THE ADVANTAGES OF EMPLOYING QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE METHODS IN INTERCULTURAL RESEARCH: PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FROM THE STUDY OF THE PERCEPTIONS OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE BY AMERICAN AND RUSSIAN MANAGERS
Alexei V. Matveev
(New York, USA)
Published: Collected research articles, Bulletin of Russian Communication Association "THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AND APPLIED COMMUNICATION", Issue 1 / Edited by I.N. Rozina, Rostov-on-Don: Institute of Management, Business and Law Publishing, 2002. - 168 p. P. 59-67
Intercultural researchers usually use two types of investigation processes. First is quantitative research, which employs numerical indicators to ascertain the relative size of a particular communication phenomenon. The second type of investigation process is qualitative research, which employs symbols and words to indicate the presence or absence of phenomena or categorize them into different types. Quantitative and qualitative observations provide intercultural researchers with different ways of operationalizing and measuring theoretical constructs and practical concepts. While quantitative methods can provide a high level of measurement precision and statistical power, qualitative methods can supply a greater depth of information about the nature of communication processes in a particular research setting.
This research investigated the perception of intercultural communication competence by American and Russian managers with experience on multicultural teams. The researcher employed a survey method to solicit information about intercultural communication competence and multicultural team performance from 124 American and Russian managers. Qualitative interviews of 40 American and Russian managers enriched the data collected by using questionnaires. This study yielded a number of conclusions about the importance of intercultural communication competence in the performance of multicultural teams.
The researcher experienced a number of advantages of applying both quantitative and qualitative methods in this intercultural research. Quantitative methods ensured high levels of reliability of gathered data. Qualitative research allowed for obtaining more in-depth information about how the managers perceive intercultural communication competence and its relationship with the performance of multicultural teams. This article is useful for empirical researchers, qualitative scholars, and business practitioners who are engaged in intercultural research or who plan to perform a future study.
The Research Problem
In today's world, people spend a considerable time communicating across cultures with other people and organizations around the world. Intercultural communication competence of employees of multicultural organizations has risen to a higher level of importance. Today a large portion of communication in multicultural organizations occurs between people with different cultural backgrounds (Hofner Saphiere, 1996). Team members with different cultural backgrounds are likely to have difficulties in understanding each other because of the difference in the perception about what competent communication is. Past research shows that competent communication and an effective team development process can address many of the challenges of multicultural teams (Christophel, 1996; Gudykunst & Kim, 1984; Hofstede, 1991; Lewis, 1998; McCroskey & McCroskey, 1986; McCroskey & Richmond, 1990; Parker, 1998; Rhinesmith, 1983, 1996; Young, 1998).
To work effectively with diverse people, managers of multicultural organizations need to know not only about the culture of the person with whom they are interacting, but also about his or her personality, behavior patterns in conflict situations, demographics, and life experiences. An ability to work in a diverse workforce requires managers to become competent intercultural communicators. The research presented in this paper analyzed the perception of intercultural communication competence by American and Russian managers with experience on multicultural teams. The primary goals of this study were to (a) investigate how American and Russian managers perceive intercultural communication competence, and (b) describe a relationship between intercultural communication competence of managers and the performance of multicultural teams.
Comparison of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods of Inquiry
Intercultural researchers are deemed to have certain challenges due to cultural, linguistic, business practice, and communication differences of the research participants, survey respondents, and interviewees. Combing quantitative and qualitative methods helps to prevent some of these challenges and manage others. The following section highlights strengths and weaknesses of the quantitative and qualitative methods experienced by intercultural researchers.
The functional or positivist paradigm that guides the quantitative mode of inquiry is based on the assumption that social reality has an objective ontological structure and that individuals are responding agents to this objective environment (Morgan & Smircich, 1980). Quantitative research involves counting and measuring of events and performing the statistical analysis of a body of numerical data (Smith, 1988). The assumption behind the positivist paradigm is that there is an objective truth existing in the world that can be measured and explained scientifically. The main concerns of the quantitative paradigm are that measurement is reliable, valid, and generalizable in its clear prediction of cause and effect (Cassell & Symon, 1994).
Being deductive and particularistic, quantitative research is based upon formulating the research hypotheses and verifying them empirically on a specific set of data (Frankfort-Nachmias & Nachmias, 1992). Scientific hypotheses are value-free; the researcher's own values, biases, and subjective preferences have no place in the quantitative approach. Researchers can view the communication process as concrete and tangible and can analyze it without contacting actual people involved in communication (Ting-Toomey, 1984).
The strengths of the quantitative method include:
- Stating the research problem in very specific and set terms (Frankfort-Nachmias & Nachmias, 1992);
- Clearly and precisely specifying both the independent and the dependent variables under investigation;
- Following firmly the original set of research goals, arriving at more objective conclusions, testing hypothesis, determining the issues of causality;
- Achieving high levels of reliability of gathered data due to controlled observations, laboratory experiments, mass surveys, or other form of research manipulations (Balsley, 1970);
- Eliminating or minimizing subjectivity of judgment (Kealey & Protheroe, 1996);
- Allowing for longitudinal measures of subsequent performance of research subjects.
The weaknesses of the quantitative method include:
- Failure to provide the researcher with information on the context of the situation where the studied phenomenon occurs;
- Inability to control the environment where the respondents provide the answers to the questions in the survey;
- Limited outcomes to only those outlined in the original research proposal due to closed type questions and the structured format;
- Not encouraging the evolving and continuous investigation of a research phenomenon.
Qualitative research shares the theoretical assumptions of the interpretative paradigm, which is based on the notion that social reality is created and sustained through the subjective experience of people involved in communication (Morgan, 1980). Qualitative researchers are concerned in their research with attempting to accurately describe, decode, and interpret the meanings of phenomena occurring in their normal social contexts (Fryer, 1991). The researchers operating within the framework of the interpretative paradigm are focused on investigating the complexity, authenticity, contextualization, shared subjectivity of the researcher and the researched, and minimization of illusion (Fryer, 1991).
Qualitative research in general is more likely to take place in a natural setting (Denzin, 1971; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Marshall & Rossman, 1989). This means that topics for study focus on everyday activity as "defined, enacted, smoothed, and made problematic by persons going about their normal routines" (Van Maanen, 1983, p. 255). Qualitative research is less likely to impose restrictive a priori classification on the collection of data. It is less driven by very specific hypotheses and categorical frameworks and more concerned with emergent themes and idiographic descriptions (Cassell & Symon, 1994).
Extending the fundamental beliefs of the interpretative paradigm, one can name three characteristics of qualitative inquiry. First, qualitative research is the study of symbolic discourse that consists of the study of texts and conversations. Second, qualitative research is the study of the interpretive principles that people use to make sense of their symbolic activities. Third, qualitative research is the study of contextual principles, such as the roles of the participants, the physical setting, and a set of situational events, that guide the interpretation of discourse (Ting-Toomey, 1984).
The strengths of the qualitative method include:
- Obtaining a more realistic feel of the world that cannot be experienced in the numerical data and statistical analysis used in quantitative research;
- Flexible ways to perform data collection, subsequent analysis, and interpretation of collected information;
- Provide a holistic view of the phenomena under investigation (Bogdan & Taylor, 1975; Patton, 1980);
- Ability to interact with the research subjects in their own language and on their own terms (Kirk & Miller, 1986);
- Descriptive capability based on primary and unstructured data;
The weaknesses of the qualitative method include:
- Departing from the original objectives of the research in response to the changing nature of the context (Cassell & Symon, 1994);
- Arriving to different conclusions based on the same information depending on the personal characteristics of the researcher;
- Inability to investigate causality between different research phenomena;
- Difficulty in explaining the difference in the quality and quantity of information obtained from different respondents and arriving at different, non-consistent conclusions;
- Requiring a high level of experience from the researcher to obtain the targeted information from the respondent;
- Lacking consistency and reliability because the researcher can employ different probing techniques and the respondent can choose to tell some particular stories and ignore others.
The Research Methods Used in This Study
Investigating how different cultures perceive intercultural communication competence and its relationship with multicultural team performance included field research in Russia and data collection in the United States. The participants in this study were 124 upper and middle managers of medium and large international companies. The researcher selected the companies and the actual research participants based on the scale of their international operations, their history of working in intercultural teams, and their willingness to participate in this research study.
The researcher employed the Integrated Intercultural Communication Competence Model (Model) to examine the perception of intercultural communication competence by American and Russian managers with experience on multicultural teams. The Model is based on the research of Abe and Wiseman (1983) and Cui and Awa (1992). The theoretical foundations of the Model are rooted in the cultural studies of Edward Hall (1956, 1976), Hofstede's (1980, 1991) cultural dimensions of power distance, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity-femininity, and the communication orientations across cultures (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988). The Model views intercultural communication competence of a team member as being based on four underlying dimensions: interpersonal skills, team effectiveness, cultural uncertainty, and cultural empathy. The factor analysis of the pilot data confirmed these four dimensions as being critical characteristics for members of multicultural teams (Matveev, Rao, & Milter, 2001).
The researcher used both quantitative and qualitative methods to solicit information from the respondents on intercultural communication competence and multicultural team performance. The quantitative part of the research included two research questionnaires. The Intercultural Communication Competence Questionnaire with the internal consistency reliability of Chonbach alpha of 0.88 was based on the Integrated Intercultural Communication Competence Model (Matveev, Rao, & Milter 2001). The High Performance Team Questionnaire with the test-retest reliability of .82 and the internal consistency alpha of .88 was based on the integrated model of group development (Wheelan, 1990, 1994, 1999).
The qualitative part of the research included 40 semi-structured interviews with the American and Russian managers. The goal of the interviews was to obtain more in-depth information about how the managers perceive intercultural communication competence and its relationship with the performance of multicultural teams (Frankfort-Nachmias & Nachmias, 1992). The researcher asked the American and Russian managers to describe an interculturally and communicatively competent employee, to rank the dimensions of intercultural communication competence based on their understanding of this theoretical construct, and to describe their views about a relationship between intercultural communication competence and performance in multicultural teams.
The statistical analyses of the survey data determined the differences in the mean intercultural communication competence scores and the mean scores of different dimensions of intercultural communication competence between the American and the Russian respondents. The correlation analysis suggested a significant relationship between the score for intercultural communication competence and the score for multicultural team performance.
The quantitative method allowed the researcher to collect the data from the respondents in the numerical format, to exercise objective judgment, to achieve a high level of reliability and accuracy. The researcher used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) to perform the descriptive statistical analyses, the t tests, the analyses of variance, and the correlation analysis (Norusis, 1999). The alpha level of statistical significance (Cronbach, 1951) was set at .05 for all types of statistical analyses (Stevens, 1996). The researcher formulated the research hypotheses prior to implementing the actual intercultural study. The researcher verified the hypotheses empirically on a data set collected from the Russian and the American respondents.
Employing the quantitative method allowed the researcher to:
- State the research problem in very specific, definable, and set terms;
- Specify clearly and precisely the independent and the dependent variables;
- Follow the original set of research goals;
- Achieve high levels of reliability of gathered data due to mass surveying;
- Test the research hypotheses;
- Arrive at more objective conclusions by minimizing subjectivity of judgment.
The American managers named open-mindedness and openness to new ideas, and the Russian managers named vast cultural knowledge as the key qualities of an interculturally and communicatively competent employee. Both the American and the Russian managers identified the interpersonal skills dimension of intercultural communication competence as the most important. However, the Americans and the Russians differed in their ranking of importance of other dimensions of intercultural communication competence. All of the interviewed American and the Russian managers believed that that the level of intercultural communication competence of individual team members affected the performance of multicultural teams in their organizations.
The qualitative method allowed the researcher to describe the perceptions of intercultural communication competence more accurately and thoroughly. The researcher engaged in actual interaction with the American and Russian managers in real day-to-day organizational contexts. The respondents provided more authentic and open answers because they operated in their natural organizational settings. The researcher discovered new themes and interpretations of the intercultural communication competence construct because of the absence of the restrictive a priory classifications and judgment.
The interviews helped the researcher to determine a more holistic nature of the intercultural communication competence construct. The managers explained their understanding of different dimensions of intercultural communication competence including the items and definitions related to intercultural communication knowledge, attitude, motivation, and skills. The respondents provided specific examples of their experience that supported the influence of dominance of cultural parameters on interpretation of intercultural communication competence. The American and Russian cultures differ in the collectivism-individualism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity-femininity parameters. The managers also emphasized the contextual nature of intercultural communication competence.
Employing the qualitative method allowed the researcher to:
- Collect the primary data in a flexible, non-structured way that allowed emergence of new information and interpretations of intercultural communication competence;
- Interact with the research subjects in their own language and, in most of the cases, at their own work place;
- Understand intercultural communication competence as a more holistic and complex construct;
- Obtain a more realistic and hands-on feel of the world that cannot be experienced in the numerical data and statistical analysis used in quantitative research.
This research analyzed the perception of intercultural communication competence by American and Russian managers with experience on multicultural teams. The researcher determined importance of intercultural communication competence to the performance of multicultural teams, the culturally explained differences in the perceptions of intercultural communication competence between Americans and Russians, and differences in the scores on the dimensions of intercultural communication competence between managers of these two cultures with experience on multicultural teams. Managers of multicultural organizations emphasized that the success of their companies would depend on how well their employees are able to deal with cultural complexity and to understand, accept, and respond to cultural differences.
This intercultural study employed both quantitative and qualitative methods of inquiry. The researcher experienced a number of advantages of applying both quantitative and qualitative methods in this intercultural research. Quantitative methods ensured high levels of reliability of gathered data. Qualitative method allowed for obtaining more in-depth information about how the managers perceive intercultural communication competence and its relationship with the performance of multicultural teams. The use of different research methods allowed building on the strengths of each method and minimizing their weaknesses. The weaknesses of the quantitative method, such as failure to provide information about the context of the situation, inability to control the environment, and pre-determined outcomes, were compensated by interaction with the research participants during interviews, learning about the context, and uncovering new research themes.
The weaknesses of the qualitative method, such as departing from the original objectives of the research, excessive subjectivity of judgment, and high requirements for the experience level of the researcher, were compensated by clearly stating the research problem, crosschecking with the results of the statistical analyses, and strong theoretical foundation of the research. The researcher highly recommends using both methods of inquiry in future intercultural studies to ensure high reliability of data, understanding the contextual aspects of the research, flexibility and openness of the data collection, and a more holistic interpretation of the research problem.
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