Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Business vs. Cultural Frames of Reference in Group Decision Making: Interactions among Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish Business Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Business vs. Cultural Frames of Reference in Group Decision Making: Interactions among Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish Business Students

Article excerpt

This study evolved out of an ethnographic approach to teaching, learning, and researching the different ways that business and cultural frames of reference can affect decision making in groups consisting of Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish business students. The data is based on videotaped and audio taped recordings, post-exercise debriefings and discussions, and post-exercise written reflections on two decision-making exercises. The business-related Carter Racing exercise, which imitates the developments leading to the space shuttle Challenger catastrophe, produced conclusion-driven groupthink in every multicultural group of students. The students' shared "business-is-taking-risks" frame of reference was salient, with few cultural differences within the groups. In contrast, an exercise requiring the same students to decide the appropriate degree of subordinate participation in decision-making when a nuclear power plant needed repair produced only one example of conclusion-driven discourse. Analyses of three gr oups illustrates (a) an example of groupthink (Austrians and Swedes) in both exercises, (b) an example of national culture interference (Austrians and Swedes) that paralyzed group decision-making and (c) an example of national culture interference (Austrians and Finns) that demonstrated the importance of a "cultural negotiator" in finding common ground for different national assumptions about social relationships and preferences for communication styles.

Keywords: Cultural Frames of Reference, Intercultural Communication Groups, Groupthink, Multicultural Decision Making

This study examines the ways business and cultural frames of reference affect decision making in multicultural groups. It is based on the authors' shared interest in exploring the cultural dimensions of what Janis (1972) called groupthink, a decision-making group's premature concurrence-seeking, a "mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action" (Janis, 1972, p. 9).

The research for this study evolved out of an ethnographic approach to teaching, learning, and researching cultural dimensions of speech in multicultural learning environments. The learning process asks teachers-learners- researchers to reflect orally and in writing on a variety of critical incidents. The learning goal is to develop strategies for discovering and interpreting cultural meaning when interlocutors communicate in a common foreign language. Theoretical insights from the ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1979; Philipsen, 1992) and cultural pragmatics (Carbaugh, 1996) provided a flexible frame for analyzing the cultural speech of Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish business students. One of the challenges facing this approach to understanding communication is detecting and understanding possible links between social identities and their evocation by cultural premises and models (Carbaugh, 1996). Understood this way, intercultural communication is a mixture of communicating across cultures and across as well as up, down, and around social and professional identities in different cultural landscapes. The approach was originally developed in several Finnish universities (Berry, 1997, 1998a, 1998b, 1999a, 1999b) and has been adapted and expanded at an Austrian University over three years.

Culture can be understood in many ways (as this special issue of The Journal of Business Communication shows). The approach in this article is primarily influenced by the theoretical insights of Dell Hymes (1979), Gerry Philipsen (1992), and Donal Carbaugh (1996) as well as communication scholars who have dealt with different aspects of the relationship between situational and socio-cultural contexts (Balwin & Hetch, 1995; Carbaugh, 1993, 1995, 1996; Collier & Thomas, 1988; Goodwin & Duranti, 1992; Gumperz, 1982, 1992; Hetch, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993; Katriel, 1995; Philipsen, 1992). …

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