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Multicultural communication

In each of the situations described here, a number of different responses are suggested. Which ones seem "normal" to you? If your sense of the "normal" interpretation is not on the list, what would you consider "appropriate" or "normal"? Discuss your responses with the others in your group. Does everyone agree as to what constitutes "normal," polite behaviour? If not, why not? Do you think the differences could lead to serious misunderstandings? How might misunderstandings be avoided in each situation?

  1. You are taking part in a meeting with a number of people you don't know, but who appear to be from several different countries. There is a formal agenda, and when someone wants to speak, most of the participants wait for the chairperson to acknowledge them before they begin speaking. A few people simply speak out when they want to say something. Which of the following statements come closest to your interpretation?
    1. They are being rude.
    2. The chairperson should make them wait to be given permission to speak.
    3. They are acting normally.
    4. The chairperson is being overly authoritarian and should stop trying to control the discussion.
    5. They don't know the rules.
    6. The chairperson should explain what constitutes good behavior in meetings s/he chairs.
    7. They ought to know better.
    8. The chairperson should ask everyone present what rules they want to follow during the meeting.
  2. You are working with several colleagues to write a recommendation report for your company. You have prepared a rough draft and asked a colleague to comment on it. When your colleague returns it to you, you see that she has marked it using red ink. At the bottom of the page, she has written a comment: "<your name>, you have mentioned several of the most important points, but you need to organize it better." You are…
    1. pleased that she has taken the time to write a comment.
    2. horrified that she has used red ink.
    3. embarrassed at all the attention she is giving your work.
    4. hurt and angry that she has been so critical.
  3. You have an 8 p.m. dinner invitation at a friend's house. You want to make a good impression. What time should you plan to be there?
    1. more than half an hour before the time stated.
    2. about 7:30 p.m.
    3. about 7:45 p.m.
    4. exactly 8:00 p.m.
    5. around 8:15 p.m.
    6. around 8:30 p.m.
    7. more than half an hour after the time given
  4. When you are introduced to someone new, do you…
    1. smile and say, "Pleased to meet you."
    2. shake hands.
    3. fold your hands and bow slightly.
  5. How do colleagues greet each other in your country?
    1. Rub noses?
    2. Bow slightly?
    3. Shake hands? What constitutes a "good" handshake?
    4. Kiss each other on the cheek? Two kisses, one on each cheek? Three kisses, alternating cheeks?
    5. Simply say hello and smile?
    6. High fives?
    7. Another form of greeting? What?
  6. When you shake hands with someone, do you…
    1. grasp the other person's hand firmly and pump it up and down?
    2. brush the other person's palm lightly with your fingertips?
    3. grasp the other person's hand firmly with your right hand and grab his/her elbow with your left hand?
    4. offer your hand, but do not actively return the other person's grasp?
    5. kiss the back of her hand while looking into her eyes?
    6. kiss the inside of her wrist while looking into her eyes?
  7. When you shake hands with someone and that person does not grasp your hand firmly in return, what does that tell you about that person?
    1. The person is very polite.
    2. The person has a weak character.
    3. The person has a strong character.
    4. The person is not to be trusted.
    5. The person can be trusted.
    6. The person doesn't like you.
    7. The person likes you.
    8. The person is trying to show you s/he is not aggressive.
    9. The person has something wrong with his/her hand.
    10. The person is very aggressive.
  8. When you shake hands with someone and that person grasps your hand firmly and looks you straight in the eye, what does that tell you about that person?
    1. The person is very polite.
    2. The person has a weak character.
    3. The person has a strong character.
    4. The person is not to be trusted.
    5. The person can be trusted.
    6. The person doesn't like you.
    7. The person likes you.
    8. The person is trying to impress you with his/her strength.
    9. The person has something wrong with his/her hand.
    10. The person is very aggressive.
  9. When you are talking with an acquaintance or a colleague, do you…
    1. look the person directly in the eyes.
    2. look down at your feet.
    3. look off into the air beside the person you are talking to.
    4. look briefly into the person's eyes, then let your eyes wander around the person's face.
  10. To show you are paying attention and listening with interest, do you…
    1. nod or shake your head?
    2. make some kind of sound: grunt, say "mmm…," "uh-huh," or "huh-uh"?
    3. listen quietly without interrupting or gesturing?
    4. jump in while the other person is speaking and ask questions?
    5. try to finish the other person's sentences for him/her?
  11. You and several of your friends are out shopping together. When you are ready to pay, do you…
    1. delegate one person to stand in line at the check-out stand and save places for the rest of the group?
    2. each wait in line separately to pay?
    3. crowd around the check-out counter and expect a competent cashier to know whose turn it is?
  12. You are being helped by a sales clerk. When a new customer walks in, the sales clerk leaves you momentarily and turns her attention to the newly arrived customer. Do you consider this…
    1. normal behaviour?
    2. rude behavior?
    3. a personal insult?
    4. the result of bad training?
    5. the result of good training?
    6. the result of a lack of training?

Here are some additional topics you might want to discuss:

  • Talking about money – how much did it cost? how much do you earn?
  • Appropriate dress in various situations.
  • Sharing information (Cheating?) during examinations.
  • Questions in class. Asking/Being asked.
  • Being singled out for praise.
  • Corporal punishment, in school, at home.
  • Behavior at the beginning of class.
  • Generalities versus specifics in writing.
  • Paragraph structures.