Critical Incidence Analysis in Cross-Cultural Management
#4419 Take-Home Mid-Term, Professor Steve Varela
Email to Svarela@thu.edu.tw before the next class meeting.
Most of us have experienced a situation where, in a cross-cultural setting, we found the
behavior of a foreign national hard to explain. We perceived this behavior to be odd, unusual,
or perhaps improper. As a result, we may have felt anger, frustration, or at least felt
uncomfortable and awkward. It is likely that this state of affairs interfered with our ability to
interact effectively with the foreign national, and maybe even led to a breakdown in
That we tend to view other cultures through our own is a well-accepted human trait. We accept
our own culture and its ways as the norm—everything else may seem strange to us. Our
acceptance of our own culture also tends to condition how we react to different behavior,
systems, or values. This sub-conscious reference to our own way of doing things is known as
Self-Reference Criterion. Understanding this phenomenon is an effective first step in avoiding
cultural bias — to avoid ethnocentric reactions.
Critical Incidence Analysis encourages a more objective reaction to cultural differences by
helping us develop empathy for other points of view. It may be attempted in a number of steps
1. First, identify the situations where you need to be culturally aware to interact
effectively with your business partners from another culture. These may include
socializing, building trust, negotiations, arrival to meetings, legal agreements,
formality, and so on.
2. When confronted with a “different” behavior, discipline yourself not to make value
judgments. Instead, define the situation or problem in terms of the foreign culture
traits, habits, and norms. Simply make observations and gather objective
information. This way, you will be isolating the self-reference criterion influence in
3. Think about why they behave the way they do. By doing so, you will have reacted to
the situation without your own self-reference criterion, and hopefully reacted to
their behavior positively.
4. Learn from this process, and improve continually. Remember also that cross-cultural
empathy—and success in international business—can be greatly enhanced by
acquiring factual knowledge about your partners. This includes political and
economic background of the country, the human profile (social norms, values,
behavior, traditions, etc.), history as well as current national affairs, and their
perceptions of other cultures.
Assignment: Using the approach suggested by the Critical Incidence Analysis, define a
situation that you or someone else has experienced that led to a cross-cultural
misunderstanding. Explain what actually happened, and how a more culturally-
sensitive response may have been possible if Critical Incidence Analysis were
used. 2 page typed maximum - about 350 words.