Sino-German Communication Interferences in Intercultural Teamwork: A Postmodern Approach

Lazar, Oliver Günter (2013) Sino-German Communication Interferences in Intercultural Teamwork: A Postmodern Approach. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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Previously, research on multinational teamwork with various nationalities and cultures involved, which looked at the aspect of communication, was largely based on the examination of specific facilitators and barriers to its communication (i.e. Watson, et al., 1993; Hofner Saphiere, 1996). There it was found that multinational teams might have specific communication facilitators dependent upon the cultures involved. This is reflected in the theoretical development in the field of intercultural management, which gives guidance for culturally complex team settings (i.e. Trompenaars, 1993). The complexity managers’ face is increasing further through China’s involvement in the implementation of globalization strategies (Podsiadlowski, 2002). Recently, the relevance of China’s involvement has been increasing for Germany, in particular given Chinese companies’ investments in Germany. Therefore, the study of various nationalities in one research project has been reconsidered and currently there is new demand for studies, which seek to understand the complexity of Sino-German teamwork (Podsiadlowski, 2002). However, besides non-research based literature, research focusing solely on Sino-German teamwork occupies a marginal place (i.e. Podsiadlowski, 2002). Additionally, much of the multinational team research (for example, Watson, et al., 1993) looked at outcomes and disregarded the team members’ experience itself by using quantitative methods. It provided an understanding influenced by positivistic perspectives, saying that certain factors are pre-conditions for successful team communication. This study recognized these positions, but questioned the positivist bias demonstrated there. Throughout this research, associated factors were understood as being non-linear and interrelated, representing the complexity managers are experiencing. As a result this study argued that Chinese and Germans working in teams were marginalised in the intercultural management research field until today and their needs were not addressed by much of the existing research. These led to my conclusion that there is a need to conduct research that for the first time is informed by a postmodern theoretical framework that seeks to privilege multiplicity and diversity and that also attends to the silences surrounding this group. Therefore, a postmodern framework provided the theoretical lens through which this research, and its authorial, methodological, and interpretive characteristics were construed and represented. This perspective emphasised local stories about experiences, attended to ‘difference’, was concerned with the multiple nature of ‘reality’, and recognised the importance of language as a medium for the social construction of what may be considered ‘truth’ (Cheek, 2000). Narrative inquiry represented in this thesis the postmodern epistemological framework to understand subjective experiences by exploring the stories of twelve Chinese and German participants and the meanings derived from these. These stories were themselves experiences structured and recalled inside wider cultural and social contexts (Kirkman, 2002; Webster & Mertova, 2007). The socio-cultural contexts were woven into the language used by the participants to explain their experiences and signified the meanings of these experiences. However, Chinese and Germans not only differed with regards to language and language variety, but also with respect to their patterns of usage and how meaning was generated in interactive situations on the basis of socio-cultural knowledge. Therefore, my narrative inquiry took into account both linguistic and sociocultural aspects and addressed the relations between interactive communication strategies and larger social and cultural phenomena. Within the context presented above, the focus and contribution of this study were the descriptions of the intercultural communication experiences of members of Sino- German teams and the analysis of factors relating to interferences in communication to provide a thicker explanation of communication interferences in intercultural communication, where theoretical attempts so far remained rather fragmented, and to contribute findings from different perspectives on what has traditionally been viewed from a positivistic standpoint. Through sharing the participants’ lived experiences of working and communicating with Chinese and Germans and vice versa, a number of linguistic and socio-cultural factors influencing communication behaviour and causing interferences were uncovered. The factors identified from the study resonate with a number of factors previously established in existing multinational teamwork research and whilst others contributed new information that adds to the understandings of the meanings that may be made from such experience of communication interferences. Comparing the experiences related by Chinese participants with those related by German participants showed a substantial consensus with regards to the communication interferences experienced in Sino-German teams and the factors relating to these interferences, as well as observable differences in communication behaviours. The lack of foreign language proficiency on the side of both Chinese and German individuals was stated as being a major factor for communication interferences that was further enhanced through the strong linguistic barrier between these two languages. Good language proficiency minimises the occurrence of misunderstandings and miscommunications. It allows better personal contact between the team members since it better enables people to establish personal contacts and relationships, as well as to use an interlinked communication structure that allows informal communication and therefore compliance with the Chinese cultural ‘rules of the game’. However, foreign language proficiency alone is not a guarantee for successful intercultural communication in Sino-German teams. This study also analysed, in addition to the practical and theoretical significance of language and language skills, the cultural influences on the communication between Chinese and German team members. Many participants were either unaware (especially on the German side) or only partially aware of the fact that differences in communication behaviour are based on different culture-specific communication conventions and strategies. It was found that intercultural awareness on the part of individuals in a team, meaning the knowledge and awareness of culture-specific conventions and norms, had a positive influence on communication within the team. Knowledge of the meaning of the two key terms mianzi and guanxi plays an important role in Sino-German teams. On the other hand, an ethnocentric perspective on either one or both sides inevitably results in mutual negative attributions. This findings added to the understanding how this communication could be improved and, most importantly, as a prerequisite for actions of any kind to achieve improvements, to draw the attention of German team members to the relevance of communication when working with their Chinese colleagues and vice versa. Furthermore, the study functioned as an act of empowerment, a way to give voice to managers and team members who were methodologically not heard.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Intercultural Teamwork; Sino-German communication; Multinational teams;
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Business, Computing and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2015 13:00
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 09:37

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