An example of intercultural miscommunication

We would like to invite you to test your knowledge of intercultural communication with the problem presented below. If you're interested, check with us to see if you are right!
The following is a typical real-life case study of intercultural miscommunication and was reported to us by a young German engineer:

A German engineer is sent by his company to Japan for several months to work together with a Japanese team of engineers on a project. He speaks English well, is a very competent technical specialist,and is therefore expected by his company to consult with the Japanese, come up with a solution and implement it.

He looks forward to the opportunity to not only demonstrate his technical abilities, but also to gather international experience. There appears to be no serious language difficulties on either side, so cooperation is smooth over the following months. There are no obvious signs suggesting miscommunication of any kind. A satisfying solution is found, implemented and the project draws to a conclusion. The German prepares to return home.

On the second last day before his departure, however, he unexpectedly discovers that a serious error has indeed been made. To complicate matters, the source of the error is traced to the Japanese. Under time pressure to correct the problem, he is able to define three possible solutions from which they can choose to correct the problem, but takes care to approach his Japanese counterpart with a greater degree of politeness and indirection than he would probably take with German colleagues under similar circumstances. He is careful to avoid implying blame, for instance, by not using the direct "you" address and softening his general wording to sound more like suggestions.

He offers the first possible solution, to which the Japanese responds "yes". He points out, however, that the second solution can also be considered, to which the Japanese also replies "yes". Finally he offers the third possible alternatives. Again the Japanese responds in the affirmative. By this time the German is thoroughly disoriented and suddenly doesn't know how he should now proceed. He is unwilling to appear too pushy with the Japanese, however he is under time pressure to bring this project to a conclusion. It would be a great disappointment to have to return to Germany after all these months of productivity without a satisfying conclusion. The options are discussed, in the end, however, the Japanese counterpart does not make a decision and the German must indeed return to his company without a solution.

What happened? How would you have reacted?

The German engineer considered three possibilities:

1)At this moment his Japanese colleague realized that his English skills were indeed insufficient for him to reach a decision confidently and take responsibilty for its consequences, especially under such pressing circumstances. He was too embarrassed to admit this openly.

2) If he did not understand linguistically, he very likely didn't understand conceptually, which means he very likely did not recognize the seriousness of the situation.

3) His Japanese colleague tried to pretend not to understand for whatever reason.

Which reason, or reasons, apply in this case according to your opinion? Make your choice by selecting the appropriate checkbox and click "Submit" to send us your selection by e-mail. We'll tell you whether you're right!

If, in your opinion, none of the above reasons apply, what would be your explanation?

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