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    1 Building a relationship Cross-cultural understanding (1) Welcoming visitors

    Small talk: keeping the conversationgoing

    A I M S

    M O D U L E 1 Cultural diversity and socialising

    BriefingThis module looks at issues relating to workingwith professionals from other countries wherecultural misunderstandings may causeembarrassment. It relates closely to the latermodule on Meetings. This unit focuses ondeveloping personal relationships and mutualunderstanding between business partners. Unit 2looks more directly at socialising within a businesscontext, invitations, entertaining, and eating out.

    The unit begins with an ice-breaker as a chanceto develop small talk, before looking specifically atworking with British and American people,together with suggestions on preparing forcontacts with other countries. Knowledge andunderstanding is essential in order to get on wellwith ones partners from other countries.Socialising is instrumental in this: it is aboutmaking relations.

    The second section deals with welcomingvisitors and helping them to feel at ease. Thistheme is used as a lead-in to small talk, which isdeveloped in the final section of the unit andagain in Unit 2. Small talk is looked at in terms ofvarious topics and how to keep conversationgoing. There is a lot of scope for discussion ofstudents own ideas in the unit. The Transferincludes an option on a small research project.Think about the extent to which your studentsmay travel to other countries or are likely toreceive visitors. This is important. In the lattercase, discuss which aspects of the students owncountry, town or culture might be interesting orunusual for a visitor.

    1:1 situationMany of the activities which lend themselves todiscussion and brainstorming will require moresupport from you. Prompt and elicit thoughtsfrom the student and feed in your own ideas andthose included here. There are two role playswhere you will need to take a part, as well as twodialogues based on flow charts where you willneed to take the right-hand role in eventualpractice. With more competent speakers, you maybe able to add variations, thus increasing the needfor spontaneity on the part of the student.

    Timing: 3 hours

    1 Cross-cultural understanding (1)1 Circulate the groups, prompting comment on

    the photograph. Different students willcomment on different things, but draw outideas on:

    where it might be (country / hotel / factory/ office, etc.)

    why they are there (for a meeting / seminar / new venture / chance /tourism, etc.)

    what kind of relationships are represented(friends / new business partners / samecompany, etc.)

    topics of conversation (business/non-business, hobbies, interests, small talk suchas weather, travel, plans, the hotel, travel,colleagues, other countries, etc.)

    what they wont be talking about in this web service Cambridge University Press

    Cambridge University Press978-0-521-75450-7 - English for Business Communication: Second Edition: A Short Course Consisting of Five Modules:Cultural Diversity and Socialising, Telephoning, Presentations, Meetings and Negotiations: Teachers BookSimon SweeneyExcerptMore information

  • Cultural diversity and socialisingU N I T 1


    For five minutes, get groups of students to act outa typical situation as shown in the photograph.Join in yourself, exaggerating your speechpatterns, encouraging a playful and humorousapproach to the exercise. Then discuss issuesarising from the illustration:

    Humour. Ask to what extent humour entersinto business relationships or even jokes.In some countries, such as Britain, joking isoften used to relieve tension. In others, suchas Germany, that might be regarded asflippant or unprofessional. Sean OCasey, theIrish playwright, said that the Irish turn acrisis into a joke and a joke into a crisis.

    Women in business. In which cultures is thisunlikely? Where are women having anincreasingly prominent role in business?(Italy and the UK are examples, althoughless than 10% of company executives in theUK are women.) In some countries, despitelegislation aimed at improving careeropportunities for women, few reach the top(Norway, for example, although the field ofpolitics is an exception).

    Alcohol and business. In cultures wherealcohol is taboo, this is, of course, not anissue. However, while it is not unusual tohave a glass of wine or a beer with lunch inEurope, it is very bad form to drink toomuch. In Italy, a nation of wine drinkers, itis very unusual to drink outside meal times,whereas in Sweden it is not unusual to havea beer with colleagues after work.

    Coffee. In many countries, coffee andbusiness seem inextricably linked. Coffeeseems to be what cements relationships,everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Argentina,via North America and Norway.

    Tea. In China and Japan, tea is more popular.

    2 After ten minutes discussion of these issues toset the theme for the module, go on to thereading task. Ask students to read the text andquickly decide what is the main idea expressedin the text.

    Answer: Everybody is different. Signals meandifferent things to people of different cultures.

    3 If necessary, allow a second reading to find theanswers.a) Eye contact is important. Not maintaining

    eye contact indicates someone who isunfriendly, insecure, untrustworthy,inattentive and impersonal. But it isconsidered rude to stare. Americans signalinterest and comprehension by bobbingtheir heads or grunting.

    b) Similar to Americans where eye contact isconcerned. The English (sic)* pay strictattention to a speaker, listen carefully, andblink their eyes to let the speaker know he /she has been heard and understood.

    c) Taught to direct their gaze at their teachersAdams apple or tie knot.

    d) A gesture of respect.e) If a person of a lower class stares at

    someone of a higher class.f) Anger.

    * Note: It is a small but significant point that thetext, from an American source, speaks of theEnglish. Many foreigners refer to the Englishwhen perhaps it would be more correct to say the British. Discuss with learners what the terms Britain, the UK, Northern Ireland, Wales,Scotland and England refer to. Incidentally, theBritish often make the same mistake when theyrefer to Holland, which is actually a region ofthe Netherlands.

    4 Introduce the question by asking why somesort of research is a good idea before doingbusiness with people from different countriesor cultures.a) Elicit / Suggest that: partnerships need to be built on trust and

    shared understanding initial research can help one know more

    about potential partners and their country,so avoiding embarrassment.

    Think about possibly taboo subjects, such as: politics in countries where open political

    diversity is not tolerated, or wheredemocracy has a meaning different to yourunderstanding of the term

    talking about family relationships in this web service Cambridge University Press

    Cambridge University Press978-0-521-75450-7 - English for Business Communication: Second Edition: A Short Course Consisting of Five Modules:Cultural Diversity and Socialising, Telephoning, Presentations, Meetings and Negotiations: Teachers BookSimon SweeneyExcerptMore information

  • Building a relationship U N I T 1


    alcohol and certain foods discussing business too early, etc.

    Refer to the Skills Checklist. Fundamental thingsto consider include:

    some basic geographical knowledge some knowledge of political and economic

    conditions religion and specific customs public holidays attitudes and expectations regarding

    entertaining visitors business conventions.

    FS b) Introduce the recording. The speaker is an experienced negotiator, used to dealing withpeople from varied cultural backgrounds. Hesuggests seven areas that are important forsomeone planning to do business across acultural frontier. Ask students to identify six of them.

    KeyThe following seven areas are mentioned:

    the actual political and economic situation stability trends outlook

    infrastructure telecommunications transport

    religion / language geography / history culture / customs

    people food / drink / socialising

    attitudes / families business customs / conventions.

    OptionAs a further discussion point to develop, it mightbe interesting to ask students if they think thistype of research is as important when one isplanning to receive a visitor as it is when oneplans to go abroad. In many cases, similarresearch would be advisable in both instances.


    interviewer: So if you are going on a businesstrip, or meeting someone fromanother country perhaps adifferent culture what do youneed to think about?

    peter: Well, its not so obvious. I alwaystry to know something about theactual political and economicsituation in the other country the politics, the economics. Ishould always know somethingabout that, about whatshappening. Also if Im goingabroad, I find out a little about theinfrastructure I mean thetelecommunications, thetransportation, that sort of thing.

    interviewer: And do you find out about thegeneral background, basicinformation about the country?

    peter: The culture, yes. Certainly, thereligion, the language I mightlearn a few polite phrases thegeography, maybe a little history.And how people live, what kind ofculture it is, how people socialise,food, drink, all that is veryimportant.

    interviewer: What about family life?peter: Yes, that too. How families live, if

    private life and business ever mix and also b