Using Case Studies for International Business Communication Training

By Zhao, Jensen J. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Using Case Studies for International Business Communication Training


Zhao, Jensen J., Business Communication Quarterly


The success of international business communication training is measured by how well business graduates can apply their learning on the job. Cascio (1991) pointed out that for anyone learning a new skill or acquiring factual information, it is simply not enough to verbalize or to read what he or she is expected to do; the learner must have an opportunity to practice what is learned. Using real-life cases in international business communication training provides students with the opportunity to do the following:

1. Experience the international and cross-cultural issues and problematic situations confronting international business managers and discover different cultural patterns and meanings.

2. Analyze the issues and problems in light of the international and cross-cultural business communication theories and research learned from textbook readings and classroom lectures.

3. Develop appropriate strategies and implementation plans for coping with communication problems and business risks.

4. Develop persuasive and analytical skills as they communicate their case study results in class and gain new ideas and insights from discussions.

These activities are aimed at developing and strengthening students' abilities of discovery, problem solving, and collaboration in international and cross-cultural business communication and management. As Reich (1991) indicated, these abilities must be developed in order to gain a competitive position for 21st-century global economy.

Case Selection Criteria

The selection of cases directly affects the effectiveness of the case study method. Lawrence's (1953) frequently cited criteria for selecting high-quality cases for classroom study are as follows:

* A good case is the vehicle by which a chunk of reality is brought into the classroom to be worked over by the class and the instructor.

* A good case keeps the class discussion grounded upon some of the stubborn facts that must be confronted in real-life situations.

* A good case is the anchor on academic flights of speculation.

* A good case is the record of complex situations that must be literally pulled apart and put together again before the situations can be understood.

Digman (1995) further emphasized that cases are typically records of actual business situations, rather than problems that are preformulated for students to solve.

Therefore, cases must be carefully selected and prepared to reflect real-life, complex international business situations and to demonstrate communication theories and strategies used by managers for achieving their business objectives. Only such cases provide students with the opportunity to connect their knowledge to the real business world and to play active roles of managers or consultants in analyzing complex business situations, identifying problems and opportunities, and proposing solutions and implementation plans. The international section of major newspapers and magazines (for example, The Wall Street Journal and Business Week) is one good source for appropriate case materials. Reports from different sources can provide rich and unbiased case materials.

Selection of a Case

Based on the case selection criteria, a real-life international business case (see Appendix A) was prepared as an example for illustrating the case study activities. The case deals with the formation and operation of a multinational investment bank in China. As this joint venture was formed among partners from different countries (China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.S.), the communications and negotiations used by the partners during the process of forming and operating the venture present a rich communication case in a complex international and cross-cultural business setting. As Lawrence's first criterion described, this case brings the communications and negotiations for forming and operating a multinational investment bank in China into the classroom for analysis and discussion.

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