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  • Professional communication in international settings by Yuling Pan, Suzanne Wong Scollon, and Ron Scollon
  • Marco Shappeck
Professional communication in international settings. By Yuling Pan, Suzanne Wong Scollon, and Ron Scollon. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. Pp. 246. ISBN 0631225080. $73.95 (Hb).

In the burgeoning field of intercultural communication, this book has found a unique niche in that it legitimizes both professional communication and sociolinguistic research—grounding the former in a theoretical framework and the latter in practical application. The book promotes a reciprocal, self-reflective approach to communication for corporate professionals in international settings.

Ch. 1, ‘Analyzing communication in the international workplace’ (1–26), outlines the purpose, function, and procedure of a communication display portfolio (CDP) exchange. CDPs consist of communicative documentation from any media that pertains to any function of business activity. As the authors phrase it: Each party will ‘exchange best case examples of one’s own professional communication . . . for reflective discussion and feedback’ (5). The authors examine a CDP exchange between three companies based in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Jyvaskyla, Finland. Each critique of the others’ CDPs was closely analyzed and followed up with ethnographic interviews.

Traditional textbook treatments of business telephoning procedures (i.e. promoting clarity, brevity, and sincerity) are cogently challenged in Ch. 2, ‘The telephone call: When technology intervenes’ (27–52). Due to contributing factors (i.e. technology, situation, type of relationship, and cultural practice), business calls range over a number of functions. Simply stated, there is essentially no global standard for making a phone call. One gains understanding of how another group communicates from studying one’s own practice as well as observing others.

By drawing the distinction between the ideal/evaluated resumé and the pragmatic/practiced resumé, the authors, in Ch. 3, ‘The resume: A corporate “Trojan Horse” ‘ (53–78), show that intercultural communication is rarely successful without introspection. They report that participants consistently view resumés in a negative light if they deviate from personal expectations. This is poignantly coupled with another finding: there is substantial variation in preferences among members of the same cultural group.

Ch. 4, ‘The presentation: From Dale Carnegie to Ananova the Avatar’ (79–105), highlights the disparity within each group between the expectations and the practices of business presentations, that is, deep appreciation for technology and more human interaction with the audience. During technology-based presentations (a present-day requisite), the relationship between the speaker and audience is mediated by technology, rather than by the speaker. The semantic relativity of these tech-facilitated actions therefore calls into question the positioning of cultural norms over actual practice.

Ch. 5, ‘The meeting: Action or ratification?’ (106–36), the most problematic of the four communicative contexts, runs into the difficulty of having the participants videotape the ‘essentials’ of a business meeting. The authors resort to exchanging movie scenes for evaluation which yields nothing substantive in terms of insightful feedback in how actual meetings function. Sticking close to their practical orientation though, they wisely focus on teaching higher-order content: ‘when’ and ‘where’ (as opposed to ‘how’) important functions are performed during and around formal meetings. [End Page 817]

Ch. 6, ‘The reflective view: Seeing ourselves as others see us’ (137–58), reiterates the book’s thesis: ‘successful communication in the international workplace requires a self-reflective understanding of the processes of communication’ (137). Due to the intense complexity of these environments, it is not feasible to standardize professional communication internationally, not even if it were specialized for a particular cultural group. ‘We need to learn how to learn directly from the people with whom we need to interact’ (4). The work ameliorates the inevitable difficulties in the transfer of ideas and information by advancing an interactional, complementary approach, superseding the oft-idealized and standardized ‘how-to’ checklists found in most field-related publications.

Marco Shappeck
Northeastern Illinois University


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pp. 817-818
Launched on MUSE
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