- How would you have handled the situation with Li? If this question is posed to a class with Chinese and students from the West, it should elicit some interesting and varied responses from each group
First of all, I would have sought to have a one-on-one private meeting with him. During the meeting, I would appreciate the work that has so far been done and complement him on the hard work, zeal and commitment that he has displayed. I would also congratulate him on his skills at creating and sustaining high profile relationships. Having done that, we would go ahead to review the progress of the manual project with him so as to be in a better position to make sound judgments about its completion date and other pertinent issues. This would also enable me to gain deeper insight on Li’s opinions. I would thereafter state my concerns explicitly. I would let him know about the time consuming nature of the project, the other pending work that needs his input as well as his inability to focus on his core duties. I would also express my reservations about his capacity to complete the book in the fashion being sought
Having done this, I would thereafter ask him to state his hopes and concerns about the project and ask him to give reasons as to why the project should continue as it is. I would then take his views into consideration but firmly state my position on why I think the project needs to be halted. However, I would seek to reach a consensus with him so that the project is finalized albeit at a smaller scale and according to the original terms of reference. This is because 2 months of hard work had already been put into the project and it would seem wasteful and inconsiderate to have it halted abruptly. I would communicate my final decision in a firm manner. Finally, I would have Chen reassign him other duties as well.
- Do you believe the incident with Li was indicative of broader internal communication difficulties and if so what could Tang do about it?
Yes, the incident with Li was borne out of a broader communication problem. First, it is evident that no helpful interchange took place between Chen and Li. Li did not allow Chen to give him the reasons behind the decision and could not listen to the other’s statement. The communication problem seems to be ingrained in the cultural environment in the firm and in the larger Chinese setting. While high context communication seems to be valued, the concept of face is very important in China. As such, it is undesirable for people to be subjected to criticism or be made to feel inadequate. Secondly, the meaning of the message communicated is dependent on the situation, gesture and symbols and a lot of currency is attached to implicit meanings which are given by verbal expressions. Li carried out the project with a lot of gusto. No doubt his good social skills made everyone aware about the project and its abrupt cessation would have made him lose face and implied, quite incorrectly, that he had not done enough to warrant its continuance. This seems to have been the primary consideration that impeded communication. To improve communication, Tang could endeavor to have communication in the organization take cognizance of cultural beliefs, attitudes, values and practices
- Tang largely ignores his rank and his experience in the United States and hopes that by making it a non-issue, it perpetuates a feeling that he is “one of a bunch of Intel employees working hard to avoid dissonance in relationships”. How realistic do you consider this attitude to be in dealing with the potential for cross-cultural conflict? There is no “right” answer to this question – it is meant to stimulate class discussion by inviting students to share their opinions.
The attitude is not realistic at all. This is because the cultural environment in Intel China and indeed in the larger China is markedly different from that in the United States. In China, organizations generally value large power distance that promotes obedience to management and discourages questioning of ineffective management. Workers expect less consultative leadership and more management autocracy, value collectivism and fraternity, conservatism, passivity and placidity. In contrast, organizations in the United States have small power distance and value democratic ideals. Additionally, informal interactions between employees and superiors are often the norm and decentralization is largely diluted with democracy and meritocracy. Consultation with employees is valued and each company has rules which are known to all the employees and which govern the actions of employees in a standard manner. In contrast, China has particularistic ethics where relationships are more valued than seemingly conceptual rules. Tang’s attitude would clearly do little to help in resolution of cross-cultural conflicts.