(Richard D. Lewis. When Cultures Collide: Managing successfully across cultures. - USA: Today's Librarian. - P. 107-114.)
Different languages are used in different ways and with a variety of effects. Hyperbolic American and understated British English clearly inform and inspire staff with separate allure and driving force. Managers of all nationalities know how to speak to best effect to their compatriots, yet they are in fact only vaguely aware of their dependence on the in-built linguistic characteristics which make their job easier.
Germans belong to a data-oriented, low context culture and like receiving detailed information and instruction to guide them in the performance of tasks at which they wish to excel. In business situations German is not used in a humorous way, neither do its rigid case-endings and strict word order allow the speaker to think aloud very easily. With few homonyms (in contrast, for example, to Chinese) and a transparent word-building system, the language is especially conductive to the issuing of clear orders. The almost invariable use of Sie form in business fits in well with the expectation of obedience and reinforces the hierarchical nature of the communication.
As far as motivating subordinates is concerned, German would seem to be less flexible than, for instance, bubbly American English. The constrictive effect of case-endings makes it difficult for German speakers to chop and change in the middle of a sentence. They embark on a course, plotted partly by gender, partly by morphology, in a straitjacket of Teutonic word order. The verb coming at the end obliges the hearer to listen carefully in order to extract the full meaning.
In the USA the manager, if not always a hero, is viewed in a positive and sympathetic light, as one of the figures responsible for the nation’s speedy development and commercial services. It is a young, vigorous, ebullient nation and its language reflects the national energy and enthusiasm. Americans exaggerate in order to simplify - low-key – Britons feel they go ‘over the top’, but the dynamic cliché wears well in the US.
The frequent tendency to hyperbolise, exaggerating chances of success, overstating aims or targets etc., allows American managers to ‘pump up’ their subordinates – to drive them on to longer hours and speedier results. American salespeople do not resist this approach, for they are used to the ‘hard sell’ themselves. Tough talk, quips, wisecracks, barbed repartee – all available in good supply in American English – help them on their way.
The ubiquitous use of ‘get’ facilitates clear, direct orders. You get up early, you get going, you get there first, you get the client and you get the order, got it? The many neologisms in American English, used liberally by managers, permit them to appear up to date, aphoristic, humorous and democratic.
In Britain the language has quite different qualities and, as a management tool, is much more subtle. British staff members who would be put off by American exaggeration and tough talk fall for a more understated, laid-back version of English which reflects their own characteristics. Managers manipulate subordinates with friendly small talk, humour, reserved statements of objectives and a very casual approach to getting down to work. You don’t arrive on the dot and work round the clock. The variety of types of humour available in the UK enables managers to be humorous, to praise, change direction, chide, insinuate and criticise at will. They may even level criticism at themselves. Irony is a powerful weapon either way.
Both British and American English are excellent media for brainstorming, due to the richness of vocabulary, double meanings, nuances and word-coining facilities. American managers and staff often used coined-yesterday business terminologies which neither fully understands, but which unite them in wonder at the spanking newness of the expression. British, in contrast, shy away from neologisms, often preferring woolly, old-fashioned phrases which frequently lead to sluggish thinking. ‘Muddling through’ is the result – the British are famous for it. Foreigners follow with difficulty, for in fact they are listening to messages in a code. American or German criticism is blunt and direct; British critique is incidental and oblique. Managers, when praising, may seem to condemn. When persuading, they will strive to appear laid back. When closing a project, they will do so in a casual manner. When being tough they will feign great consideration, even kindness.
There is a certain similarity in the language of management in Britain and Japan, although the basic and ever-present indirectness of the Japanese style makes the British, by comparison, seem clinical; thinkers! Nevertheless, they have something in common – an aversion to ‘rocking the boat’. British managers’ understated criticism, their humorous shafts in attack, their apparent reasonableness of expression at all times, are gambits to preserve harmony in their team. In Japan the drive towards harmony is so strong that it takes priority over clarity, even over truth.
Japanese managers do not issue orders: they only hint at what has to be done. The language is custom designed for this. The structure, which normally stacks up a line of subordinate clauses before the main one, invariably lists the justifications for the directive before it reaches the listeners.
‘Complete September’s final report by 5.30 pm’ comes out in Japanese as: ‘It’s 10th October today, isn’t it? Our controller hasn’t asked to see September’s report yet. I wonder if he’ll pop round tomorrow. You never know with him ..."
The actual order is never given – there is no need, the staff are already scrambling to their books.
Japanese has built-n mechanisms creating a strong impact on the listener. The general mandatory politeness creates a climate where staff appear to be quietly consulted in the most courteous manner. This very courtesy encourages their support and compliance. In fact they have no choice, as the hierarchy of communication is already settled by the status of the manager based on the quality and date of his university degree. The use of honorifics, moreover, reinforces the hierarchical situation. The different set of expressions (again mandatory) used in formulating the subordinates’ responses to the manager’s remarks closes the circle of suggestion, absorption, compliance.
Other features of the Japanese language which serve managers in instructing and motivating staff are the passive voice, used for extra politeness; the impersonal verb, which avoids casting direct blame; and the use of silence on certain issues, which indicates clearly to the subordinate what the manager’s opinion is. Reported speech is not popular in Japan, for Japanese people subscribe to the myth that all one-to-one conversations are delivered in confidence and should not be repeated to others, and indeed the language does not possess a reported speech mechanism.
French managers inhabit quite a different world. They are clinically direct in their approach and see no advantage in ambiguity or ambivalence.
French language is a crisp, incisive tongue, a kind of verbal dance or gymnastics of the mouth, which presses home its points with an undisguised, logical urgency. It is rational, precise, ruthless in its clarity. The French education system, from childhood, places a premium on articulateness and eloquence of expression. Unlike Japanese, Finnish or British children, French children are rarely discouraged from being talkative. In French culture loquacity is equated with intelligence and silence does not have a particularly golden sheen. The French language, unquestionably, is the chief weapon wielded by managers in directing, motivating and dominating their staff. Less articulate French people will show no resentment. Masterful use of language and logic implies, in their understanding, masterful management.
In the Gulf States a good manager is a good Moslem. The language used will make frequent references to Allah and align itself with the precepts and style of the Koran. The inherent rhetorical qualities of the Arabic language lend themselves to reinforcing the speaker’s sincerity. A raised voice is a sign not of anger, but of genuine feeling and exhortation.
Former Soviet managers were involved little in such areas as leadership or motivation of employees. The management style utilised threats and coercion to produce results demanded by social 'planing'. How Russian will develop as a language of management in the future will depend on models of address using names and titles and the development of formal and informal mechanisms which do not remind subordinates of coercion and control.
Spanish is directed towards staff at a much more vertical angle. Spanish managers are usually happy to use the tu form to subordinates, but the nature of their delivery, with typical Spanish fire and emphasis, makes their pronouncements and opinions virtually irreversible. Spanish, with its wealth of dimunitive endings, its rich vocabulary and multiple choice options on most nouns, is extremely suitable for expressing emotion, endearments, nuances and intimacies. Spanish managers’ discourse leans on emotive content. They want you to know how they feel. The language exudes warmth, excitement, sensuousness, ardour, ecstasy and sympathy.