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JM 40833

KOM5215

INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

KOM5215

2015/2016

INDIVIDUAL ASSIGNMENT 2

PROF. DR. EZHAR TAMAM

PRAGASH A/L MUTHU RAJAN

PBUPM

JM 40833

PRAGASH A/L MUTHU RAJAN

CASE STUDY II
(US-MALAYSIA JOINT PROJECT)

KOM5215
INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION
INDIVIDUAL ASSIGNMENT 2
CASE STUDY II
(US-MALAYSIA JOINT PROJECT)

PRAGASH A/L MUTHU RAJAN


JM40833

PROF. DR. EZHAR TAMAM


16th November 2015

Content List

Question 1 ......................................................................................................................... 1

Question 2 ......................................................................................................................... 3

Question 3......................................................................................................................... 7

Question 4....................................................................................................................... 10

Question 5....................................................................................................................... 12

Bibliography.............................................................................................................................. 14

Q1. What mistakes did the Americans make in dealing with the Malaysians? How could
they have prepared for the joint project more effectively?
i.

The Americans did a mistake in appointing the project manager to work in the joint
project. Dale, is an ineffective team leader which is not suitable to deal with the
Malaysians. APC California should appoint Pete Loren as the project manager to lead the
joint project, instead of Dale. Due to character of Pete which is a soft-spoken and also a
humble engineer. Moreover, he had experiences of working with the Malaysians during
the previous project, and he enjoyed it. Lastly, Pete is a guy that easy to work with and
had a pleasant sense of humor which is most probably will be like by those Malaysian.

ii.

The Americans assumed business would be conducted in Malaysia in the same way as
business is conducted in America. They expected Malaysian to be working in the way
that they used to work with any other American, which is practically not applicable on
Malaysian. American should learn more about how Malaysian do business before they
start up business in Penang or at least before they visit APC Penang. They simply believe
that the strong organizational culture of their company will provide a framework for a
successful joint project.

iii.

The Americans knew very little about the Malaysian culture or style of doing business in
Malaysia. It is advisable that American get themselves exposed to the Malaysian business
style through some researches (books, magazines, Google, friends or any other business
partners that had done business with Malaysian). Understanding Malaysian culture can
solve most of the problems, such as:

Malaysian timing (punctuality) or time orientation.

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Chinese always preferring their mother-tongue to communicate in any kind of


events.

Long hours lunch on big round table with weird dishes and no business
discussion is allowed during the meal.

iv.

Schedule is just a guideline, not to be followed 100%.

The concept of face (dignity).

Kurt faced difficulty in understanding Kongs English. The American at least learn bit of
Malaysian English before committed in the joint project. Or, as mentioned earlier, Pete
should lead the team, since he able to go along with the Malaysian and their English
accent. Other than Malaysian English, American team should also learn Chinese to
smooth their dealing with Chinese in Malaysia. Hiring a translator will be useful perhaps.

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Q2. How did high- and low-context communication play a role in this case?
The primary work of Hall (1976) created his contexting model was Beyond Culture. In
explaining this model, he defined high-context and low-context messages as follows:
A high-context (HC) communication or message is one in which
most of the information is either in the physical context or
internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit,
transmitted

part

of

the

message.

low-context

(LC)

communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the


information is vested in the explicit code. (p. 79.
HC cultures (a style of communication in Africa, Middle East, Asia, and South America) are
relational, collectivist, intuitive, and contemplative. This means that people in these cultures
emphasize interpersonal relationships. Developing trust is an important first step to any business
transaction. According to Hall, these cultures are collectivist, preferring group harmony and
consensus to individual achievement. And people in these cultures are less governed by reason
than by intuition or feelings. Words are not as important as context, which might include the
speakers tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture and even the persons family history
and status. HC cultures communication style doesnt have to speak as much as LC does. One
word in HC culture, people will understand ten things, but in LC culture, one has to say ten
words to understand one thing.
HC communication tends to be more indirect and more formal. Flowery language, humility, and
elaborate apologies are typical.

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LC cultures (including North America and much of Western Europe) are logical, linear,
individualistic, and actionoriented. People from lowcontext cultures value logic, facts, and
directness. Solving a problem means lining up the facts and evaluating one after another.
Decisions are based on fact rather than intuition. Discussions end with actions. And
communicators are expected to be straightforward, concise, and efficient in telling what action is
expected. To be absolutely clear, they strive to use precise words and intend them to be taken
literally. Explicit contracts conclude negotiations. This is very different from communicators in
highcontext cultures who depend less on language precision and legal documents. Highcontext
business people may even distrust contracts and be offended by the lack of trust they suggest.
Obviously, in the US Malaysia joint project, Penang APC team is part of HC culture while
California APC team is based on LC culture.
During Kurts first visit to Penang APC, Kurt couldnt fully understand the conversation with
Kong, thus he will ask Kong to repeat his lines. Kong found this gracious and appreciate Kurts
effort that trying to understand his words. Kong never find it as an act of offensive, because in
HC culture, it is common to clarify something even it need to be asked many times.
Unfortunately, when the Penang APC team ask a repeatedly question to California team,
regarding the any parts or as in the case of trapped air bubble, California team, as from LC
culture, found it very offensive and labeled Penang team as lousy team to work with. This is
because HC culture always straight forward and they dont prefer any indirect conversation. If
you dont get their point, straight away tell it to them, never remain silent or rise up the same
issue in the future.
Coffee/tea break is a must for any HC culture. Its plays the role to create bondings among their
colleagues, friends and family. A certain time will be allocated for the break, despite the busy

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schedule, totally opposite to LC culture that will focus on accomplishing their objectives first,
before proceed with any break time. Therefore, Americans were not really happy with the mummum break of Malaysian in the case study.
As in HC culture, business ventures are based on time spent in trusted relationships. During the
company presentation among the supplier and both Malaysian and American APC team,
questions in English from American will be explained in Chinese by Kong, to his fellow Chinese
supplier. This is due to the education level of most of the suppliers are not highly literate. Some
might be running their family business based on the experiences gained from their elders, with
zero level of English education. Being a Chinese man, Kong is aware of this situation, so he
makes the discussion smooth by using his mother tongue to brief his Chinese supplier. But as for
the Americans, definitely they are expecting all their business partners are able to understand
their standard language of English, which is not really applicable in Malaysia, because English is
not the national language of Malaysia. Again, it would be nice if the American can speak
Chinese as well.
In HC culture, people are tending to be more caring to other. The hosts keep filling the space in
the Americans plates with foods, to show that they are actually caring for their guest. But the
Americans might find it uncomfortable. Usually the lunch will last for hours, for the long chitchat among the hosts and the guests. This is part of their personal and social relationship bonding
strategies which American will find it waste of time. Also, another reason for the longer time
taken for lunch or dinner is to relax the mind after tired with work. Therefore, in HC culture, no
business talk is encouraged during the lunch or dinner.
AS LC culture is straight forward in their communication, they dont prefer any changes in the
agreement. Dale seems not to be happy with the amended supplier visit schedule by Kong. And

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he pointed it out angrily in the meeting room, which three new engineers were also there. This
had make Kong to lose his face in front of the three new engineers as well as his rest of
counterparts. As in HC cultures, in order to maintain harmony, Malaysian will not display
emotion openly in a business setting. Any mistakes or issues are always discussed privately
without affecting ones dignity in the crowd.

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Q3. Discuss the importance of relationship-building in Malaysian business culture.


In business meetings with international colleagues, it is good to have a clear understanding of the
perception of time of both the host and the attendees. When attending a meeting run by a
monochronic person, it is best to arrive early and be prepared to start exactly on time. On the
other hand, in a meeting run by a polychronic person, it is possible that the meeting will be
delayed and will start with the attendees catching up on each others personal lives in order to
strengthen their interpersonal ties. It is important when working as an expat or with expats to
ensure that everyone has a clear perception of the timeline and agenda expected from the
meeting so that no one leaves feeling frustrated or left out.
When you schedule a one-on-one meeting with an international colleague or in new country, it is
important to consider your perception of time and consider the time perception of the others who
will be meeting you. While it is always a good idea to show up on time for a meeting, if you are
planning to meet with a polychronic person, be prepared to wait or to make conversation with
others around the office. Remember, you arent being ignored or put off! What may seem to be
meaningless conversation to you is the first step toward building the all important personal
relationships that will help you success in a polychronic culture.
Developing a relationship is important to people who are from polychronic cultures. The
relationship is a key facilitator often driving the team towards deadlines and meeting the
schedule. Malaysias culture is strongly group-oriented. Asserting individual preferences may be
seen as less important than having a sense of belonging to a group, conforming to its norms, and
maintaining harmony among its members. Building lasting and trusting personal relationships is
therefore critically important to most Malaysians, who often expect to establish strong bonds
prior to closing any deals. Regardless of ethnicity, people in Malaysia usually do business only

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with those they know and like. Establishing productive business cooperation requires a long-term
perspective and commitment. Consequently, proceed with serious business discussions only after
the counterparts have become comfortable with the Malaysian counterparts.
Relationships are based on familiarity, respect, and personal trust. Business relationships in this
country exist between people, not necessarily between companies. Even when you have won
your local business partners friendship and trust, they will not necessarily trust others from your
company. That makes it very important to keep company interfaces unchanged. Changing a key
contact may require the relationship building process to start over.
When conducting virtual team meeting plan for the meetings to start late an end late and expect
dialog to occur. Use application suites that allow participants to respond and not feel isolated.
Try to emulate real meetings as much as can. Methods for this may include time in the beginning
of the meeting to talk online about topical things such as social events, weather and also
vacations. Share pictures of each other so that people feel that the team is live and feel like
members are together.
Companies tend to be very hierarchical when it comes to decision making. However, decision
making is normally a consensus-oriented group process in Malaysia. This can be confusing for
Westerners looking to identify the key decision maker in an organization, while in reality such
a role may not exist at all. Decisions are often made through a process involving many
stakeholders who establish consensus through a series of deliberations. This process can take a
long time and requires patience. Inuencing the decision making requires building strong
relationships with as many of the stakeholders as you possibly can. Senior leaders orchestrate the
process and secure the support of the group. Nevertheless, their input carries a lot of weight and
they sometimes have the nal say.

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When making decisions, Malaysian business people may not rely much on rules or laws. They
usually consider the specic situation rather than applying universal principles. Personal feelings
and experiences weigh more strongly than empirical evidence and other objective facts do.
Malaysians can be quite fatalistic and are usually moderate risk takers. This was the norm in
Penang APC. Kong used to making quick decision on his own regarding the parts. Things have
changed when Dale introduced addition constraints in the form of bureaucracy, resulting
frustration for Kong and finally strained the relationship between Kong and Dale.

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Q4. Explain why the Malaysians did not admit that they did not understand how to
overcome the "trapped air bubble problem" in the plating process. Why did they respond
affirmatively or with silence when asked by the Americans if they understood the problem?
Malaysian engineers did not admit that they dont understand how to overcome the trapped air
bubble problem is due to this concept of saving face. As with other Asian cultures, the
concept of saving face is critical in Malaysian culture. Malaysians, as a high context culture,
place a strong value on face saving. Malays, Chinese and Indians all strive to maintain face and
avoid shame both in public and private. Face is a personal concept that embraces qualities such
as a good name, good character, and being held in esteem by one's peers. Face is considered a
commodity that can be given, lost, taken away, or earned. On top of this face also extends to the
family, school, company, and even the nation itself. Face can be lost by openly criticizing,
insulting, or putting someone on the spot doing something that brings shame to the group
challenging someone in authority, especially if this is done in public showing anger at another
person refusing a request not keeping a promise or disagreeing with someone publicly.
Conversely, face can be saved by remaining calm and courteous discussing errors or
transgressions in private speaking about problems without blaming anyone using nonverbal
communication to say no and allowing the other person to get out of the situation with their
pride intact. The desire to maintain face makes Malaysians strive for harmonious relationships.
In the situation of trapped air bubble problem, Malaysian does not really understand how to solve
the issue, yet they did not admit it. This is due to the discussion was on the teleconference which
the conversation was not private; it was between a group of US engineers and Malaysian
engineers. Malaysian worried that they will lose their face if they admitted that they were not
understood the problem and the solution given by the US engineers. It is kind of embarrassment

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for the Malaysian counterparts. Therefore, they remained calm without any response to save their
face, and silently try to figure out the issue.
US engineers should bring up the issue in a private communication with the Penang engineers or
with Kong, either by Kurt or Dale. In that way, definitely Penang engineers will admit that they
have no idea about the trapped air bubble issue.

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Q5. Explain the differences between the American and Malaysian orientations to time.
Edward Hall was an early categorizer and in his books promoted a significant classification by
dividing humans into two main groups monochronic and polychronic. Hofstede and other
culturalists used these terms frequently and they were certainly wellestablished by the 1970s.
American typified the monochronic group people who did one thing at a time, usually well,
and in a planned order. Malaysian is classically polychronic, often attempting many tasks
simultaneously, displaying more spontaneity, though less process.
American, belongs to monochronic time orientation, are those who prefer to complete one task at
a time. For them, task-oriented time is distinguished from socio-emotional time. In other words,
there is a time to play and a time to work. These individuals value punctuality, completing tasks,
and keeping to schedules. They view time as if it were linear, that is, one event happening at a
time. In a monochronic culture, people tend to place a high value on timeliness and schedules.
They focus on the value of time, and therefore tend to have a very rigid interpretation of how to
organize their schedules. Monochronic people generally prefer to do one thing at a time and to
devote their full concentration to the task at hand, whether it be completing an assignment for
work or school or having coffee with a friend. Examples of monochronic cultures include the
U.S., North America, Northern Europe, Israel, Germany, and Switzerland.
Malaysian, on the other hand, are polychronic individuals, are more flexible about time
schedules. They have no problem integrating task-oriented activities with socio-emotional ones.
For them, maintaining relationships and socializing are more important than accomplishing
tasks. These individuals usually see time in a more holistic manner in other words, many events
may happen at once. In a polychronic culture, people tend to focus more on what they are doing

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than the timeframe in which it is happening. They thrive at multitasking and are not bothered by
phone calls or interruptions. They tend to build strong personal relationships, and often see the
development of this relationship as their end goal rather than the task at hand. Malaysia, Latin
America, the Middle East, and Africa are places where the polychronic orientation prevails.
Examples that showing Malaysian are practicing polychronic time orientation is Penang APC
team always delayed in responding to any enquiry made by the California team, sometimes no
response at all. They were also late to pick up those American at their lobby and often late for the
teleconference with California team. The California team would sit in their cubicles at exactly
3:59 p.m. every Thursday waiting for the calls from Penang team is an example of American that
shows they are practising monochronic time orientation.

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Bibliography
i.

Abdel Moneim M.K. Elsaid. (2014). Effects of technological advancements on team


performance in high context cultures: A case study of Egypt. International Journal of
Business Management and Administration Vol. 3(3), 040-047.

ii.

Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond culture. New York: Dubleday Dell Publishing.

iii.

Michelle Lebaron. (2003). Communication tools for understanding cultural differences.


In Guy Burgess and Hedi Burgess, Beyond Intractability. Conflict Research Consortium,
University

of

Colorado,

Boulder,

United

States.

Retrieved

from

http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/communication-tools. Accessed on November


2, 2015.
iv.

Nelson, O. N, & Chiew, T. M. (2005). Customers behaviourial responses to sales


promotion: the role of fear of losing face, Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and
Logistics, 17(1), (3249). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13555850510672278.

v.

Triandis, H., & Suh, E. M. (2002). Cultural influences on personality. Annual Review of
Psychology, 53(1), 133-160. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135200.

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