This self-assessment is an experiential learning exercise designed for both corporate training and classroom. With Kolb's experiential learning model as a theoretical base, the self-assessment questionnaire in the exercise was developed on the basis of seven dimensions of communication competence identified and confirmed by various empirical studies as predictors of intercultural business success. After completing this exercise, students should be able to (a) identify their communication behavior in intercultural interactions, (b) be aware of their communication competence level in intercultural interactions, and (c) increase their understanding of the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural business management success.
Recently, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) have created an improved international business environment for U.S. companies. However, the success of U.S. companies' international business depends largely on their employees' intercultural communication competence. Several survey studies on international business management indicated that one of the most frequently mentioned criteria for the success in international business is intercultural communication skills (see, for example, Oddou & Mendenhall, 1991; Zhao & Ober, 1991). To develop intercultural communication skills, an assessment of existing communication behavior needs to be conducted first. As a recent Fortune article pointed out, the most critical knowledge for a manager's career in the new economy may be self-knowledge (Kiechel, 1994).
This paper provides an experiential self-assessment exercise and discusses how this exercise can assist business professionals and students in assessing their communication behaviors for intercultural business success. The discussion starts with a brief review of Kolb's (1984) experiential learning model as a theoretical basis for the experiential self-assessment exercise. Then, the exercise is provided and its administrative procedure is discussed. Finally a conclusion is presented.
Experiential Learning Model
Experiential learning refers to active learning that occurs from experiential exercises. Cooper and Alderfer (1979), Alderfer and Cooper (1980), and Kolb (1984) indicate that experiential learning exercises call upon participants to observe their own behaviors as they occur and to reflect upon the causes and effects of their behaviors. Based on his decade-long research, Kolb (1984) synthesized the learning models of Lewin, Dewey, and Piaget and formulated an experiential learning model, which is a cyclical process of four phases: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. The model describes learning as beginning with participants' concrete experience followed by reflective observation in which participants rethink what occurred. The third phase, abstract conceptualization, involves small group discussion and a facilitator's debriefing to help participants conceptualize from their experience. Once the participants have developed some abstract concepts about their experience, they can consider alternative behaviors and test them in a new experience.
King (1988) stated that an implied goal of an experiential learning exercise is learning how to learn; therefore, it is particularly relevant and valuable to require equal emphasis on each phase of the model when conducting experiential learning exercises. To place equal emphasis on each of the four phases, King (1988) developed the following four questions as the exercise guidelines for directing participants' small-group discussion and facilitator's debriefing: 1. Behaviorally what happened? (concrete experience) 2. Reflecting on the episode(s) reported, what are you led to believe or feel? (reflective observation) 3. How do your reflections and conclusions relate to the theories presented in the small-group discussion and the facilitator's debriefing? (abstract conceptualization) 4. Based on the episode(s) reported plus your analysis and conclusions, what thoughts about future actions do you have that will make you a more effective manager? (active experimentation)
King (1988) further emphasized that all four questions are of equal importance in the learning process. If participants' answers to Question 1 are poorly conceived, their answers to the remaining questions will be affected.
A related literature review indicates that an increasing use of experiential learning exercises as an effective training method occurs in the field of corporate training and development (see, for example, Alderfer, Alderfer, Bell, & Jones, 1992; Foxon, 1990; Froiland, 1994; Galagan, 1991; Hartmann, 1994).
Experiential Self-Assessment Exercise and
This experiential self-assessment exercise was designed on the basis of Kolb's (1984) experiential learning model and seven dimensions of communication competence identified and confirmed by various empirical studies as predictors of intercultural business success (see, for example, Kealey, 1989; Kiechel, 1994; Yim, 1989; Ruben, 1976; Ruben & Kealey, 1979; Zhao & Ober, 1991). The questionnaire was developed by adapting the original nine Ruben indexes to 15 self-assessment questions based on the measurement theory of one question per idea. The rating scale was set according to the predictability of each of the seven communication dimensions determined by Olebe and Koester (1989), Ruben (1976), and Ruben and Kealey (1979) in their experimental studies.
The exercise is organized in the following sequence for students in (a) knowing the learning objectives, (b) understanding international business environment, (c) completing a self-assessment questionnaire, (d) interpreting communication behaviors against the evaluation sheet, and (e) taking part in small-group discussion and instructor debriefing.
Approximately 50 minutes is required for completing the whole exercise. An instructor is needed to coordinate the exercise. First, the instructor spends about 10 minutes with students in introducing the learning objectives and helping students understand the international business environment (see Figure 1).
Second, students need approximately 15 minutes to complete a questionnaire of communication behavior (see Figure 2) and to determine and interpret their scores of communication behavior (see Figure 3). To ensure that the questionnaire identifies students' communication behaviors accurately, the instructor must clarify that there is no correct or wrong answer to each of the questions in the questionnaire, and students must read questions carefully and check the choices that most accurately describe their communication behaviors. After completing the questionnaire, students are able to determine their scores and learn their levels of intercultural communication competence.
The remaining 25 minutes is allocated to small-group discussion (see Figure 4) and the instructor's debriefing of the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural business success (see Figure 5). These activities are used to help students (a) behaviors that will make them successful in intercultural business communication and management. The reflect on their own and others' communication behaviors, (b) understand the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural business success, and (c) develop some abstract concepts about the communication experience. Based on their reflective observations and abstract conceptualizations, students are able to consider alternative communication instructor can conduct small-group discussion and debriefing in sequence or intermix them as appropriate. The key point of these activities is to relate the seven dimensions of communication competence presented in the debriefing to participants' reflective observations of communication behavior so that they are able to develop appropriate abstract concepts of the communication experience.
Researchers in various disciplines have almost unanimously found that without continuous learning or training, individuals' past and current behavior is the best indicator of their future behavior (see, for example, Cascio, 1991; King, 1991; Ruben, 1976). Therefore, this experiential learning exercise is needed to help business professionals and students assess their communication competence in seven dimensions that are predictors of intercultural business success. After completing this exercise, participants should be able to understand where they stand on each of the seven dimensions and what action they need to take for their future success.
After you complete this self-assessment exercise, you should be able to: 1. Identify your communication behavior in intra- and intercultural interactions 2. be aware of your communication competence level in intra- and intercultural interactions 3. increase your understanding of the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural business management success
International Business Environment
International business plays an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy. The Statistical Abstract of the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993, p. 794) indicates that U.S. exports of goods and services to foreign countries increased from $344.4 billion in 1980 to $727 billion in 1992, an increase of 111% in 12 years.
U.S. companies involved in exporting goods or services need a large number of managers, salespersons, liaisons, and representatives working internationally. The success of their international business activities is largely dependent on the communication skills of these employees. For example, a survey of the World Trade Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey World Trade Council indicated that one of the most frequently mentioned criteria for success in international business is cross-cultural communication skills (Oddou & Mendenhall, 1991).
The U.S. domestic market also includes foreign companies and U.S./foreign) joint ventures. These companies employed 4,705,300 Americans in 1990 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993, p. 799). The success of these companies certainly depends on how well their managers and workers communicate with one another and how well their managers communicate with customers, suppliers, and government agencies.
Therefore, being current or future managers or supervisors, we should identify our communication behavior, know our competence level in intercultural communication, and understand the relationship between communication behavior and intercultural management success. Figure 1. Learning Objectives and the International Business Environment
Determine Your Total Score
Directions: To determine your total score, adjust the numbers in the following questions: for Q6 and Q8, always = 1, frequently = 2, occasionally = 3, seldom = 2, and never = 1; for Q10, reverse the numbers: always = 5, frequently = 4, occasionally = 3, seldom = 2, and never = 1; for Q13, never = 1, seldom = 2, occasionally = 3, frequently = 2, and always = 1.
Now add the numbers you have chosen from the 15 questions. Your total score on this questionnaire should be between 15 and 67 (any score below 15 or above 67 means a miscalculation).
1. Above 57: You are likely to be successful in intercultural communication and management.
2. 50 to 57: You are likely to be successful in intercultural communication and management by maintaining self-improvement in intercultural communication and management skills.
3. 40 to 49: You are likely to need some training in order to be successful in intercultural communication and management.
4. Below 40: You are likely to encounter many difficulties in intercultural communication. In order to be successful in intercultural communication and management, you need to adjust your attitude and behavior by participating in relevant training programs. Figure 3. Scoring Guide
Directions: Meet in groups of 4 to 6 to compare your profiles and discuss the following questions.
1. How do you show respect toward others when you talk with them? Are you sure that they feel respected by you?
2. Are you a task-oriented, relationship-oriented, or self-oriented manager? How effective are you in communication and management? How do your subordinates like you?
3. How important is empathy from your personal viewpoint? Do your group members agree with you?
4. How important is equality in human interaction from your personal viewpoint? Do your group members agree with you?
5. How important is adaptability from your personal viewpoint? Do your group members agree with you? Figure 4. Small-Group Discussion
The Relationship Between Communication Behavior
and Intercultural Business Success
Communication behavior is the way one speaks, listens, reads, and writes. Managers and supervisors give instruction, communicate decisions, discuss problems, solicit feedback, and so on through speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Their behavior in speaking, listening, and writing can be easily observed by others and can also affect others' behavior immediately. For example, a supervisor may ask a worker to change his or her job performance in either a relationship-oriented manner or in a task-oriented manner.
In a task-oriented manner, the supervisor might say, "What are you doing? Do it this way, or you will not be allowed to work here." By contrast, in a relationship-oriented manner, the supervisor might say, "I think this may be a better way to do this job. We've found that it is easier to do this way and that it also saves time. Why don't you try this way and see if it works any better."
The task-oriented approach communicates instruction to a worker without respect and empathy, so the worker feels bullied into complying and develops a strong dislike to the supervisor. However, the relationship-oriented approach communicates instruction to a worker with respect and empathy, so the worker feels treated as a responsible and intelligent person who will cooperate if given good ideas. Consequently this worker likes his or her supervisor, works harder, and cooperates well with not only the supervisor but also co-workers. Therefore, managers' and supervisors' communication behavior is closely related to their management success.
Communication behavior is even more important in managing an intercultural workforce and in handling international business. Numerous U.S. multinational corporations and Japanese companies in U.S. report that the big problem in their organizations is the difficult intercultural communication and its significant costs. For example, Japanese managers say U.S. employees lack loyalty and commitment, and they cannot understand the American passion for bonuses that reward individuals rather than whole teams. Japanese managers also feel uncomfortable with American desires for explicit performance reviews, which the Japanese eschew in order to maintain harmony (Conte, 1991).
Conversely, Americans complain about Japanese management and nonverbal communication such as open offices, desks facing each other, and the practice of routinely denying Americans top positions (Fucini & Fucini, 1990). As the personnel manager of a U.S./Japanese joint venture in Michigan concluded in an interview with one of the authors, in companies with a multicultural workforce, the toughest thing to handle is the communication of cultural differences (Rhonda Balderrama, personal interview, December 2, 1989).
The longitudinal studies conducted by Ruben and Kealey (1976, 1979, 1989) identified the following seven dimensions of communication competence as predictors of the success of international and intercultural business management. These predictors were confirmed by other empirical studies (see, for example, Kiechel, 1994; Kim, 1989; and Zhao & Ober, 1991).
1. Adaptation (related to Question 4). Adaptation refers to the ability with which individuals act appropriately in new or ambiguous situations. Those who are unwilling or slow to adapt to new situations may have many problems in intercultural interaction. Diplomats, missionaries, students, researchers, emigrants, employees of multinational corporations, and numerous others are going through the process of adapting when being abroad. Their survival and livelihood are largely dependent on their ability to acquire new learning and to perform according to the standards and practices of the host society (Kim, 1989).
2. Display of Respect (related to Question 1). This is the ability to show respect and positive regard for another person in interpersonal and intercultural relations. Respect is conveyed in a variety of ways - through eye contact, body posture, voice tone and pitch, and general displays of interest (Ruben, 1976). The international business managers perceive showing respect as being a very important managerial skill for U.S. international business success (Zhao & Ober, 1991).
3. Empathy (related to Question 5). Empathy is the ability to understand others' situations and feelings through giving and receiving feedback. Kiechel's (1994) study of managerial careers in the new economy pointed out that the new manager not only needs just as many analytical skills as the old one does but also needs to be empathic. Empathy is one of the central communication skills (Wieman, 1977). Empathy can be shown nonverbally by nodding when a person tells you something or by maintaining appropriate eye contact with the individual with whom you are speaking and mirroring the person's facial expressions in a genuine manner (Kreps & Thornton, 1984). Thus, listening actively and communicating (giving and receiving) feedback are perceived as being important skills in international business (Zhao & Ober, 1991).
4. Interaction Management (related to Question 15). This is the ability to handle the process of human interaction. Interaction management includes negotiation of topics discussed, turn taking, entering and exiting episodes, and handling topical development smoothly Holding negotiations, conducting meetings, communicating decisions, and making presentations are important for international business management (Zhao & Ober, 1991).
5. Interaction Posture (related to Question 2). This refers to the ability to respond to others in a descriptive and nonjudgmental way. Judgment, evaluation, and appraisal are the major barriers to interpersonal communication (Rogers, 1961). U.S. international business managers consider the skill of withholding judgment as being important in international business management (Zhao & Ober, 1991).
6. Orientation to Knowledge (related to Question 3). This means the flexibility with which individuals explain things to different people according to different situations in order to reach the same results. The research findings of Ruben and Kealey (1979) showed that orientation of knowledge predicted culture awareness and communication effectiveness in intercultural communication. Zhao and Ober's (1991) survey indicated that the vice presidents of international business in 78 Fortune 500 industrial corporations perceived maintaining flexibility as an important skill for international business success.
7. Role Behavior (related to Questions 644). Role behavior refers to the ability to perform both relationship and task roles and the ability to avoid self-centered roles. In intercultural interaction, developing a working relationship is the basis on which two parties can facilitate task roles. Without a good working relationship, business cannot be conducted between two parties (Alston, 1989; Fisher & Brown, 1988; and LePoole, 1989). Figure 5. Lecture Notes
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