Friday, November 18, 2011

Status and Role - Non-Verbal Communication: A Case Study

“I think I saw you at the Delhi airport,” I said to the woman sitting next to me on the flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. After confirming that she, indeed, was making the air-o-than of nine hours from DEL to AMS; nine hours from AMS to MSP, she told me that it was her first trip to the sub-continent. When she learned I taught cultural anthropology and had visited India often, she had a lot of questions.

Working for a large multi-national corporation, this trip took her to Chennai to visit engineers.She was in the country less than a week, though she said she found the India interesting and her experience positive, there were some cultural issues that had her confused.

“There was one engineer in the company in Chennai that was clearly smart and had great potential for advancement. We pressed the manager of the company to allow this junior employee to get additional training to enhance his skills, but the manager never granted permission for such training.


“We were told , by another employee, that it would not look if a junior employee had more advanced training than the manager.”

There is nothing more important in India than status and role. Status is often due to caste ranking. Ascribed status is seldom coupled with achievement, and to have an employee of lower status to rise in the ranks though achievement is a cultural impossibility.

“Another thing we could not figure out,’ she continued was their ‘head wagging.’ My colleague from the U.S. was really upset with this behavior and complained that he thought the Indians were ‘blowing me off,’ with their head wagging.”

I smiled and told her that’s the way south Indians show agreement. They weren’t disagreeing with the American, they were actually showing they were understanding and agreeing with what he had to say.

She laughed when I explained the meaning of the Indian head bobble and said, “I can’t wait to tell my colleague as he was really upset with the whole experience.”

“Doesn’t your company not offer any cross-cultural training for your employee’s?”

“Some,” she answered, “but not much.”Align Center

I did a bit of a head wobble myself as I got off the plane, but not in agreement, with my travel companion, but in dismay. With all the money multi-nationals spend for global business, it looks like they would spend a little time and money teaching their employees how to communicate and understand people of other cultures. Cultural anthropology is not just important for people going to work with tribals in the jungles of Africa but for multi-nationals companies, and missionaries seeking ways to communicate their message. Non-verbal communication is as important what comes out one's mouth. Why say "uh-huh," "yep," when one can just wobble your head.