Dr Andy is giving a course in organizational diagnosis to a group of students in Asia, His students are in classrooms in Beijing, Bangkok and Taipei. Andy gives the course via Skype from his home office in Montreal.
Andy is having a hard time with this course; he feels his students are not engaged. “They never ask anything unless asked. There is too little ‘learning traction. I seem to be talking to myself”’.
Let’s look at what is happening under the surface.
Jie from Bangkok believes that were she to ask about the many issues that go through her mind, she would stick out like a braggart. Her English is perfect since her mother is British and this is very embarrassing for Jie.
Rei from Beijing often has ideas different from those of Dr Andy. However Rei always censors himself because he loves the course and wants to show his respect by not sharing controversial thoughts.
When Norman from Taiwan does not understand something, he fears that were he to ask Dr Andy, he would be hinting that Andy does not know how to teach. Norman does not want to hurt Andy’s “face.”
“Engagement” with authority figures (asking questions, taking ownership to be active, sharing opinions) is seen in many parts as insulting, rude and arrogant. While digital reality and globalism have dented this slightly, cultural codes have not been rewritten.
It is not only difficult to “engage” certain populations, it is downright wrong and disrespectful to try and do so.
In other societies, levels of engagement levels need to be tempered because there may be too much counter productive engagement. In Israel for example, there is a tendency to speak out all the time, have firm opinions and not show respect to people in positions of authority. Israelis tend to argue for the sake of arguing, which has deep roots in tradition. It is not uncommon for experts to face an Israeli audience and totally lose control of a discussion because of “too much engagement”.