A1. When we meet people from different cultures and we have little knowledge about them or their culture, we often rely on assumptions and Anita was no different. The first assumption she made was that Germans would have poor English which may cause communication difficulties. After she met her new supervisor Hans Dortmann, she assumed that there are fewer or no women in management at German companies which might be why Mr. Dortmann was uncomfortable. She also assumed that Germans are rude and like confrontation. These assumptions were wrong as the case reveals that business culture at German organizations is relatively more formal than American companies. In addition, power distance is higher at German companies than American companies which may be why Anita didn’t get the response she was expecting and thought that Germans are rude.
A2. Anita’s situation may be quite typical now because globalization has diminished trade barriers among countries and more and more companies are doing business abroad either by setting own operations, through acquisitions, or simply going for joint venture. This is true for both American and foreign companies. There are often huge cultural differences among countries including those at workplaces and many people have little or no experience working with those from other countries. Thus, when they first deal with foreigners, they judge the behavior demonstrated by foreign individuals on the basis of their own cultural values which only leads to misunderstanding.
It used to be that mostly American companies would pursue international expansion but now more and more companies from emerging companies are pursuing international expansion including India, China, and even those from Eastern Europe. Thus, situations like Anita’s would only become more common over time.
A3. One of the major communication barriers in this situation is cultural barrier. Anita and Mr. Dortmann come from different cultures with different norms and values, thus, they may have different expectations of how one should behave at workplace. Another communication barrier is language because both individuals speak different languages. Even though English is a universal language and Mr. Dortmann may have intermediate language skills in English, there is still a potential of miscommunication if the words chosen by Mr. Dortmann to express himself have different meanings or implications in German and American cultures. The third communication barrier is stereotypes as the case reveals that both Anita and Mr. Dortmann felt the other person was rude. Stereotypes often lead to non-cooperative attitude and poor working relationship.
Anita took the right steps to overcome these barriers by taking information sessions on cultural orientations. These sessions helped improve her understanding of German culture and reduced the probability of her misinterpreting Mr. Dortmann’s behavior.
A4. Anita and her supervisor may be encouraged to learn more about each other’s cultures due to their differences. This may also motivate both of them to adopt positive characteristics of the other culture. Their differences will also introduce each other to different perspectives and expand their thinking horizon.
In order to learn and benefit from each other’s strengths, they should learn about each other’s culture, either directly through conversation or indirectly through information sessions and other information sources. They should also learn about each other’s personal characteristics and work history which may increase mutual appreciation for each other. Similarly, they can also talk to each other’s work colleagues to gain additional information.