are five ways one can succeed on an overseas assignment in a structured way.

  • Have a purpose and a person who can promote that purpose. Having the right person to make this assignment work is quite important, especially in cultural understanding and understanding of the project.
  • Having a close connection to home works well, that way the person overseas doesn’t lose touch with what he or she is doing for the company. A good mentor would work.
  • Communication between the worker and employer needs to be constant for best results.
  • Before leaving, it is ideal to start on talks of how the assignment was beneficial and what was learned.
  • The company can distribute what it learned from that experience.

We often forget that to have a successful assignment overseas, the communication between the employee and the foreign team is crucial. We need to consider cultural, social, and language barriers amongst diversity and work. There is no denying that “…English is now the global language of business.” as mentioned by Tsedel Neeley in her article Global Business Speaks English. But this doesn’t really help many. My interview with Dr. Joann Jones, Executive Director – Leadership Development for Cummins, led to these tips.

  • Prepare the assignment ahead of time so that everyone working on the assignment can understand the assignment.
  • Know that there will be a need for clarification as language and cultural barriers are present.
  • If possible, know the language and culture of where one may stay can improve results.
  • An ending follow-up on the assignment will be helpful, especially a written documentation of the progress and results. This may help clarify any miscommunications.

Making sure an overseas assignment is completely worked out is the main goal, but knowing the cultural factor and having a structured plan can lead to a successful assignment.

 

By Alvaro Garcia, Business Major – IUPUC

Oversea Conflict

Going overseas can be stressful for many people, especially if it is for a business assignment. Even though it may be stressful there are many ways to try to help make it less stressful. A good way to help with this stressful situation is to be prepared for talking with foreign co-workers. There are many ways to prepare for this like, knowing which country the assignment is in, the length of the assignment, and learn some about their culture.

Upon getting tasked to an assignment in a foreign country, first figure out which country it will be in. Knowing which country the assignment will be in will help to break the language barrier if there is one. The co-workers may speak the same language or they may speak the one common in their country. Knowing what language your co-workers speak will help to know if there will be a language barrier that could cause problems. If there is going to be a language barrier, then the best thing to do would be to learn more about their language. When learning another language some research is going to have to be done in order to efficiently learn the language. The amount of their language that would need to be learned would have to depend on the length of the assignment.

The length of the assignment can determine a lot about how prepared a person needs to be when going on an overseas assignment. If a person is only going to be there for about a week or two then some language should be learned. For this short amount of time, a person should be prepared enough that the language will not be a problem for them to speak and understand, but the person would not need to become fluent in the language. However, if the person is going to be on the assignment for a year or more, then the language should be more familiar to them before they leave.

The knowledge of the culture of the country is very important to know in order to be prepared for an overseas assignment. Knowing the culture is very important especially if the person has to do any public speaking. Some cultures can have different meanings to things than other countries. For instance, in the United States the cuss words are different from the cuss words of Great Britain. Therefore, something that would mean nothing in the U.S. can cause some conflict if unknowingly said in Great Britain. Another big example would be hand gestures, like the okay hand symbol. This is normal everyday behavior in the U.S. that means okay, but in other countries this symbol would be ‘flipping someone off’. To be prepared for speaking to foreign co-workers knowing the culture is a big one to ensure that there would not be any conflict or awkward situations.

Being unprepared for a business assignment overseas can be very stressful. The best way to reduce stress during this situation is to be prepared for everything that could make the assignment stressful, like a gesture that could ruin the speech that will land the company a new business in another country. Overall, an employee can best be prepared by knowing where, how long, and the culture of the business assignment.

By Heather Hehe, English Major-IUPUC

Miscommunication in the Workplace

I’m sure we can all relate to miscommunication with a boss or fellow employee at work. When this happens, processes could potentially fall behind or customers could become angry about not being properly attended to. Without having good communication skills in the workplace, it is hard to get things done in a timely manner. Proper communication is vital to a workplace running smoothly and efficiently.

There are many reasons behind miscommunication in the workplace. One of the main issues is language barriers. I have had bosses, as well as customers, who spoke a different language than I do and it is tough trying to figure out what they need and how to appropriately help them. It is nice having interpreters that can help, but the communication issue is still always there. Another really big reason behind the lack of communication is being given confusing information. For example, if my boss tells me to do something but I am not sure what she means, I might not get the process done as effectively as I would if I fully understood what needed to be done. Be sure to double check information with the person in charge to make sure it is correct.

Along with confusing information being given, there might also not be enough information being given. If there isn’t enough information given, the process might not get completed all the way. My boss has left out some information when giving me a project to do and I had to go back and redo some of it and it is just frustrating. Be sure to get all of the information out in a timely manner to the person doing the job in order for the job to get completed properly.

There might also be miscommunication between employees. When talking to a coworker, people need to be sure to not put it in a way for the other person to misinterpret what is trying to be said. Be sure to have a clear understanding of the point you are trying to get across before sharing it with someone. Some employees have trouble listening to their leaders. If employees don’t fully listen to what their bosses are telling them to do, they won’t efficiently get the job done.

Another big issue in the workplace is mixing personal lives with professional lives. People need to be sure to leave their personal lives at home before coming to work. There is no reason for everyone to know what is going on with you outside of work, unless you feel the need to talk to human resources. Bringing personal lives into the workplace takes the mind off of the job you are doing, causing mistakes to happen and sometimes those mistakes could cost you your job.

Having negative attitudes in the workplace could cause miscommunication to occur. There could be two employees that do not get along, creating communication issues. There could also be an employee that doesn’t particularly care for their job, causing them to not listen to direction as much as others. Negative attitudes could cause the workplace to be a hostile environment, which could lead to other problems in the future.

Having effective communication in a workplace is an essential part of getting the job done that is needed. If there are communication issues, the workplace could have meetings to talk about them and fix them to the best of their abilities. It is a good idea to talk about things that are going wrong so that it won’t be an issue in the future and things will fun more efficiently and smoothly. Good communication leads to effective productivity, which leads to happy managers and employees.

By: Taylor Bray, Accounting major at IUPUC

Baby Boomers vs. Generation Y

Who are the Baby Boomers and Generation Y? The Baby Boomer generation is anyone born between the years 1946 and 1964, while Generation Y is anyone born between the years of 1982 and 2004. These two generations have many differences and similarities between them.

There are many differences between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y.  Some of the differences are: their work habits, doing what they are told, accepting what they have, punishment, attention spans, trust in others, and many more. Baby Boomers have a better work habit than Generation Y. This is because people in Generation Y feel they are entitled to everything, while Baby Boomers work for everything they have. Baby Boomers are independent about how they live their lives. They don’t want to depend on others for support, since that is how they were raised by the generation before them. Generation Y does not work hard to get what they want; they believe it should be handed to them. Baby Boomers also live with what they have, while Generation Y wants more. Baby Boomers work hard for what they do have and they are content with it. They realize if they want more in life they will have to work hard to get it. Generation Y does not feel the same way, since they feel like they are entitled to things and they always want more. As they want more though, they are not willing to work any harder to get it.

Another way Baby Boomers are different from Generation Y is how they act. Baby Boomers are more willing to do what they are told. They do not act outside of the law or societal norms. This may happen because of how they were punished. If a Baby Boomer did something wrong their punishment was normally some sort of beating (slapped on the bottom, hand, or mouth). This type of punishment taught them not to act out, since it only took once or twice of being slapped to realize it was not good to do that. Generation Y punishments consist of being sent to timeout. This type of punishment allows them to push the limits more and more, which does not allow them to learn from their mistakes. This causes them to be more rebellious. Since there is no real punishment they will act out more than the Baby Boomer. When protesting against something, Baby Boomers are more proactive. They will go stand on the street or march for what they believe in. Generation Y tends to use the media to protest, by updating statuses or using Twitter.

The Baby Boomers are more trusting than Generation Y. An example of this is meeting someone at a certain location at a certain time. When a Baby Boomer makes plans to be somewhere, they arrive on time, if not early. Persons of Generation Y tend to be late. This is mostly due to the extensive use of cell phones. Baby Boomers did not have cell phones when they were growing up, so when they said to meet somewhere at certain time, they had to be there. Nowadays when a person is running late, all they have to do is text or call someone to make last minute changes. This is making trust less important to Generation Y. Dating has also changed between the Baby Boomer generation and Generation Y. When Baby Boomers met someone it was in person. Now Generation can meet someone on the internet, through social media.

While the Baby Boomers and Generation Y are different in many ways, they are also similar.  It may not seem like Baby Boomers are tech-savvy, but they are learning how to use the new technology that is out today. Generation Y has an advantage of growing up with some of the new technology, but the Baby Boomers have taken the time to learn how to use it. Baby Boomers and Generation Y are also similar in saving money. They both understand the value of having money saved to help pay off debt, or to have money for the future. The Baby Boomers as well as Generation Y are also inventors and entrepreneurs. There are as many things being invented today as there were in the late 40’s and early 60’s. This is one thing that will always be the same between the generations.

While there are many differences between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y, there are also similarities as well. Some of the Baby Boomers are the parents of Generation Y children, so their own values and teachings will rub off on their children.  As times change though, so do the ways a person lives; this is why we have many differences and only a few similarities throughout the different generations. This continual change makes one think what the future generations will be like.

By: Randall Eckelman, Business Major-IUPUC.

Work Cited:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-finkelstein/are-millennials-from-merc_b_3598578.html

http://elitedaily.com/life/the-20-differences-between-the-baby-boomers-and-generation-y/

What Do Your Walls Say About You?

Stop what you’re doing right now and look.  Look at the walls in your office if you have one.  Scan the top of your desk, your file cabinets, side tables, computer stations, ect.

If this person were an attorney, would you trust him with your case?

Look with fresh eyes as if it were someone else’s office.

What do you see?  Controlled chaos?

What does it say about you?  Neat? Disorganized?  Unproductive?  A potential fire hazard in the making?

Business professionals should be use to thinking about their appearance by now.  Every wise manager knows that, on the job, you dress for the position you want, not the one you have.  But how often do those same people think about what message their surroundings are saying to others?

Your work environment maybe be your happy place on the job, but the message it sends to others should be consistent with the one you’re trying to send through your appearance, your skills, your conversations, etc.

Impressive!

Do they clash?  Or do they support each other?

In today’s competitive market, don’t overlook this crucial piece of the puzzle. When it comes to your workspace, consider these items:

–         Does your workspace convey efficiency and organization?  Or are your walls lost opportunities to sell yourself instead?

–         Is your college degree (should you have one or more) prominently displayed on the walls?  If not, get it up there.  If you don’t have walls or can’t hang personal items, invest in a small table-top easel and place it on a filing cabinet or side table.

–         Do you have any awards, merits or other honors that are frame worthy and display friendly?  If so, put them out there too, but avoid clutter.  The idea is, if you have professional designations to brag about, do so in a tasteful manner.

Now that’s more like it!

–         Is your desktop some place where pieces of paper go to die?  If so, now is the time to get organized.  Raid the supply cabinet for hanging file folders, develop a system, then use it.

–         But don’t wipe the slate completely clean!  A wide open expanse of clean desk top may be nirvana to neat freaks but to others it may say this person doesn’t have enough to do. 

The point is, bring order to the chaos, promote your accomplishments and send a message that you’re organized and dependable.  If it looks and sounds like you know what you’re doing, people usually will believe you.

– Robin Fritz, Adjunct Lecturer, Division of Business, Indiana University – Columbus

Real World Examples of Groupthink and the Consequences

 

First, what is Groupthink?

Groupthink was discovered as an undesirable by-product of group cohesiveness by a psychologist named Irving Janis. He further defined groupthink as a “mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”

What are the symptoms of Groupthink?

Excessive Optimism                                      Assumptions of Inherent Morality

Suppression of Dissent                                 Desperate Quests for Unanimity

Stereotyping                                                  Rationalizing

  • These symptoms create a decision-making climate where the probability of making a poor decision is very high.

Real World Examples and Their Consequences

Corporate

Swissair’s Collapse: Thought to be so financially stable that people referred to it as the “Flying Bank.” Poor decision-making processes eventually led to its collapse.

Symptoms: The belief that the group is invulnerable and the belief in the morality of the group.

Lack of expertise, similar backgrounds / norms and pressure to conform were also present.

Consequences: Collapse of Swissair

Political

Vietnam: Groupthink is believed to be main reason for the war. Strategic advisors in 3 successive administrations rubber-stamped battle plans laced with false assumptions.

Symptoms: Groupthink prevented contradictory views to the war from being expressed and subsequently evaluated.

Consequences: 58,220 United States servicemen died.

Newly studied areas of groupthink outside of Politics and Business where symptoms were present.

Sports

Major League Umpire Association: In 1999, the Major League Baseball Association staged a mass resignation in a failed attempt to gain a stronger negotiating stance.

Symptoms: The umpires overestimated the power that they had over the baseball league and the strength of their group’s resolve. There was the presence of self-censorship; some umpires who disagreed with the decision to resign failed to voice their dissent.

Consequences: Failed strategy, Major League Baseball accepted their resignations, 22 umpires were out of jobs and eventually replaced.

Groupthink Consequences and Preventing Them

Previous examples show how groupthink can have devastating consequences. In some cases, thousands of lost lives have been associated with it.

How can we prevent groupthink?

According to Irving Janis, there are some things we can do to improve decision quality in cohesive groups but groupthink will always be a threat.

Most Important: Group members must always ask, “Are we allowing ourselves to become victims of groupthink?”

                Fundamental prevention measures:

  1. Avoid the use of groups to rubber-stamp decisions.
  2. Urge each group member to be a critical evaluator.
  3. Bring in outside experts for fresh perspectives.
  4. Assign someone the role of challenging assumptions.
  5. Take time to consider possible consequences of action.

References:

Kreitner, Robert. Management. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2009. Book.

By David Rice, Business (Computer Information Systems) Major-Indiana University Purdue University Columbus