Understanding cross-cultural communication

In the latest episode of the ‘Understand This …’ podcast series, the Wharton School’s Mauro Guillén and the School of Arts & Sciences’ Tomoko Takami discuss language education and cross-cultural communication in collaborative work environments.

Silhouettes of multi-colored heads

Welcome to the fifth episode of “Understand This ...,” a Penn Today podcast. This podcast series is designed as a journey to understand how to solve problems of the day—and of our time—by uniting minds from different disciplines. In this episode, we explore the value of improving cross-cultural communication skills.

Joining for the conversation is Mauro Guillén, professor of international management at the Wharton School and former director of the Lauder Institute, and Tomoko Takami, director of Penn’s Japanese Language Program in the School of Arts & Sciences. Together, they discuss the role of language in building empathy, how soft skills prepare students for a more automated workforce, and how cross-cultural understanding can improve business negotiations.

5:28: Guillén discusses the basis of the Lauder Institute, which combines an MBA in Wharton with an MA in International Studies. “The program is all about helping students become better at managing, in their daily lives, all the layers of culture and foreign language,” he says.

8:00: Defining cross-cultural communication. “Soft skills, communication skills, critical thinking, empathy,” are among the elements, says Takami. She further explains the changes in language education in recent years.

13:00: Guillén discusses team-based working as a trend in organizations, and the need for cross-cultural understanding in those teams for collaboration. “What I want to emphasize is when it comes to understanding the role of language … it’s not [about] just the language, how to communicate and say ‘Thank you’ and give directions, but language in context.”

18:00: Takami provides an example of translation for business.

22:00: Takami explains “high-context” communication.

26:20: Quote break.

29:15: Guillén discusses the “big difference” it makes by learning even one additional foreign language. “Each language, each culture you understand, I think makes you more effective and sensitive to cultural evaluations, even if it’s a different culture.” Learning a language is, moreover, a “humbling experience … that’s really important.”

35:00: The function of immersion in language learning and cultural knowledge acquisition.

39:00: The distinction between language training and education.

44:20: Guillén discusses the continued value of social skills in the workforce.

Download the full podcast on Apple Music. Also available on other streaming and podcast services.