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4 Managers’ Perspectives on Respect and Empathic Understanding in Multicultural Teams

4 Managers’ Perspectives on Respect and Empathic Understanding in Multicultural Teams

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Managers’ Perspectives on Respect and Empathic Understanding …


18.4.2 Question on Understanding

What do you think about the effect of “an approach that aims at deep understanding

of individual’s feelings, meanings, and thoughts”?

Please indicate whether it contributes


moderately somewhat

just a little

not at all

to the success of the multicultural team.

Here, the respondents made use of all the response options except “not at all”:

• Just a little: Project management is about getting the goals of the project

completed on time and within budget. Focusing too much on a deep understanding of individual feelings is a distraction from that purpose, because it

drains needed time and energy away from the core reason that the project team

exists. If project team members require a lot of special attention from the project

manager and the other team members, then they should be replaced immediately

with more professional teammates who do not require the additional time and

attention to be productive.

• Somewhat: Very few leaders have this. It depends on the purpose and leadership


• Moderately: It does improve the success of the team but takes a long time if you

manage a large team. Not always practical

• Moderately: It is not virtually possible to attend [to] each individual’s feelings,

meanings, and thoughts. Anyhow, if it is possible, it should be done for

increased motivation.

• Significantly: Because, the visible part of people is just like an iceberg/the tip of

[the] iceberg. The main part of the iceberg, maybe five-sixths of it underneath,

consists of their feelings, thoughts, values, concepts, and coding. I need to go to

that level and approach them accordingly. The leader/manager who understands

people’s worlds of emotions will be 100 % successful.

• Significantly: This is the most difficult one to achieve, because it takes a lot of

time and effort, not to mention a significant amount of managerial skill.

Individuals will get more motivated as they see their inputs are being valued at

its deepest level and a feedback loop will result that will increase the efficiency

of the output multiple-fold.

• Significantly: Project managers should pay attention of contributors’ feelings,

meanings, and thought. Otherwise, it is impossible to become a team and run in

the same direction and target all together

• Significantly: It is needed to maintain at the beginning of the business operation

as a project team culture. If it cannot be developed at the early stages, there will

be significant effect on business.



Transforming Communication in Multicultural Contexts

18.4.3 Question on Empathic Understanding

Can you describe what “empathic understanding” means for you? Do you think that

a manager should try to empathically understand her/his employees? What would

that mean, in your view, and what could be the benefits or risks?

• Emphatic understanding means to try to understand the people by taking into

account their world. It is something a manager definitely needs to do. If you

perceive somebody with his/her background and try to look at events as he/she

would, as well as if you protect the interests of him/her, then you have already

established a successful communication.

• Yes, this is very important. A manager has to have an appreciation for what is

important to others. Without it, there will be a frequent and widening communication disconnect. I believe an empathic understanding will automatically

follow from the behaviors explained in [the previous] questions and is mostly

about listening, showing an interest and displaying that your understanding is

based on understanding the individual as a whole. And yes, a manager should

certainly use these tools and display these values. The benefits are numerous

again as explained above, and I cannot think of any risks.

• Empathy is an important component of effective relationships. A manager

should try to empathically understand her/his employees. It always helps the

project manager to understand the situation better. I don’t see any risk since the

project manager still can use her own judgment in the process of making

intelligent decisions.

• Yes, of course, a manager should try this. This will help the team member to

possess the project and also will make him/her feel that he is not a “slave” which

should do whatever requested from him/her. On the other hand, too much

empathy should not create an environment where decisions cannot be taken due

to “oversensitivity.”

• Balancing getting the job done and empathic understanding of the members of

the team is what makes a good manager.

In summary, this research shows that managers of multicultural teams are pretty

well aware of the core principles of transformative communication. The majority of

them seem to be attuned to a realistic balance with business goals. We conjecture

that this is a very welcome “healthy” step in the right direction, even though actual

practice still may require maturation of attitudes and skills.



Transformative Communication as Providing a “Meta-Culture” …


Transformative Communication as Providing

a “Meta-Culture” for Multicultural Groups

and Teams

So far, we have presented evidence that the very basic principles of transformative

communication apply regardless of any particular cultural background.

Furthermore, they were shown to facilitate communication in teams whose members are of diverse cultural origin. This is due to the person-centered mind-set

underlying transformative communication that acknowledges self-organizing principles of people and systems and requires interpersonal attitudes and skills based on

meeting the other at eye level of personhood (Rogers 1959; Kriz 2008;

Motschnig-Pitrik et al. 2013). These traits are optimally complemented with a good

command of a shared language and knowledge about diverse cultural habits, patterns, and preferences.

In order to conceptualize and delineate the function that transformative communication carries in an organization or a project, let us resort to a simple yet smart

model of the typology of diversity support in organizations according to Avery

(2011) (see Fig. 18.1). To characterize diversity support, Avery distinguishes two

dimensions: endorsement and activism. While endorsement captures the attitude

toward diversity which can be either supportive or opposing, activism serves to

characterize the level of activity devoted to either supporting or opposing diversity.

This typology allows one to distinguish four quadrants, ranging from active

opposition over silent opposition and silent endorsement to active support or

championing of diversity.

So where are we going to position transformative communication in that

structured typology? Whereas a communication style or practice such as













Quadrant 1: Silence

untapped diversity


Quadrant 2: Championing

intervenes to promote


Quadrant 3: Subtle Resistance

potential source of


Quadrant 4: Flagrant

Discrimination; supports

discriminatory practice





Fig. 18.1 The typology of diversity support in organizations (shortened from Avery (2011,

p. 242)



Transforming Communication in Multicultural Contexts

transformative communication per se does not determine an organization’s or

project’s strategy toward diversity, intriguingly, the values propelled by transformative communication rule out the quadrants that encompass opposition and allow

us to position transformative communication in the upper two quadrants: silent or

active support. The level of activism, indeed, would depend on individual project

characteristics such as its duration, complexity, the level of diversity in the team,

and the leadership style, in resonance with several of the project managers’ statements above.

Invitation to reflect:

Do you consider the typology helpful for localizing your projects’ or organization’s position in the area spanned by the axis of diversity endorsement

and activism? Can you give reasons why you like or dislike the


Which level of diversity endorsement and activism do you aim at in your

projects? Is there a difference across projects? What are the features that you

consider as indicative for the placement in the typology?

What are visible signs of a healthy communication culture? To what degree

are they present in your work environment?

When trying to distill the features of transformative communication that most

contribute to its diversity-endorsing character, the fact that it embraces both respect

and facilitative openness would be pivotal. Taken together, these two features

counter prejudice and rigid preconceptions while furthering the loosening of constructs based on the moment-to-moment encounter and dialogue with colleagues

and super-/subordinates.

Transformative communication is often a nonlinear, experiential, and mindful

process toward the often extremely challenging goal of mutual understanding.

When reached, we tend to be rewarded with a feeling of pleasure, indicating the

“proper” direction of moving forward on the agendas we are following more or less


In a nutshell, the investigations undertaken lead us to propose transformative

communication as an unfolding interactional “meta-culture” of interpersonal

relating (Lago 2011; Motschnig-Pitrik et al. 2013). This level exists beyond, or side

by side with, “traditional” cultures and business goals and needs that all must be

respected while none can be ignored. It emerges when people manage business

objectives with a sufficient space for self-organization, congruence, respect,

inclusion, and encompassing understanding of each other in their work environment. Leaders and managers who wish to actively build communication skills in

their multinational teams will find a small activity in Resource Box 18.2.

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4 Managers’ Perspectives on Respect and Empathic Understanding in Multicultural Teams

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