Technologies to Reduce Culture and Language Barriers

Do you work in or manage a global virtual team? These are teams whose members are distributed across the globe, who work in different time zones, language and cultural boundaries. Members rely heavily on Computer-Mediated Communication (e.g. email, audio/videoconference), with little opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Global virtual teams experience many challenges, including language and cultural barriers, which lead to lower trust, cohesion, productivity and higher conflict.

In the last five years, my collaborators and I conducted experiments and prototypes to explore how to augment email and videoconference with automatically-sensed feedback and shared-self-reflections, to help team members develop intercultural competence, and overcome language and cultural barriers. Here’s a 20 minute talk (from my Ph.D. defense in 09.2017), which summarizes my 5 years of research on this topic.

 

Language Disparities in Multi-Lingual Teams

[1] Helen Ai He, Naomi Yamashita, Ari Hautasaari, Xun Cao, and Elaine M. Huang. “Why Did They Do That? Exploring Attribution Mismatches Between Native and Non-Native Speakers Using Videoconferencing.” In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2017), pp. 297-309. ACM, 2017.

The meaning we attribute to another’s actions significantly impact our subsequent behaviors and interactions towards that person. Distributed teams often combine native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) and are particularly prone to making attribution errors. Language difficulties place NNS under a higher cognitive load, potentially leading NS to make inaccurate attributions of NNS. We conducted an exploratory laboratory study to investigate the attributions NS and NNS form about each other in multiparty videoconferencing.

Our findings revealed significant mismatches in NS’ attributions of NNS behavior, but no significant mismatch in NNS’ attributions of NS behavior. Due to cognitive overload stemming from language challenges, NNS were only able to engage in “compromised” impression management during the task. Yet, NS were relatively unaware of how profoundly language difficulties impacted NNS’ behaviors. Our findings identify opportunities for technology support for NS-NNS interactions, particularly with regards to impression construction and impression management. Check out our full paper here!

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Technologies to Reduce Intercultural Conflict

[2] Helen Ai He, Naomi Yamashita, Chat Wacharamanotham, Andrea B. Horn, Jenny Schmid, Elaine M. Huang. “Two Sides to Every Story: Mitigating Intercultural Conflict through Automated Feedback and Shared Self-Reflections in Global Virtual Teams”. In Proceedings of the ACM: Human Computer Interaction (PACM 2017), 1(2), pp. 51-72. ACM, 2017.

Global virtual teams experience intercultural conflict. Yet, research on how Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) tools can mitigate such conflict is minimal. We conducted an experiment with 30 Japanese-Canadian dyads who completed a negotiation task over email. Dyads were assigned to one of three conditions: C1) no feedback; C2) automated language feedback of participant emails based on national culture dimensions; and C3) automated language feedback (as in C2), and participants’ shared self-reflections of that feedback.

Results show Japanese and Canadian partners interpreted the negotiation task differently, resulting in perceptions of intercultural conflict and negative impressions of their partner. Compared to C1, automated language feedback (C2) and shared self-reflections (C3) made cultural differences more salient, motivating participants to empathize with their partner. Shared self-reflections (C3) served as a meta-channel to communication, providing insight into each partner’s intentions and cultural values. We discuss implications for CMC tools to mitigate perceptions of intercultural conflict. Check out our full paper here!

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[3] He, Helen Ai, and Elaine M. Huang. “A qualitative study of workplace intercultural communication tensions in dyadic face-to-face and computer-mediated interactions.” In Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Designing interactive systems, pp. 415-424. ACM, 2014.

We present findings from a qualitative study with 28 participants of the intercultural communication tensions professionals experience in Face-to-Face (FTF) and Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) workplace interactions. We identify four categories of intercultural communication tensions that emerged most frequently in our dataset including range of emotional expression, level of formality, “fixed” versus flexible appointments and task versus social-orientation.

We discuss how these tensions manifested in FTF and CMC media and unravel the ways media supports or hinders intercultural communication. We present the adaptations participants made to mitigate such tensions and offer implications for design. Our findings demonstrate that the most frequently occurring intercultural communication tensions manifested in both FTF and CMC, regardless of the medium used. This indicates that cultural communication challenges will persist no matter the medium, highlighting the opportunity for technologies to better support workplace intercultural communication.

[4] Helen Ai He, Nemanja Memarovic, Amalia Sabiescu, and Aldo de Moor. “CulTech2015: cultural diversity and technology design.” In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, pp. 153-156. ACM, 2015.

With globalization and technological advances, people are increasingly coming into contact with others from different cultural backgrounds, particularly in place-based and virtual communities. Yet, cultural diversity – the diversity of community members’ cultural backgrounds – offers both significant benefits and challenges in the design, usage and evaluation of technologies. In this one-day workshop, we explore the role of cultural diversity in potentially informing, supporting, challenging or impacting the design of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) within community contexts.

To delve into this complex and multi-faceted space, we welcome workshop submissions that 1) engage broadly with the role of culture within technology design and usage for, with and by communities, as well as 2) proposals for approaches, tools, conceptual and methodological frameworks, case studies and best practices in community-based design that exploit cultural diversity as an asset and seek to encourage intercultural interactions. Our goal is to bring together academics and practitioners from different domains such as computer science, urban design, interactive art, anthropology and social sciences who share a common interest in exploring the design space of ICTs, culture and communities. Check out the workshop abstract here!

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