Quality Video Counters Cultural Conflicts

                In situations where answers are evasive or confusing, participants need to focus on communication nuances and body language. The Indonesians use body language and tone because it is rude to say “no” directly to someone’s face, while the French frequently use “no” just before closing the deal (Meyer, 2015).  Videoconferencing technology has to include high-resolution cameras and displays and the ability to establish high bandwidth calls (1-3 Mbps) in order to pick up connotations.  As users, we need to avoid the temptation to zoom in to a head and shoulders shot. We need to be able to transmit and interpret body language at same time we are reading and sending expressions.

I recall talking to a co-worker from China over the phone about the challenges she was having with her boss (high context). Her English speaking skills were excellent, and it was easy to assume that her thought process and communication style was identical to my New York mindset. The conversation started to get repetitive. I could tell there were significant chunks of information missing from what she was telling me, and we had to leave the problem unresolved. At the time, I thought that information was being lost in verbal translation, but now I realize that she was probably she was using her face and hands to communicate her concerns in ways that I could interpret over the phone. 

Similarly, cultures are more likely to collide when teams are trying to collaborate informally in small huddle rooms rather than in bigger videoconferencing rooms. These smaller rooms provide a great opportunity to capitalize on information “lost in translation” during formal conference calls. Interpreting subtle cues in these situations provides the best opportunity to overcome decision-making obstacles.

Eight Steps to Achieving Quality Video Experience in a Low-Cost Collaboration Space

1.       When there is one person in the room, adjust the camera to a single person or move closer.

2.       When there is more than one person in their room, sit on the same side of the table, and then fill in the other side, starting closer to the screen instead of at the back.

3.       Ask the far end to adjust their camera. You want to see body language and compare participant reactions.

4.       Video quality is particularly important for interpreting individual expressions. A good indicator is the ability to see their eyes move.  The quality of experience is dependent on the equipment at both ends of the call. If one end of the call lacks the necessary technology, then both sides will suffer.

5.       Most cameras capture higher resolution (>720p), but actual call quality is determined by call connection rate, typically limited by network infrastructure. Image quality is no better than what you start with, so the lack of sharpness with so-called HD USB cameras is particularly obvious on large displays that accentuate the compression artifacts.

6.       If there are cultural differences, establish as high a call quality as possible. If call rates are restricted, ask the video technicians for assistance. Explain that If you need to make out expressions. You are best off waiting until you can use a better conference room than engaging in high-context content using low-context technology.

7.       “Good enough” video is not going to be sufficient for cultural analysis, but it is also impractical to invest in ultra-expensive telepresence suites. Instead, invest in appliance-based huddle systems, like the Cisco SX10 for the greatest quality and context flexibility. Alternatively, use Google Hangouts, with better software algorithm than Skype.

8.       Google Hangouts is substantially better than Skype for internet calling because its version of SVC compression algorithm provides adaptive layers. The audio has much lower latency as well.  

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Meyer, E. (2015). Getting to si, ja, oui, hai and da, how to negotiate across cultures. Harvard Business Review, December issue.