Technologies to Reduce Barriers in Culture and Language

Do you work in or manage a global virtual team? These are teams whose members are distributed across the globe, and who primarily communicate using email/audio/videoconference, rather than face-to-face. These 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 to help members develop intercultural competence and mitigate language and cultural barriers.

Image credit for clocks and map.

False Attributions and Language Disparities in Multi-Lingual Teams

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.

Are you a native speaker of your workplace language? If so, you hold a significant advantage over your non-native speaking colleagues. Compared to native speakers (NS), non-native speakers (NNS) experience a much higher cognitive load due to foreign language comprehension and production. As a result, they are often left behind in conversations with majority NS.

In this study, we explored the attributions NS and NNS make about each other during multiparty videoconference, where attribution is defined as inferring the cause of another’s behavior. E.g., if a NNS speaks very little during a meeting, did NS attribute NNS as incompetent? Uncreative? Or due to language barriers? If a NNS makes little eye contact, did NS attribute NNS as standoffish? Shy? Or due to language barriers? We found a significant mismatch in how NS attributed NNS, but not vice versa. More here!




Two Sides to Every Story: Designing Technologies to Reduce Intercultural Conflict

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.

Culture is an iceberg. Only after we encounter a conflict, do we see how deeply our differences in thinking and behaviors lie. In this experiment, Japanese-Canadian pairs completed a negotiation task over email. Pairs were assigned to one of three conditions (see below). Findings show Japanese and Canadian partners interpreted the negotiation task differently, resulting in intercultural conflict and negative impressions of their partner. Feedback in Condition 2 and Condition 3 helped mitigate conflict. Check out the study here!