Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

A Glimpse into Chinese Culture: The Chinese Fish Switcheroo Trick

By on October 3, 2008 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on A Glimpse into Chinese Culture: The Chinese Fish Switcheroo Trick

I reluctantly entitle this post "A Glimpse into Chinese Culture", because I am surely not an expert on the subject.  However, I’ve been around enough experts and spent a fair amount of time understanding what real differences in culture mean, to be willing to throw something like this in a blog. 

Last night I had a very nice, seafood dinner, at a very nice Hong Kong restaurant, with some factory owners.  When we entered the restaurant, we picked our courses out of water tanks brimming with all kinds of gilled culinary treats.  Our hosts knew their fish, and they picked out one they felt was going to be reasonably tastier than the rest. 

A few entrees, and 30 minutes later, our fish had still not arrived prepared.  Our hosts began to tease our server that he had switched the live fish we had chosen, for a dead, frozen fish in the back, and was now going to bring out a cheaper, imposter fish for our meal.  He would then put the good, live fish back in the tank to entice more customers.  This was not the case in this restaurant and would not be common in the kind of restaurant we were in.  But, rest assured, this would not be considered implausible in many restaurants in China.

How might a westerner view this?  Fraud.  Unscrupulous.  Dirty.  Lacking of basic moral character.  How might it be seen from a Chinese perspective?  Clever?  If the customers eat the cheap fish and think they are eating the good fish, and the restaurant saves the good fish to show someone another day–everyone wins, no?  If the broadcast of the Olympics opening ceremony displays computer enhanced images of fireworks, and everyone thinks they are real, spectacular fireworks, then great, right?  If you purchase product with specific paint requirements, and you receive and sell product with inferior paint that nobody knows about, then we all come out winners, yes?  Are they scams?  Or is it clever?  Clever scams?

Keep in mind, I fully realize that I am walking into an academic minefield when I attempt to discuss, elucidate upon, and distill something as complicated as culture down into simple fish stories and concepts such as cleverness.   But as it’s been explained to me by those much more in the know on the subject, so I would like to pass it on.  Cleverness and cunning is much more well-regarded in Chinese culture, than being the "good guy", or doing the "right" thing, from a Western perspective.  The basic value system is different.  How we respectively view and value the world, from the very ground up, is different. 

Of course, I am not making any sort of moral judgment whether this is good or bad, etc., but it’s helpful to understand when doing business here, particularly when sourcing products in China.  Westerners can not rely on the idea that businessmen here, or factories for that matter, will do the "right" thing, because it’s the "right" thing.  I find that even with reasonable experience in other countries, some folks fail to grasp fundamental differences like this.  It took me two years in an MA program in Asian Studies, and ten years of traveling and living in Asia, to develop a meager idea of these things.

Should we assume that all here are trying to outwit us in a chess match of deceit?  No.  But, as Dan Harris always points out, whether you trust or not, always verify what is being done to achieve your objectives here.  It’s important to know that when you need your supplier to do something, whether it’s reworking your product on their dime, using the specified materials, or not delaying your product to get a bigger customer’s order completed, using the argument that they should do it because "it’s the right thing to do" may only get you a chuckle.      

Communicating with Chinese Manufacturers: Who am I talking to?

By on September 12, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Communicating with Chinese Manufacturers: Who am I talking to?

It’s no secret that communication with overseas manufacturers can be challenging.  Given the number of businesses and individuals routinely trying to contact Chinese manufacturers via and other internet sources, many are quick to find at the very outset that communication is going to be a much slower and more difficult process than they initially thought.  Invariably, our clients come to us having already tried to contact and work with manufacturers directly, with little progress and lots of frustration.  So who are the people on the other end of the email at the factory responding to all of these initial inquiries? 

I recently came across an interesting post entitled, A Question for All Chinese Members of the Forums, on one of’s forums.  Upon noticing the frequency with which Chinese members were asking basic questions, this individual posed an open question to the forum, asking these Chinese members to explain who they were, what they did, and how much training they received from their companies to do their jobs.  Their replies, the most interesting of which I’ve posted below, paint a fairly accurate picture of the lack of training these young, entry-level sales staff are typically given, and why great patience and strong communication skills on our part are necessary to get accurate information.  Don’t take it from me.  Hear it from the source:

I work in a factory. I’m twenty- three years old. It’s my first job. I
graduated from university this June. I’ve worked here for more than
four months ( I started my work this April.)

I’m the only one who sell our products to the international market.
I’m the only one who know how to write, read and speak English here.

first, I can’t quote myself, so everytime when I got an enquiry, I need
to let my boss tell me the unit prices. Now, I can quote myself.

I need to learn by myself most of the time.
are lots of professional English words I didn’t know, but no one can
tell me, I need to search a lot and learn from the Internet — That’s
why I always turn to Baidu for help now. I found it’s very useful to me!

A second response:

that’s great.
but there are too many factories here,and many many
factories have no ability to train their workers. they are only samll
and they aims are to earn money .
and i also ever
heard,the boss in many many factories only have the lower
knowledge,they can’t know what need for international trade,they also
don’t want to pay more money to train you.

always, in many many
factories,they just start do foreign trade,they have no right to export
and import,they always need help from Imp.&Exp. company.they only
have one sales for foreign trade.

when i started my first
work,the factory also only me to do foreign trade,no one can tell me
how to do.i can’t get help from any where.
i had to read more books
and check more with customers.luckily,the customers i met were very
kind,mostly they would explain to me carefully.i need to say,i learnt
much knowledge from my customers.i need thanks them. and when i started
foreign trade,i faced many many difficults.but i have come over.

now i have 1 year experience,i feel nice.
i believe i can do work much better.

And finally:

This is a good question..and relates to other issues…LIKE:
How often do "International Sales" people change jobs? I feel the turnover is high.

us consder that we are talking about young, bright university graduates
whose big advantage is good knowledge of English…Not there skills in
Sales or Trade.

Those who develop and interest may move on
quickly to "bigger and better" things. Others may get frustrated since
they are not always really part of the company, but serve as contact
people with customers. So their opinions about customer relations may
not be properly respected.

This turnover can become a serious
problem as customers need ongoing contact to solve quality issues,
develop specifications, and prepare foreign language manuals, art work

This last post emphasizes the point that it’s not just a lack of training contributing to the communication difficulty, but employee retention as well.  It’s not uncommon for many young Chinese employees to bounce from job to job, making it difficult for them to truly learn how to sell a company’s products and communicate effectively with customers.  The skilled labor shortage in China is serious and retaining good employees is very difficult for many Chinese firms.  It’s a Catch 22 situation: why would a factory owner want to pay to train a new employee when he is fairly certain that employee will leave within the year anyways? 

Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers, Part III

By on June 27, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers, Part III

Part III of my cross-post collaboration with Paul Young of the Product Beautiful blog.  This is a continuation from Part II of this post.  The topic is product management and communication with offshore manufacturers.  Paul has made some great points, and I have added my own two cents.

  • Put your overseas manufacturer in a position where they only have to execute, never think.  If they have to think, it means that you didn’t spell something out clearly enough for them, or you assumed something.  Every time they have to think, they will get something wrong, which will add 1 month to your schedule as a prototype gets screwed up, and has to be redone.

My thoughts:  This point builds off of the last bullet regarding the difference between the ability to work with an MRD (Marketing Requirements Document) and design/engineering specs.  An MRD requires extrapolation.  The education and cultural foundations of some cultures make them extraordinarily good at copying, memorization, and rote learning.  But, this same foundation greatly hamstrings their ability to come up with their own solutions, think outside the box, and be creative.  Create the design specs here, then send it overseas for review.  It should be noted that some vendors will be able to provide useful advice regarding the manufacturing of your product.  Generally speaking, they are experts in their fields and are familiar with the machines, materials, and processes that are available overseas.  A product designed domestically may not be designed well for manufacturing overseas, thus their points are worth considering and sometimes changes will improve the product.  Nevertheless, the quickest path to accurate manufacturing is to present the overseas vendor with a finalized design package, with the opportunity for slight modifications should they be helpful. 

  • Strongly consider doing rapid prototypes locally.  Prototyping is about speed and fast changes to designs, not saving a few bucks overseas.  What’s the opportunity cost of your prototype sitting on a container ship for 2-4 weeks?  How much do your really save if you have to air freight your prototypes over from China?

My thoughts:  Whether you have rapid prototyping done or just build a prototype yourself, it is good to achieve some form of prototype locally.  You will be able to present your prototype to a vendor overseas, along with your design package, and this will help you convey information.  If pictures speak a thousand words, prototypes speak a million.  Sharing this kind of information helps a non-english speaker immediately circumvent the language barrier and gather important knowledge about the look, feel, and function of your product through direct interaction. 

  • Find a manufacturer who has done it before.  Very important, especially for decorative items or things with fancy finishes.  We are nearly a year late on some decorative metal pieces, and on our 4th manufacturer (who is only barely adequate), because we have not had anyone in our circle of connections that has experience producing decorative metal with fancy finishes.

My thoughts:  Often, overseas manufacturer’s will tell you they are capable of products and processes that they really are not competent in because they either want your business, or do not realize they are not capable, or both.  It is critical to assess a manufacturer’s capabilities before you begin work with them.  This involves inspecting a vendor’s portfolio of existing products, machines, inventory system, labor, factory space, quality control, past references, sub-vendors, and so forth.  Doing the due diligence up front to find a sound manufacturing partner will save you money, time, stress, and possibly your business in the long run. 

Because there is so much attention on China and Chinese manufacturing these days, I have included a few extra points specific to doing business there:

The Three Biggest Challenges In Communicating in China:

1.It is culturally acceptable for a Chinese person to tell you they understand, nod their head, and say "yes" to questions when they actually do not understand what you are saying.  Therefore, it’s helpful to ask questions many different ways, including open ended questions which require them to volunteer information back to you and demonstrate their understanding.

2.Patience is essential.  Anyone who has ever tried to learn another language and operate in another culture can understand this.  You have to have a great deal of patience in working with the Chinese as they often must research the words and meaning behind your statement, or consult with other staff members prior to responding. They may actually spend hours just reading, understanding, and responding to your emails.  For this reason, email should be used in addition to speaking on the phone.  Most have never conversed with a native english speaker and will have less time to understand what you are saying.  Whereas, an email can be analyzed for as long as needs be.  Still, they may misunderstand your statements.  Thus, see my first point. 

3. Develop a feel for the people you are communicating with.  You will begin to learn their behaviors when they do and do not understand and can react accordingly.

4. Be polite, persistent, and again, patient. 

Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers, Part Deux

By on June 26, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers, Part Deux

I’ve been working with Paul Young of the Product Beautiful blog to do a cross-post collaboration on product management with offshore manufacturers.  This is a follow up to my first post, introducing Paul’s blog and containing a video by Berlitz language schools, that I still laugh at when I watch "What Are You Sinking About?"

To create this post, Paul put together his thoughts given his experience managing product development and manufacturing with some of his designers and suppliers overseas.  These are the bullet points.  I thought he did a great job and covered a lot of ground, so I simply added on some of my own insights to his points.  There is a lot of good information, and this is only the second of 3 posts, so without further ado:

  • If you and your manufacturer are not proficient in the same language, investing in translation is an absolute must.  Don’t rely on you understanding "just enough" and they understand "just enough" because your end product will be "just enough" too…

My thoughts:  Translators are a must for several reasons: 

1) Having someone whose core competency is language and translation will greatly speed the process of communication. 

2) A translator can help those in other cultures who are concerned with "saving face", avoid embarrassment when they do not understand.  Often, higher-ups in other cultures do not like to admit that they don’t understand or are wrong.  A translator helps ease the obviousness of this. 

3)  Translators are better trained to ask questions when they don’t understand and answer questions that verify their understanding.  In many cultures, people will tell you they understand when they really don’t. 

4) Language is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating across cultures.  For this reason, I would find a translator native to the country I am working in, who has a proficient command of english (usually, this involves a college major in English), who understands the cultural nuances of the culture you are dealing with.

  • Negotiate EVERY thing up-front.

My thoughts:  In our own country, people often fail to take stock of all that is negotiable in transactions in general.  Clearly define the terms you agree upon with your vendor and get it in writing.  You may even want to take it as far as having the contract translated into their language, to leave no room for excuses of "I didn’t understand".  You want to leave as little room as possible for this, because once you begin work, it is very very difficult to change the terms.  Also, if the relationship is important,
don’t try to squeeze the people you are working with as hard as possible just to save every penny you can.  Often people go to other countries because they hear tales of rock bottom costs and want to take pride in
having procured the lowest costs.  Often, you get what you pay for.  Make sure there is incentive left in the deal for everyone and sow the seeds for a productive long term relationship.  This will save you money in the long run.

  • If you’re using an overseas design house, make sure you’re clear on who owns the rights to the Intellectual Property when they’re done
  • For some reason, even though they make horrible margins on manufacturing vs. design, lots of design houses insist on manufacturing rights to at least the first run of a product that they have designed for you.  Negotiate the right of first refusal so you can either ask them to match costs with a competitor or you can opt to have your product built elsewhere.

My thoughts:  From a manufacturing and sourcing perspective, flexibility is a strategic must.  Compare costs whenever possible and never rely only upon a single source.  Have alternative options ready if needed.

  • You can’t communicate with an overseas design house or manufacturer like you would with your in-house Engineering or Development team.  Internally, I can give my Development team an MRD, to which they will respond with an Engineering specifications document detailing the "how" they are going to built a product to meet the MRD’s specs, along with proposed schedules, costs, and tradeoffs.
  • I have yet to see any overseas group (in our price points, we’re a startup) that can handle a MRD.  They need to jump directly to the specs document, and they can’t write it.
  • Employ one of your Engineers to write the specifications, work with the overseas engineers, and communicate tradeoff decision points to Product Management.  As a Product Manager, you don’t have the time or skills to chase around your contract manufacturer, when you should be focused on the strategic – what does the market want and how can we best deliver it?

My thoughts:  There are several barriers to effective communication when working with a vendor overseas:  time, language, culture, distance, technology, and more.  If you are going to have design done by an overseas design house, be sure to see a portfolio of work that reflects an understanding
on the designer’s part of your culture and market.  Generally speaking, people from non-western countries will not be intimately familiar with the nuances and aesthetics of good western design, and are very unlikely to know your market.  Design houses will probably be better in this respect, but contract manufacturers will almost always not be competent in this area.

Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers: What Are You Sinking About?, Part I

By on June 6, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Product Management with Offshore Manufacturers: What Are You Sinking About?, Part I

If I had a video recorder strapped to my head 24/7, I would be able to show you at least 300 clips of situations I have been in where cross-cultural communication went in a downward spiral to awkwardness, misunderstanding, and killed productivity.  I wasn’t on a sinking ship in any of them, thankfully.  But I have ordered some bizarre dishes of various animals’ anatomical parts when I thought I asked for peanuts.  This entertaining commercial for language lessons by Berlitz is an example of the tip of the iceberg in terms of communicating across geography, culture, language, through different mediums like email, phone, etc.  It could be ordering food.  It could be explaining major and minor quality defects.  It could be conveying the reasons behind a product’s engineering.  Product management is tricky.  Product management with global team members, offshore manufacturers, and 3rd parties is trickier.

Paul Young, author of the Product Beautiful blog (I like that name), writes great posts focusing on the ins-n-outs of product management and life as a product manager.  To introduce his blog, I have highlighted this post, in which he outlines The Most Important Trait a Product Manager Needs.  In it, he posts 7 traits highlighted from the Michael on Product Management blog:

  • Communications Skills
  • Leading without Authority
  • Learning Skills
  • Business Acumen
  • Love for Products
  • Eye for Details
  • Routing Product Management Skills

Notice that communication is at the top.  I don’t think you can communicate too much in the product management process.  But, I like what Paul Young adds to this in terms of what he sees as the #1 trait in a product manager: curiosity. 

The #1 trait I look for in people who would make good Product Managers is an extreme sense of curiosity.  Curious people are wonderful – they ask the most powerful question in the World: “why?”
Curious people read a lot and tend to self-teach valuable skills. Most
importantly, curious people aren’t satisfied with what people tell
them, they stay awake at night wondering what they’re missing and love
the process of discovery. Some skills can be taught; curiosity is a
character trait.

I think this can be extended to cross-cultural communication as well.  Many might cite an affinity for foreign languages as the foremost useful trait.  I don’t believe so.  I have seen many jerks speak a language fluently while they step all over the customs and ignore the culture of the country they are in.  In the end, people won’t like interacting with this individual and that can slow productivity.  I have to second Paul here, and propose that an attitude of curiosity, and asking questions, is the best trait that will lead you to success in communicating and developing relationships across cultures.  Here are my reasons why:

  • Curiosity and asking questions shows a basic respect that someone and something else is worth learning about. 

These gestures go a long way when doing business in other countries.  Many countries do not move as quickly into business matters the way Americans do.  They like to get to know each other and get a feel for the person and company they are dealing with.  Business is much more relationship driven, so you better put some effort into driving relationships  with the people you need help from to get things done.

  • As a non-native, you are going to make mistakes (and so will they).  But curiosity and asking questions will begin to teach you why you did not get the result you expected.

I always chuckle at those guys who have spent a couple weeks in a country and like to act as if they are now ‘one’ with the culture.  Horse puckey.  This takes years, perhaps decades, if even possible.  And most people who have spent that kind of time, would be too humble about the challenge to ever claim something like that.  I digress… 

Your efforts are important, but you will be making mistakes no matter what.  Asking questions about why you didn’t get the results you expected will help you understand the deeper contexts and perspectives your counterparts are coming from.   You’ll never stop making mistakes or making statements out of context, but you can cut down on it dramatically.

For product management, and this is essential, asking questions several different ways, through several mediums, can help ensure that your message gets across effectively and you are on the same page with everyone.  This is critical.  Days and weeks can be wasted when you think someone understands what you said, goes off to work on the issue for a week, and comes back with an entirely different result.  Your mad.  They don’t understand and might be embarrassed.  You’ve lost time.   And yelling "what were you sinking about when you made this change?!", will do you no good.

The Torrid China Travel Schedule

By on March 29, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on The Torrid China Travel Schedule

Been in China for six days now.  Been to 5 cities.  Started in Hong Kong.  A few days ago we flew to Ningbo, which I had never been to before.  It’s on the southern side of Hangchow Bay, below Shanghai.  It’s another nice city on the rise.  We visited a garment office and factory in the morning, a baby wipes factory in the early afternoon, a foam board factory in the late afternoon, and flew to Shanghai that night.  Drove to a gift and textile factory in Changzhou from Shanghai the next day–about a 3 hour drive each way.  Then drove straight back to Pudong Airport outside of Shanghai and flew back to Hong Kong that night.  The next morning, we went by ferry to a great model and toy factory in a smaller city a few hours from Hong Kong (the spelling of which has been eradicated from my brain by fatigue for the moment). 

It’s a torrid pace we keep.  But I love it.  The differences in factories, management, and cities you can see in a day are amazing.  Some factories are complete messes.  Others are outstanding.  And most fall somewhere in between.  You never really know what you’re getting into until you go to the factory with a vendor, sit down and talk with them, and walk around the factory.  It’s a hard job, but we love doin’ it.  So cliche.  But I don’t think there’s any other way we could inflict such a torrid travel schedule on ourselves.  We’ll be heading to the ferry again at 8am tomorrow morning to do it again.  And again on Saturday.  I fly back to San Francisco on Sunday.   I usually don’t sleep on planes unfortunately.  But, I think I’ll sleep all the way back to San Francisco this time.

Trust Between China Manufacturers and Foreign Companies: A Fuzzy, Yet Important Concept

By on March 14, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Trust Between China Manufacturers and Foreign Companies: A Fuzzy, Yet Important Concept

So much of our business is involving China these days that I find myself reading ChinaLawBlog’s posts on a daily basis, and they almost always touch upon experiences we are having as well.  One of the recent posts  touched on the terrible job Chinese companies do in collecting on their international debt.  Chinese companies have approximately $100 billion in accounts receivable with foreign companies–and the reasons behind this are often the same or similar fraudulent practices that many foreign companies complain about so often when they operate in China.  Foreign companies sometimes just don’t pay up.  And what’s a chinese vendor going to do? 

This brought up another issue that I’ve been wanting to write about for a few months now, regarding an survey that I saw a few months back.  The survey  (which is still up, but might require signing in) was posted online on the website and was only taken by 80 or so users, but offered up an interesting point regarding concerns about trade and manufacturing between other countries and China.  The results?

26% – Trust between a supplier and buyer need to improve
19% – Delivery problem; high shipping cost or long delivery
19% – Problem with quality of products
14% – Communication problem and language barrier
10% – Security problem with internet trading
5%   – Service offered by Chinese suppliers is lacking
2%   – Response to customer is slow and poor
2%   – Price is too high

Certainly, many of the issues listed are intertwined.  But, the big, fuzzy concept "trust" was the winner.  I wonder how many of the survey respondents were Chinese.  Probably not the majority.  But if you listen to chinese factory owners’ and managers’ concerns, they can be just as worried about entering into a business relationship with a bad business partner as anyone else.   And as ChinaLawBlog’s post points out, for good reason.  Everybody’s got to get their’s first.   It helps when you’re building a relationship with a supplier, to put in the time and put yourself out there a little bit–share the risk.  Of course, you complete all your due diligence about who you’re dealing with as well.  But it’s important to remember where the other guy is coming from as well.  In this department, we’re not that different after all.

Disney Dinosaur Meet Tiger Woods

By on February 13, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on Disney Dinosaur Meet Tiger Woods

I was thumbing through my pictures of product samples from China today and I came across this picture of me at a driving range in Changzhou, China (sorry for the fuzzy quality).  The driving range was a part of a nine-hole golf course next to what was a very nice hotel for Changzhou.  The hotel happened to be located directly next to a dinosaur-themed amusement park.  If you look above me in the background, you can see the large, star-trekkish, space tower jutting into the sky.  What the picture doesn’t convey, is the myriad of sing-along and theme tunes (which made me routinely think of Goofy when teeing off) that echoed out over the entire golf course. 

I’ve always felt this picture spoke volumes about something, perhaps many things, but I could never  put into words what it was.  For those that don’t play golf in the US, courses are usually meant to be quiet, serene places where respect is shown by silence when someone is going to swing.  Noise pollution is not something one seeks out on the golf course.  But in Changzhou, this doesn’t seem to be too important.  In fact, save a major airport, I can’t imagine two more incongruous things next to each other.  There was miles of vacant land around, but these two attractions were placed directly adjacent to each other.  Whatever the reason, be it poor urban planning, cultural differences, or just an attempt to draw as many customers as possible, it is just downright different.  Better?  Worse?  I don’t know.  As an American, it just isn’t something I am accustomed to. 

Many people talk about cultural differences, differences in business styles, communication styles, etc.  But it never seems to sink in as much until you spend a little time somewhere.  It subtly begins to sink in deeper when you start to interact with people on a daily basis and are trying to accomplish something.  And it smacks you in the face when you come across something like this–when you see something that makes not a shred of sense from your own perspective.  But it makes perfect sense to the people you are doing business with.  The magnitude of the difference in perspective between you and your new business partners can be just like a large, space-launch tower above your head playing Goofy tunes.  You might want to ignore it, but it’s going to be playing in the background throughout your experience.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to pay attention.   

No, Really! Cross Cultural Communication is Important

By on January 5, 2007 | Category: Communication | Comments Off on No, Really! Cross Cultural Communication is Important

There are several ‘hurdles’ one will face when building and operating an overseas sourcing strategy.  One of the most formidable challenges that lies at the crux of many other issues, which I believe requires more people to stop and think a bit, is cross-cultural communication. 

Unfortunately, "cross-cultural communication" is also somewhat of a buzzword that Americans have been inundated with since who knows when, and by now, it’s something that sounds like a ‘wouldn’t-that-be-nice-and-fluffy-kind-of-concept’.  To me, it’s not something that you really ever get past (unless, perhaps, you’ve lived in another culture for decades).  It’s something that you are constantly working through.  Just last night, on the phone with an HP phone technician located in India, I caught myself interpreting a statement incorrectly.  I performed an operation on the computer as dictated by the technician.  Then, I asked him to repeat his next statement because I thought he was implying that I had lied about performing the previous directive in the amount of time I did it.  Then I turned my brain back on and realized there was no reason for this guy to imply that–just a communication mixup. 

Anywho, I often run into people who have tried to communicate directly overseas and grossly underestimate the importance of effective cross-cultural communication.  If I had a dollar for everytime I heard "They said everything was fine and there’d be no problems, but…", or , "she shook her head and nodded to my question, so I assumed…".  One of the problems with the many trading web sites and portals out there is that people believe that just because they can now search and email someone in another country who claims they can produce something, there isn’t much more to it.

A recent study by Accenture found that a lack of cross-cultural understanding is hindering effective global sourcing.  Based on a survey of 200 U.S. business executives:

  • 66% of the respondents had experienced miscommunication issues with their global sourcing partners
  • Offering cross-cultural training to their employees reduced the number of instances of miscommunications
  • Executives believe adopting cross-cultural communication training programs can increase productivity by 26 percent, on average.

Main factors causing problems between onshore and offshore workers are:

  • Different communications styles (76 percent)
  • Different approaches to completing tasks (53 percent)
  • Different attitudes toward conflict (44 percent)
  • Different decision-making styles (44 percent).

I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 66% experienced miscommunication issues.  The nuances and subtleties of understanding words, body language, behaviors, and more, are numerous and challenging.   Throw in the factors of working by phone (cannot see a person’s body language) or email (cannot see or hear someone) on top of the cross-cultural factor, and you have many chances for something to be misunderstood.  For those embarking, or already working with overseas sourcing partners, it might be worth stopping and taking a second to educate yourself a little more about what might come up with a given culture.  You will probably find very boilerplate resources on the net or in books that will help, but will only go so far.  It’s probably better to try and find someone who has been operating in that country for a long time and can share some personal stories and insights.  You might not care to try and fully wrap your mind around the intricacies, but there are things to take heed of that could impact your business. 


GSS’ performance throughout the entire process confirmed that we made the right selection and in every case you met or surpassed our expectations for what we asked you to do.

Ken Bertaccini
Former President, AT&T Consumer Products