Tricky feats of cross-cultural communication

Tricky feats of cross-cultural communication

A true story: when a US telecoms giant decided to replace its manager in Thailand several years ago, it chose an ABC – American-born Chinese – in the belief he would be more culturally attuned to doing business in Asia.

He was not shy about telling his colleagues how to behave and one evening berated a couple of European rivals who had been caught engaged in financial shenanigans.

They decided to play a joke on the new arrival. They told their driver to follow him and tell him he was going to be killed. A crude jest, but the young manager was panicked into ringing his head office saying his life was in danger.

The head office told him to stay calm, stick to the business district and take precautions.

What they did not tell him was that they had hired a security firm that uses ex-CIA agents – at some considerable cost – to watch his back.

When the security outfit made its report to the conglomerate a week or so later, it turned out the first-time-in-Asia manager was doing lots of cultural homework – spending every night in at least one bordello. His career wilted.

The conglomerate had made a mistake. The manager may have been competent, but – appearances notwithstanding – showed no special talent or experience for operating in Asia.

Emma Tidey
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