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Talking from 9 to 5 Talking from 9 to 5
by Joseph Gatt
2019-10-22 08:49:10
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As I said in the previous article, there are basically four types of communication. First is militarized talk or “order talk” where people communicate mostly to give orders. Second is rapport talk where people talk mostly to define relationships among each other. Third is report talk where people communicate mostly to share news and information. Fourth type is “failed talk” where people seem to break every rule and convention of talk.

Here I'll discuss talking at the workplace. I'll give examples of monoculture talk and cross-cultural talk. For vanity purposes, I'll claim that I've read about a dozen thick books on the subject and I've never encountered this model. I'm the one who came up with it.

ninetofi01_400Militarized talk or “order talk.”

In militarized organizations, a lot of the communication involves people from the hierarchy giving orders to lower-ranked people, and lower-ranked people implementing the decision.

What may seem confusing to many, is that in militarized organizations only orders can be improvised. If orders are not improvised, perhaps punishments and retribution are improvised. But reports are never improvised, always drafted in advance. 

Example of a militarized workplace conversation

Boss: Bring me the report!
Subordinate: Yes.

(Several minutes later)

Boss: Didn't I tell you to bring me the report! And you said yes! Words must match your actions!
Subordinate: Yes.

(Two hours later)

Boss: You worthless piece of trash! I'm going to fire you! You and your family will starve! You will get evicted from your home! You will survive eating dog feces! You and your children! Scum!

Subordinate lays out a pile of several reports and starts pointing his head at the reports. Boss gets angry and throws the reports on the floor.

Boss: I said the report on this month's sales! The one I told you to write last week! I'm sure several people are more qualified than you for the job!

Note: any American or Israeli or whatever will have noticed that the subordinate could have simply asked “which report” and that would have prevented a conflict. However, in militarized organizations, asking questions is usually considered a sign of defying the authority. So such violent communication is frequent.

Now to a conversation between a Japanese boss and a Caucasian American employee who speaks perfect Japanese. The conversation is in Japanese.

Japanese Boss: Smith! Bring me the report!
American subordinate: Which report, sir?
Japanese boss: Come closer. Last week, you came late on Tuesday. You came late! You think this is America? This is Japan!
American subordinate: Sir, but I also did unpaid overtime several times last week. I even worked on the weekend, and that was unpaid overtime!
Japanese boss: Sit down at your desk!

Several hours later

Japanese boss: Here's a list of 10,000 psychiatrists in Japan. Call them and ask them about their rates.
American subordinate: What's the deadline?
Japanese boss: I want the report tonight.
American subordinate: Look, suppose I spent 2 minutes with each psychiatrist...
Japanese boss: Aren't you worried about your money Smith? In America they say “you put money where your mouth is!”
American subordinate: That expression means you should do as you say, not...
Japanese boss: You are not my English teacher! I am Middle Manager Saito! Write me an excuse letter for your behavior! The excuse letter should be one page long in Japanese!

You get the idea.

Rapport talk

In some cultures, people tend to talk to each other more to constantly define the relationship rather than to convey information. That is rather than chat about the news, personal news or events, people talk about their mutual relationship. Instead of discussing what they did yesterday in an impersonal way, they discuss how they expect the two to get along. So conversation very much depends on the context and on the person (or people) being talked to. In such cultures, people tend to be a lot more comfortable talking to a single individual than to a group of individuals. It's a lot easier to define a relationship between two people than with a group of 10, 20, 30 people. In large groups, the elder usually talks, or the person best connected to the group talks.

So here's a conversation between a boss and his employee in rapport talk cultures.

Boss: Ahmed, you know I like people who keep the rules!
Subordinate: I agree, keeping rules is the best!
Boss: But you betrayed me once!
Subordinate (anxious): I would never do that!
Boss: You think I know nothing? You told Samira about our failed deal!
Subordinate: I swear to Allah I never told her. I would never do such a thing! God preserve me from doing such a thing!
Boss: Leave religion aside. The CEO found out we blew the deal. Samira told him. There can't be smoke without a fire.
Subordinate: I am the kind of person who always keeps secrets. I don't betray!
Boss: But you told someone! Listen, if I can't trust you, I swear to Allah I will never tell you anything anymore. I won't even talk to you!
Subordinate: Don't threaten me! I hate it when people threaten me! Are you blackmailing me?
Boss: Look Ahmed, if you were not part of the family, I would have fired you. But you talk too much!
Subordinate: I am reliable! I never betray anyone!
Boss: You, reliable?
Subordinate: Look boss, don't play with my reputation!

You get the idea.

Now to a conversation between an Arab boss and an American subordinate.

Arab Boss: Mr. Smith, Americans are so hard-working, why is that?
American subordinate: I personally try my best, but I don't know if all Americans are like that!
Arab boss: Of course Mr. Smith. You are very unique! I could have married you to my daughter!
American subordinate: Sir, by the way, that report on sales...
Arab boss: Are you trying to spoil my reputation?
American subordinate: Did I do anything wrong?
Arab boss: Do you think I'm someone easy? I'm a difficult boss! People are afraid of me. You should be afraid of me!
American subordinate: Sir, I was just asking about the report...
Arab boss: You Americans, always think about money. You never respect people. Are you Jewish Mr. Smith?
American subordinate: Sir, I find your words very offensive.
Arab boss: Go back to your country! You don't respect people. You only want our money. Don't ever talk to me again!
American subordinate: Did you just fire me?
Arab boss: Get out!
American subordinate: Where, to my office?
Arab boss: Call security! I'm going to hit this guy!

You get the idea.

Report talk

Now to another interesting part. Report talk is when people converse to exchange information rather than try to define relationships or give orders. I'll give you three short conversations here. One between a boss and a subordinate, one between an American boss and a Korean subordinate, and one between an American boss and an Arab subordinate.

Conversation 1

Boss: John, do you have that report?
Subordinate: Which one?
Boss: the one on monthly sales.
Subordinate: Monthly sales for the department or for the entire unit? Or for the entire company?
Boss: Dude I know I can rely on you. Bring me all three and let's discuss them.
Subordinate: OK so for department sales, we made 178,984 dollars which is an 8.65 increase compared to last year.
Boss: Looking good. Tell me more about the department report.
Subordinate: Well, we made 16.4% more on coffee sales, but mug sales dropped 12.6 percent.
Boss: why do you think that is?
Subordinate: Probably has a little to do with this year's weather. This year it's colder than usual. Also our qualitative report seems to indicate that plenty of students now drink 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day, when last year it was mostly 1 or 2 cups a day.

You get the idea.

Now conversation between an American boss and a Korean subordinate.

American boss: John, do you have the reports?
Korean subordinate remains silent
American boss: John, I just asked you a question.
Korean subordinate: Yes, maybe
American boss: What do you mean maybe? This company wasn't built on “maybes”
Korean subordinate remains silent
American boss: look John, bring me the reports.
Korean subordinate remains silent.
American boss: Stop wasting my time, bring me the monthly sales reports.
Korean subordinate silently but efficiently brings all three reports, and gracefully puts them on his boss's desk.
American boss: What do the reports say?
Korean subordinate starts reading the report verbatim
American boss: I'm not asking you to read it. Explain it to me in your own words!
Korean subordinate. Yes, sir. Can I prepare?
American boss: I'll give you five minutes.
Korean subordinate prints out the summary for a different sales report.
American boss: ready now?
Korean subordinate starts reading a summary for another report. American boss interrupts him.
American boss: Dude! We are Wall Mart. That's a Door Mart report you're reading. Are you kidding me. I need a first class guy! God what did I do to deserve this?

Now finally between an American boss and an Arab subordinate

American boss: Ahmed, can you bring me the reports?
Arab subordinate: Of course. You know I always do everything on time. (Prepares all the reports he has). Here are the reports, sir. See you can count on me at any moment!
American boss: OK what does the monthly sales report say?
Arab subordinate: I worked really hard this month. You can always count on me. Anything you need...
American boss: I need you to summarize the figures.
Arab subordinate: Do you respect Lebron James. I respect him like my brother.
American boss: Focus, Ahmed! Give me the numbers!
Arab subordinate; This month sales are good! Because we all worked hard!
American boss: what do the numbers say?
Arab subordinate: sales dropped 8%
American boss: give me the details!
Arab subordinate: sir, why do you always talk to me like I made mistakes? I work hard every day!
American boss: Look, pal, you're wasting my time. Give the reports to Amy and tell her to come explain the numbers to me.
Arab subordinate; I'm very disappointed, sir. I'm upset.
American boss: Now you're the one who's upset. Someone just shoot me for crying out loud!


You get the idea


    
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