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Communications & Control by J.R. Swartz
Enhancing Communications

Importance of Face-to-Face Communications
Since the company at which I work is technically oriented, much of our daily communications deals with the need to transfer technical information between our Japanese employees and our global agents, customers and subsidiaries. The transferring and sharing of technical information is difficult enough when it is done within the same cultural and linguistic context; however, the addition of cross-cultural and distance variables greatly complicates the process. At times, it seems as though there is no substitute for face-to-face communications, as much of the subliminal communications that we discussed above appears to be missing via CMC.

A good example of communications problems that can occur in cross-cultural communications, that may not be possible to correct via CMC, took place when an English speaking Japanese engineer by the name of Yoshida, and I were working on a very important presentation, concerning a whole new technological paradigm that our company was developing. The success of this project would change the entire direction of our company, and it was important for us to explain the technology and its implications to our top international executives at our annual Global Strategy Meeting.

Yoshida-san and I had more than twenty hours invested in developing the presentation, as we were learning the technology as we developed the presentation. We frequently work together and the process was going smoothly without any problems …until we came to the following page in our presentation:

International Division Presentation

Current Situation in our Systems Div.

Systems is Unable to Meet Customer needs for:

Training our subsidiaries, agents, dealers & customers in system configuration & operation.

While the above slide should appear clear and understandable, Yoshida-san was hesitant about some aspect of the slide. This surprised me, as much of our presentation was highly technical and I felt that if there were going to be problems, they would be in the technical areas. But, we bogged down and it took over 1 hours for us to agree on the correct wording for this one slide.

The Japanese have a way of hedging when faced with something that they don’t agree with. Frequently, it is undetectable to those uninitiated with their culture, but for one who lives here, the signs are very apparent. Yoshida-san had a problem, but couldn’t come right out and say what it was, despite the fact that we are friends and work together frequently. Finally, after going through the wording on the page innumerable times, I could see Yoshida-san’s hesitation, albeit almost undetectable, on the word "Change," which I italicized and underlined above for the sake of our discussion here. After questioning him about it, he agreed that he had a problem with it, because all of the items listed below it really didn’t need changing… entirely. He felt that the word "Change" reflected negatively on the company and didn’t want to use it.

The solution to the above problem came from our physical proximity and my familiarity with their culture and communications patterns. Detecting a problem of this sort via CMC would be very difficult indeed.

Next Section: The need for excellent organization of data on CMC

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