Cross-Cultural Case Studies

  1. Monsooned

    A case study on project deadlines, the Indian ‘yes’ and high-context versus low-context communication.

    Rebecca works with United Technologies, a Chicago based company. She is talking on the phone to Abhinav, the manager of one of United Technologies vendors for customer service outsourcing.

    Rebecca: We really need to get all of the customer service representatives trained on our new process in the next two weeks. Can you get this done?
    Abhinav: That timeline is pretty aggressive. Do you think it’s possible?
    Rebecca: I think it will require some creativity and hard work, but I think we can get it done with two or three days to spare
    Abhinav: Ok.
    Rebecca: Now that our business is settled, how is everything else?
    Abhinav: All’s well, although the heavy monsoons this year are causing a lot of delays getting around the city.

    Two weeks later…

    Abhinav: We’ve pulled all of our resources and I’m happy to say that 60% of the customer service representatives are now trained in the new process. The remaining 40% will complete the training in the next two weeks.
    Rebecca: Only 60%? I thought we agreed that they all would be trained by now!
    Abhinav: Yes . The monsoon is now over so the rest of the training should go quickly.
    Rebecca: This training is critical to our results. Please get it done as soon as possible.
    Abhinav: I am certain that it will be done in the next two weeks.

    Reflection…

    • Did Abhinav agree to the initial timeline requested by Rebecca?
    • What might Rebecca be thinking about Abhinav?
    • What might Abhinav be thinking about Rebecca?
    • How will this incident affect their future interactions?

    Our response

    After the first conversation Abhinav feels that he clearly communicated to Rebecca that the training would not get done in the time she requested. On the other hand, Rebecca feels that Abhinav clearly communicated that he would meet the deadline. How can this be?

    This is an example of miscommunication due to differences in communication styles. Abhinav prefers high-context communication, relying heavily on the context of the situation to communicate meaning. In this case, he hints that the timeline is too aggressive and implies that monsoons are causing work delays. Most Indians in Rebecca’s position will understand Abhinav’s message loud and clear.

    Rebecca, however, is used to low-context communication, relying heavily on the precise meaning of the words exchanged. From her perspective, Abhinav agrees to the timeline when he responds “ok”. Most Americans in Abhinav’s position would understand that Rebecca is still expecting the training to be completed on time.

    Both Rebecca and Abhinav need to seek to understand the aspects of their communication styles which are impacted by culture. Rebecca needs to be careful not to judge Abhinav as ‘unreliable’ and Abhinav needs to be careful not to judge Rebecca’s response as rude and inconsiderate.

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