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Darla Moore School of Business


Moore School professor’s research helps students with cross-cultural communication

November 20, 2017

Five years ago, Clinical Assistant Professor Kathy Langston came to the Darla Moore School of Business with a question in the back of her mind: “How can a person expect to be able to understand and communicate well with others when they don’t first understand themselves?”

About a year later, this question developed into a project she started doing with her professional communication classes. This year, it grew into a presentation on interpersonal communication that she was able to give at the International Association for Business Communication Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

Her paper, “Understanding Me, Understanding You,” explains how students can establish their “executive presence,” or business communication style, so they can better understand other people and, ultimately, other cultures. This concept might seem simple, but Langston found that many people struggle to apply it to their own lives.

“Conflict in business usually comes from communication and personality differences that people are unaware of,” Langston says, “so I took that information and applied it to my class.”

For four years now, she’s had each of her professional communications classes participate in a five-week international business communications project where they determine their business personality type using 16personalities.com and present on their findings. Often times, she has students in the same class with polar opposite personality types, and they have to learn to work together and understand their differing perspectives.

“The point is to help them understand what nonproductive conflict is versus productive conflict,” she says. “In the workplace, productive conflict is a good thing.”

While Langston cautions against stereotyping, these findings help the students better understand not only each other, but also other cultures. Through this study of cultures, students discover that cultures have many of the characteristics that different personalities have. This individual, group and culture exposure allows them to approach diversity with the ability to have deeper understanding of others.

“I don’t think you can really understand diversity and inclusion until you understand how people differ and how cultures differ,” she says.

Langston plans to continue doing the project as students really enjoy it, and she hopes to pull together findings from the project and her paper to submit to an academic journal in the near future.

By Madeleine Vath