Does Technology Mask Cultural
Distinction?
Terence Brake
Director of Learning & Innovation, TMA World
© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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One of the
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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Does Techno...
© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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Does Techno...
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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Does Techno...
© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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© Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?]
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TMA World Viewpoint 28: Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinctions?

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One of the challenges of working across geographies is virtual distance.

This TMA World Viewpoint advises on how to communicate successfully in general, and communicating via technology in particular.

For more advice on virtual communication and the other skills you and your organization require to thrive in the borderless workplace, contact us today: enquiries@tmaworld.com or visit our website: www.tmaworld.com

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TMA World Viewpoint 28: Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinctions?

  1. 1. Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? Terence Brake Director of Learning & Innovation, TMA World
  2. 2. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 2 One of the challenges of working across geographies is virtual distance.
  3. 3. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 3 You might have heard the term interpersonal mush. It’s a very useful term when thinking about communicating in general, and communicating via technology in particular. Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?
  4. 4. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 4 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? I first came across the term in the book, Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe who is management and organization studies professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
  5. 5. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 5 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? It is tied to the human process we call sense-making which according to Bushe is, “making up a story about other people’s experience (what they are thinking, feeling and/or wanting) to fill in the gaps of our knowledge.”
  6. 6. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 6 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? Even if we are working face- to-face with other people, there are many things about them that we do not know. The mind doesn’t like these blank spaces and so we make up stories to fill them – positive or negative. If this is true in the face-to- face world, in the digital workspace our sense-making goes into hyper-drive.
  7. 7. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 7 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? Distance and the communication limitations of many technologies present us with huge gaps in our knowledge of others. The result is interpersonal mush – stories made up about others that turn out to be false.
  8. 8. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 8 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? Technologies can be categorized into Rich or Lean. Rich technologies (like videoconferencing) embody many of the features of face-to-face communication – verbal, visual and nonverbal cues that help us gain a certain degree of accuracy in making sense of others. Much contextual information, however, is still lost. Lean media (like e-mail, memos, and reports) convey even less information.
  9. 9. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 9 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? People are really all the same. “ ”In the digital workplace, we are often so devoid of real knowledge of others the ‘people are really all the same’ story works overtime. The signals someone conveys that videoconferencing is not the best use of technology when working with their culture can be totally lost. One of the stories we often rely upon in our world of interpersonal mush is that:
  10. 10. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 10 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? I remember working with teams whose members came from Japan, the US, and Europe. The Americans and Europeans were very comfortable with videoconferencing, but the Japanese were not. The Japanese never used the zoom function on the camera because they didn’t want any individual to stand out from the group and be at risk for losing face. There was another issue: Language.
  11. 11. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 11 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? The Japanese were comfortable with written English, but the speed of conversations on the videoconferences left them very confused and frustrated. They didn’t want to ask questions for fear of losing credibility with their European and US colleagues (none of whom picked up on the fact that the Japanese were trying to convey their cultural discomfort with the technology). The cultural differences were missed because of the assumption that we in the West like this technology, and really we’re all the same.
  12. 12. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 12 Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction? Because of the sole reliance on technology for conducting the teamwork, none of the Europeans or Americans came to see or understand the cultural context of the Japanese. It was only when a culturally knowledgeable third-party intervened, and site visit exchanges were arranged, that the cultural differences were unmasked and understood.
  13. 13. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 13 Visit www.tmaworld.com/insights to discover the latest thinking from our experts on global, collaborative, cross- cultural and virtual working. There you’ll find links to our: About Us Webinar Blog Viewpoint & Articles Publications Twitter Written by Terence Brake, Director of Learning & Innovation at TMA World. Our new Borderless Working e-book series
  14. 14. © Transnational Management Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved. [Does Technology Mask Cultural Distinction?] 14 About Us Above all we’d like to hear from you directly, so please don’t hesitate to send any comments, questions or feedback to us at: enquiries@tmaworld.com Or visit our website: www.tmaworld.com Visit www.tmaworld.com/insights to discover the latest thinking from our experts on global, collaborative, cross- cultural and virtual working.
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