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Dr. Zhenyi Li of Royal Roads University speaks at Women of Whistler event
Women of Whistler continued its speaker series with a look at how communicating effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds is essential to successful business in Whistler.
Their speaker, Dr. Zhenyi Li, associate professor of intercultural communication at Royal Roads University, spoke about breaking down cross-cultural barriers through understanding the preferences of groups of people.
This, he told the 54 participants in the Whistler Chamber of Commerce series, was useful to consider not only in terms of serving visitors from different countries and cultures, but was also helpful when considering workplace relationships in terms of human resources.
Having studied both in Canada and Finland, Li has put intercultural communication theory to work in academics and business to study and promote business opportunities.
He said presentation of the differences that are found within all peoples came from breaking people into two groups according to their preferences and behaviors in common social situations: Type A and Type B.
Type As, in a cultural sense, could be closely identified with North American and western behaviours, as socially individualistic, while Type Bs were more identified with eastern and Chinese and Japanese traditions, more collective.
In a practical sense these differences can be seen in terms of approaches to communication and interaction, to problem solving, to eye contacts – and from what could be taken as important to Whistler entrepreneurs – from the way visitors make decisions about where to go, what to see, and what to buy.
"There is no right or wrong, better or worse, but what if your preference is different from the people around you?" He asked. "And how do you interact with people who are different from you?"
Li had participants take part in a Preference Assessment Inventory, which had them describing their responses to different ideas and social situations, a survey that was originally designed in Holland for use by IBM. It has the aim of creating an awareness of differences between people and thoughts about developing strategies for building a better relationship between the two different types and their seemingly different values.
"If you choose a lot of As you are a person who prefers to work in a 'flat organization' with less layers and more democratic. If you prefer B, you prefer to work in a 'hierarchical organization' with many layers," he said.
One of several anecdotes Li told to drive home his point resonated with the listeners. He explained that typically a busload of tourists from B cultures — in this case he referred to China — might visit a gift store, one person could buy a souvenir and the others from the bus would try to purchase the same souvenir. Culturally, he said, this was typical of the B approach, collective and less individualistic: "I buy what my friends buy."
The highest level of Bs in the world can be found in Japan, Li said. There, rank and title is important. Even sharing business cards can be a challenge for those who do not understand the cultural nuances, with more value given to the titles on the cards — which can be handed over with considerably more ceremony by a Japanese business person than by a more relaxed North American.
Such behaviours are learned rather than biological and can shift, he added, though this becomes less likely, according to studies, as people age.