Case Study 12

Margot, the Cross-Cultural Communicator

Margot is the sales development manager of an online retailer that specializes in the sale of upscale clothing for men and women, at drastically low prices. Most of the clothing sold stems from reselling of inventory from high-end retailers that have gone out of business, are bankrupt, or liquidating merchandise for other reasons such as needing cash desperately. Based in Los Angeles, the online store has an office and a distribution warehouse. Yet some sales are shipped directly from the distressed retailers who receive a small payment for making the shipments.

Margot was raised in Mexico. She speaks both English and Spanish fluently, which facilitates her working well in Los Angeles. However, Margot considers herself to be multicultural beyond working well with Americans, Latinos, and Mexican-Americans. “Give me anybody, whatever ethnicity and race, and I’ll warn up to that person,” she says. Not all the staff members at the company are so convinced about the effectiveness of Margot’s multicultural skills.

Derek, the company website designer, who is African-American, said this about Margot: “I love the lady, but sometimes I think she patronizes me. She starts almost all our conversations asking me something about professional basketball. Oh, yes, I know that the vast majority of NBA players are black, but so are almost all the doctors, scientists, and lawyers in Africa. To please Margot, I make a few general comments about basketball so the conversation can proceed.”

Lucie, an order-fulfillment specialist, is a Latina raised in Cross Rica. She said that she appreciates Margot’s working hard to establish rapport with her, but she gets tired of Margot so frequently asking her questions about Costa Rican cooking and holidays. “Okay, I was raised in Costa Rica. That doesn’t mean that I think about my home country every day. I am here living and working in L.A.” Basil, a purchasing specialist, is the only senior working at the company. He has forty years of experience in merchandising women’s clothing. “To me, Margot is like a niece, but I don’t think she get it about dealing with a senior. Margot keeps talking to me about my health, retirement planning, and how I like working with younger people in an online business, I just don’t like talking about senior concerns.”

Questions

1. What suggestions can you make to Margot about overcoming cross-cultural communication barriers?

2. What might be the factor or factors contributing to any errors Margot might be making in terms of cross-cultural communication?

3. To what extent do you think the three staff members mentioned above are being too harsh in judging Margot’s attempts an establishing rapport?

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