Delivering Difficult Messages and Bridging Culture Gaps in a Flattening World

Globalization

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The crazy kitchen in my apartment in India — fully furnished, most decorations and art also furnished by the landlord

Globalization has become an everyday word and the world is flattening, according to Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century). With the evolution of technology, we are all becoming more closely connected. Information is communicated at speeds that could not have been imagined just a dozen years ago and as a result, we all have the opportunity to become more educated and culturally aware.

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Yep, it was necessary to have bottled water in the bathrooms as well as the kitchen to save me from the dreaded Delhi Belly

New Technology Connects the World

Unfortunately, humans are not as quick and adept as computers, and because of this, mistakes happen, gaps occur and lessons are learned. Some, who never would have dreamed they would travel across the country, would not have imagined they would have the opportunity interact with people from other countries and see them living their lives thousands of miles away from here. But with the miracles of modern technology and a start up called Justin.tv, a number of us have been transported to places like Sweden and the UK and South Africa while sitting comfortably behind our computers. While this is not as tactile as getting on a plane or a boat and going to another country, it gives many an opportunity they would not have otherwise had. I am waiting for the first justin.tv/middleast or justin.tv/greece, but in the meantime, I happily spend my time in Sweden in the daytime and in San Francisco and Dallas at night.

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Preparing for Thanksgiving dinner for the team

The beauty of this is that it’s no more costly than the price of an internet connection and time because, as we all know, beginning the journey across the country and around the world with JTV can be an expensive investment in time. Since we are all becoming more connected, there will be more frequent instances of cultural faux pas and as I’ve learned from living outside of the US more than in the US the past 8 years it’s not easy to bridge the culture gaps. I made my fair share of cultural mistakes on my first expat assignment and they will remain indelibly etched in my memory. Some were humorous, some were irritating, some were frustrating and others made me sad. But in all cases, I learned something, either about myself or about the other person or about the culture in general. I became less ignorant about the world around me and much more patient and tolerant of others. I learned that just because somethign is done differently in another country does not make it wrong — incorrect — it is just how it is done or spoken, or eaten, or written in other cultures and that the way I say or eat or write or do things is not the only way, is not necessarily the only correct way.

JTV to Lifecaster Communciation

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It wasn’t a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, but 8,000 miles away from home, it was perfect

Which leads me to the incident that has had me at the keyboard for hours this morning trying to figure out how to “speak” to what I saw evolve out of a tip from Linus and Emelie’s room.

I did not personally witness the incident, so I am not going to claim that what he did was right or that it was wrong. Allegedly a word that is unacceptable was used and the moment was tipped. I don’t know what the tip title was, what the context in which the word was used, but a conversation in the JTV office that I found in the archives helped explain just what caused Michael to address the situation this afternoon.

In the archives, I heard Michael asking the others about how to handle tips with offensive content in them. There was some talk about how to do it, but I didn’t hear a final resolution. Michael discussed a very offensive word having been used in the tip he was referring to and I went on my merry way, not realizing that the instance he was referring to would make me so angry just a little while later.

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Ready for the guests to arrive

At just after 2:22PM, Michael entered Melinus looking for Linus. He had a message he wanted to deliver to a JTV lifecaster that he chose to send in a public fashion — in a room with dozens of viewers. The conversation is posted below out of the IRC log. It hasn’t been tampered with, it hasn’t been edited, it’s there in it’s original form.

[02:23:01 PM] michael melinus
[02:23:02 PM] melinus mark we need a vaccume counter
[02:23:06 PM] melinus michael!
[02:23:07 PM] itsmycrapstatsVI -> melinus <- JKanStyle “Michael, I love you like the brother I never wanted.”
[02:23:08 PM] melinus hello
[02:23:08 PM] Mark lol
[02:23:10 PM] michael good evening
[02:23:14 PM] melinus evening!
[02:23:16 PM] justopia LOL
[02:23:19 PM] Mark that message is courtesy of manx
[02:23:25 PM] michael so
[02:23:38 PM] michael it would be helpful
[02:23:47 PM] melinus to?
[02:23:52 PM] michael if you didnt say racially insentive words
[02:23:56 PM] michael in front on our camera
[02:23:59 PM] merdi dun skulle ha lagt dig linus
[02:24:02 PM] merdi du
[02:24:04 PM] michael as it is a violation of our terms
[02:24:08 PM] melinus michael i dont?
[02:24:08 PM] itsmycrapstatsVI -> melinus <- JKanStyle “Michael, I love you like the brother I never wanted.”
[02:24:14 PM] justopia linus?
[02:24:14 PM] melinus what did i say?
[02:24:20 PM] michael there was a moment tipped today
[02:24:27 PM] melinus what moment?
[02:24:30 PM] michael the highlight has been removed
[02:24:36 PM] michael it might be tipped again
[02:24:36 PM] Mark I’ve never heard Linus or Emelie say anything like that
[02:24:46 PM] melinus michael what are u talking about
[02:24:47 PM] itsmycrapstatsVI -> melinus <- JKanStyle “Michael, I love you like the brother I never wanted.”
[02:24:51 PM] michael i dont want to make a big todo
[02:24:53 PM] Mark I need to disable that message…
[02:24:56 PM] michael just be careful
[02:24:59 PM] melinus but
[02:25:08 PM] melinus i did not do anything? i dont get it m
[02:25:16 PM] michael feel free to email me at michael@justin.tv
[02:25:20 PM] michael if you want to talk more
[02:25:20 PM] melinus ok
[02:25:25 PM] michael thanks
[02:25:25 PM] itsmycrapstatsVI -> michael <- you’re welcome
[02:25:26 PM] justopia wow, now that it’s in the room
[02:25:29 PM] justopia it is officially a big deal
[02:25:32 PM] michael lol
[02:25:37 PM] michael its not officially anything
[02:25:39 PM] justopia good way to give feedback
[02:25:40 PM] mynick 😉
[02:25:46 PM] justopia eek
[02:25:58 PM] michael i just wanted to address the problem directly
[02:26:04 PM] justopia that you did 🙂
[02:26:12 PM] michael alright folks – i gotta get back to work

What I got so hot under the collar about this afternoon was the way in which Michael chose to address the situation. I don’t know, but I could have thought of at least three different ways in which the message could have been communicated.

  1. Email — certainly not the preferred method of communicating a sensitive matter
  2. PM — better than email, but not perfect
  3. Telephone call — the mature, professional choice

Delivering a difficult message takes skill. It takes experience. It takes doing it wrong enough times to learn that there are better ways. Clearly, there is skill and experience needed. Calling someone out in a public forum is embarrassing, can be shocking (as we saw with Linus today) serves no purpose other than to put the recipient of the message on the defensive and breaks down the wall of trust (if one had been established).

No One Likes to Be Humiliated in Public

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I asked for a turkey although I had never seen one in the supermarket or at the butcher shop. It appears that they could only come up with a turkey with wings — what happened to the legs?!

I was apparently not the only one that was incensed at the way the situation was handled. The room was stirred up and while many of us were discussing the way in which things transpired, there were others who quickly got tired of the conversation and were asking for us to drop the subject. I am not sure what they wanted to talk about? More elementary school conversation equal to Jonas Brother’s fan chatter? It’s a CHAT room and we were having an intelligent, adult conversation, but it inflamed some. The funny thing is that we all have the same keyboard or mouse functions — if you don’t like what is being said in the room, exit.

But, I digress. This is about how the fratboys handle communications with the people that choose to use their platform. Since this is a start up and it is in beta, in my world I would consider the lifecasters to be JTV customers. No, money does not change hands, there is no financial benefit to a lifecaster. If there were no lifecasters, if Justin was still the only one streaming his life live to the internet 24/7 it’s doubtful there would be much life left in this beast, so in my world, I see the lifecasters as JTV customers and berating a customer in public seems to me to be a recipe for failure.

Let’s take away the customer aspect, how about common courtesy? Is it acceptable to humiliate someone in public? There are cultures that feel it is ok. I experienced that in places I’ve lived. In the Philippines, when someone is released from employment for something egregious, it is not uncommon to see a blurb in the newspaper outlining the infraction and telling people to beware and not to hire the person. In India “scolding” someone in the middle of the office was a common occurrence. I did not like these things being done, but I had to step back and realize that I was not a permanent fixture — that I would be there for only 1 – 3 years and that if I were to be successful, I would need to learn to cope with the differences in cultures.

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The only things in this room that belonged to me were the couch and chair

Educating

Linus did not seem to realize that what he said on camera was taboo and so unacceptable in our culture and once he was informed, he seemed to be genuinely upset by what he had done. Had the situation been handled on the phone it could have transpired this way:

  • Michael calls Linus and explains that he said something on camera that was offensive in our culture
  • Linus apologizes
  • Michael informs Linus that it had been tipped, but that the tip has been removed
  • Linus thanks Michael
  • Michael asks Linus to be more cognizant, to be more aware of what he (and others on his stream) say and do
  • Linus informs Michael that it won’t happen again and that he will be more careful in the future
  • Michael thanks Linus and reminds him that this is a violation of the terms of service (that he may or may not have signed) and suggests that Linus read through it again to become more familiar with the document
  • They say their goodbyes and the incident is put to bed. Done.

It would have been much cleaner and had the incident taken place this way, so many people would not have been made aware of the situation and Michael would not have to think about the reaction the VC may have to how it was handled if he/she decides to read this post. He came back into the room a while later and acknowledged that his comments caused a bit of a stir, saw a little more chatter about how it should have been handled privately, said he didn’t know why, and said:

[02:50:45 PM] michael i’ll see you all in the justopia comments

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13 Responses

  1. So we have made a variety of changes and posted a couple new community guideline documents on the site. I encourage you all to take a look and email me with your thoughts at michael@justin.tv. I agree with Justopia that some more experience in this area would have helpped us today. I think we have learned a lot today and as always – we apreciate the contructive criticism and suggestions of the Justin.tv community.

    Peace

  2. The Drama on JTV continues. NIce Post Justy

  3. Amazing how this shows not only a complete lack of people skills but also utter cultural ignorance. Linus clearly had no idea of the impact of what he said and was horrified that he might have offended someone. On the other hand the offensive, intolerant, homophobic comments made by Doug and Brooke in Ahhyeahforchrist are left unquestioned.

    Michael inappropriately calls out one of his best lifecasters while others are left to troll other rooms and ban people who do not agree with their narrowminded worldview.

  4. Wonderfull write up Justopia, I enjoyed reading it! I was going to write a comment, but I think Yalie pretty much covered it.

  5. Dizil as always, thanks for reading and for the comment. Michael, thanks for reading and for the comment. I see the new info, went out and read it,but don’t know how many JTV viewers will see it. You might want to take advantage of the new Headline feature and use it as a “breaking news” kind of vehicle on the Justin, Officecam, AwesomeJustin and Directory pages to alert people to new information with a link to the JTV blog. I don’t know how many people routinely read you, although I am sure it’s far more than the relatively small numbers of loyal readers of Living the Justopian Life, but in my opinion, you are going to need to lead the horse to water.

    Yalie, as always, well written. I’d go a step further — I don’t think they have any WORLD view at all. When a trip to Cincinnati is the big summer vacation, it’s clear there are small boundaries. I wonder if Tony Bourdain will be taking us to the Creation Museum in Monday’s Cincinnati episode? Why do I think the answer to that rhetorical question is a big NO!? 🙂

  6. Thanks for the comment Mangulo! Yalie does have a way with words, but of course, that is nothing new to us, is it?

  7. Actually MrsYalie and I had thought about going to the Creation museum just to mock. But now knowing that people actually make it a serious vacation destination I think it would just leave me feeling unclean.

    No Reservations!

  8. Well written and non-biased. I cannot comment on what was allegedly said or done on the day of the incident but, one way or another, i have to agree with Justopia that this matter should be handled proffesionally and responsibly as it will reflect on your company. I think we have learned a lot today and always keep an open mind culturally and in business management perspective

    What is today’s topic, Just? Is mail-order-bride acceptable in our modern society? If Internet dating sites are acceptable nowadays, why do people still make a big fuss over mail order brides? 🙂

  9. Yes Del, I think mail order brides are quite in vogue these days. 🙂 I don’t know what I will write about tonight. It will probably have to do with Melinus being in the #1 spot for a while, but I am totally wiped out from my marathon writing session yesterday so it will probably be a short post.

    Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  10. Excellent post Just. I also agree that the matter should have been handled privately. Here is two things that all of us should keep in mind.
    First: give all positive feedback in front of the community. Give negative or/and instructive personal feedback face to face and behind closed doors.
    Second: Use sandwitch feedback technique. Start with saying how good work he/she has done (positive on top). Then adress the negative issue (middle part, the meat) and after that say keep the good work (the bottom).

    I have seen too many times on my working career how bosses should have known these two simple things.

  11. Hey Eppo,

    Thanks for reading and for the comment.

    You make a good point — classic management technique — the feedback sandwich. I would point out that lifecasters are really customers of JTV, not employees, so they should be treated as such. There isn’t an exchange of money, but I view them as customers who have multiple networks to chose from, so when channels disappear, it makes me question — did they leave because lifecasting turned out not to be what they expected, or have they moved on to another option where they feel they get different/better support?

  12. Finally, I get to catch up on your blog Justy! Enjoyable, well-written and enlightening, as always.

    I was lurking Melinus’ room while I was on the phone when Michael came in. As it so happened, I had just seen the tip with Linus’ “mistake” and thought I might ask him about it IN PRIVATE because it was impossible to understand the context of what he said. The point is, even though I am just a viewer, I was not going to bring it up in a public forum and I was really horrified to see that Michael/management did.

    Adding to Yalie’s comments about AhhYeah’s hateful, homophobic, JUDGMENTAL remarks that go uncensored, I have the benefit of a few days more of JTV to be able to say that the rampant use of horridly racial, homophobic and just generally offensive nicknames by the Legions of Morons recently invading JTV with their spam is also being left uncensored and ignored. I would imagine any potential sponsors will think twice about supporting an unsupported network.

    Anyway. keep up the great work, Justy!

  13. Hey Legg,

    I am not sure why name filters are not employed. I remember when we put them in and people with last names like Lipshitz were unable to create screen names using their own names. In one sense it was funny (although not funny to those answering their phone calls) and in another it made sense with the types that run rampant in chat. But a name filter would be good. Or a reporting function on room names. There are tools out there to automate the reporting functions which JTV may now be using with the recent reporting addition, but I am not so sure that this is the case.

    I am fond of the 3 strikes policy, on the 4th, you’re out. No coming back.

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