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Archive for August, 2013

Concept of ‘losing face’ – simply an eastern concept?

Posted by ckwok2013 on 29 August 2013

From a recent discussion in LinkedIn forum of SIETAR Europa: Competence in intercultural professions

(Sietar stands for Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) 

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face (LeadershipWatch, Aad Boot)

Business leaders of multinational organizations are often confronted with cross-cultural differences. These differences can cause misunderstandings and awkward situations between people. Especially when people feel they are losing Face. Face – an Eastern concept most likened to the Western concept of respect and dignity. Making people feel they are losing Face occurs more easily than we might expect and can seriously damage relationships.

This cross-cultural aspect of ‘losing Face’ can for instance play a role when you are responsible for leading a complex change project involving people from other cultures.

Brian Cook meets with his Chinese change manager Chan Ling and his team at the Beijing office of a European corporation to discuss last month’s delay in the change deadlines. He questions Chan Ling repeatedly about his team’s underperformance. Brian openly states he believes the team is not pushing hard enough and that there is a lack of commitment. He stresses that Ling is accountable for the results of the team and that he should have informed him about the issues. Ling nods silently and peers out the window. He picks up his papers, walks through the door without further discussion, and never returns. (Example with fake names)

Chan Ling feels he has lost Face. He perceives the directness of Brian’s approach as rude and insulting to him personally. In his culture Face is more important than any other thing. It is almost considered a physical entity, which can be ‘given’, ‘saved’, ‘enjoyed’, ‘considered’, or – and this is every Chinese’s nightmare – ‘lost’. The incident has seriously disturbed the relationship between him and Brian.

Ren yao lian, shu yao pi.

A person needs Face, like a tree needs bark.

(Chinese proverb)

  1. What are your reactions?

  2. Can Brian repair the relationship with Chan Ling?

  3. How can they move forward from here and foster a relationship of respect and collaboration?

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Travel Anecdote in China Part 1

Posted by ckwok2013 on 24 August 2013

Taxi Mafia in Xian"Hey, that was my stop back there!"

After spending 2 days in Xian, on my way back to the airport, I had figured out that I could take the airport shuttle bus which stopped outside the Melody Hotel downtown, opposite the stunning DrumTower for 27 Yuan. With a flight at 11:30 AM, I had allowed myself plenty of time to get to the airport, only an hour’s ride from town centre. So arriving at the bus stand at 07:30 that morning, I was about to get in line in the queue of passengers waiting to board the next bus leaving for the airport.

I was stopped by a woman and a man who asked me what time my plane was. I told them and the woman wrung her hands in desperation as she informed me that the shuttle bus would never get me there on time, that it took the better of 2 hours at the very least to arrive at the airport and that traffic was very bad THAT morning. I was stunned as I was sure I had allowed plenty of time, from having talked to the staff at my hotel earlier.

The woman then signaled to a plain vehicle standing nearby, suggesting that I HAD better take a cab instead for 50 Yuan, sharing with 3 others. Thoroughly confused and bewildered at this turn of events, I didn’t think to walk back up to the people handling the shuttlebus passengers to get their version of things. I just stood by the roadside, forlorn and dismayed, at the thought of having to take a cab which was not only more expensive but less interesting for me than to be with a bunch of passengers in a big bus.

After much hesitation and reflection, I decided it was best to take the woman’s advice and headed over to the unlicensed cab which was waiting with 2 other Chinese passengers who had also been fed the same story as me, that they wouldn’t arrive at the airport in time for their flights. I found it quite difficult to believe that the 2 chinese locals were not more discriminating or skeptical about the story we had been fed. We were being scammed, I was sure of it but what could I reasonably do about it?

As it finally turned out, we got to the airport in just under an hour, which meant I had a 2-hour wait before my domestic flight back to Shanghai. I have posted my experience on the internet to warn unsuspecting travellers for the future. 

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Cultural awareness in the classroom – a fun activity

Posted by ckwok2013 on 20 August 2013

icebergHi there,

I would like to share with you how language trainers can incorporate cultural awareness training in the classroom and describe an activity that is easy to carry out without too much prior preparation.  

The Iceberg Model of Cultural Differences 

There are many metaphors used to explain the concept of cultural differences such as a salad bowl, a melting pot, a tree, mental software, a mosaic of different shapes, sizes, colors, and finally the iceberg metaphor which is often used in the intercultural classroom, being the most popular one. The iceberg draws our attention to the aspects of ‘hidden culture’ or the world of assumptions, habits and beliefs that are not consciously articulated. It implies the danger of thinking one ‘knows it all’ and the need for having a skilled captain or cultural expert to navigate this potential minefield as there is much more to culture than meets the eye.

melting pottreemixed saladmosaic Aim: To help learners identify features that all cultures have in common, those aspects that are visible and those that are not.

Activity: Draw a large iceberg floating in the sea. Ask the class what they know about icebergs. Elicit the fact that most of the iceberg is hidden from view.

Referring to the list of  ‘Features of Culture’ attached, explain that the list shows some of the features all cultures have in common. You might like to have pictures of people doing everyday activities in various parts of the world to illustrate this.

Ask learners to identify those features from the list that they can see in the behaviour of people and those that are invisible. As they share their ideas, record them above or below the waterline on your drawing.

Point out that there is a connection between those items above and below the waterline. In most cases the invisible aspects of culture influence or cause the visible aspects, for example religious beliefs are ‘seen’ in certain holiday customs; ideas of modesty influence styles of dress.

Find other examples of this connection between the visible and the invisible aspects of culture.

You could end the lesson here and move straight to evaluation or you could extend the lesson to look at issues of sectarianism and religious prejudice using well known or recent news events around the world.

Ask the class to consider whether fear of difference – of different religions, the way we believe – creates cultures of fear, prejudice and so on. If so, how can we address this?

Ask the class to consider steps needed to create cultures of peace, tolerance, harmony and respect. This could well be an educational topic if dealing with young learners.

Debriefingbrain cogs

Ask: • Does it make sense to compare culture to an iceberg? Can they think of other metaphors to describe the different ways of thinking about culture? • In some cultures people smile at each other even though they may not like that person. In other cultures this kind of smiling may be regarded as insincere. What does this tell you about the visible and invisible features of culture? • Does it help to explain why people from different cultures sometimes misunderstand each other?

Looking forward to some feedback from you all.


Features of Culture (handout)

 Some of the features that all cultures have in common:

1. Facial expressions

2. Religious beliefs

3. Religious rituals

4. Importance of time

5. Paintings

6. Values

7. Literature

8. Child-raising beliefs

9. Ideas about leadership

10. Gestures

11. Holiday customs

12. Ideas about fairness

13. Ideas about friendship

14. Ideas about modesty

15. Foods

16. Eating habits

17. Understanding of the natural world

18. Concept of self

19. Importance of work

20. Concept of beauty

21. Music

22. Styles of dress

23. General world view

24. Concept of personal space

25. Rules of social etiquette

26. Housing

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