From January 9 through the 13, 2012, a workshop took place at the CUAS in Cologne Germany geared towards developing a set of phenomenological and hermeneutical methods that could be used in research on intercultural communication.  The workshop was attended by an international group of scholars, a group of 4 business women employed by German and international companies and organizaitons based in the Cologne/Bonn area, and by a group of international students. The workshop was segmented into two halves. On January 9 through 11, the team of scholars met to begin the process of adapting the phenomenological and hermeneutical methods such that they could be applied in a role playing setting to get at the meaning of body language and gestures in intercultural job interviews. On January 12 and 13, the business women and students were in attendance: on January 12 the team of scholars presented the methods to the participants and practiced the first role plays. On the 13, a large number of role plays were performed and initial feedback on the effectiveness of the methods was given.


On January 9 George Heffernen (Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass., USA), Harrry Reeder (Univesrity of Texas, Arlington, TX, USA) and Miriam Leibbrand (now at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria) met at the CUAS to begin honing the methods for the role plays. George Heffernan and Harry Reeder are recognized scholars in phenomenology; Miriam Leibbrand is a scholar very well versed in translation studies (esp. interpreting). These three individual met up with John Stanley (CUAS, Cologne, Germany) who is well versed in phenomenology and hermeneutics.  In the course of these two days, a series of presentations were held on the phenomenological method and on the hermeneutical approach; there was intensive work done to adapt these so that they could be applied in the research during the role plays planed for Thursday and Friday of the same week. On Wednesday, the 11th of January, the team was joined by Tuomas Harviainen (University of Tampere, Finland) Tuomas is a recognized scholar in role plays and hermeneutics, and on Wednesday we were concerned with how to set up the role plays such that they could used for the phenomenological and hermeneutical research.



 George Heffernan, Harry Reader and Miriam Leibbrand pose for a photograph during the workshop.

Tuomas Harviainen arrived on the eleventh of January, at which time the team began to concentrate on the theoretical matrix surrounding game playing and role plays.

Many of the exercises done with the participants on the twelvth of January were geared towards sharpening perception and broadening the scope of their introspective self-perception.



Because the participants had to take short notes on phenomena that seemed relevant to the course the role play took, there was a real danger that cognitive overload would interfere with either the role plays or the process of introspection. The exercises performed on the twelvth of January were also designed to increase the cognitive load that the participants could carry such that the risk of overload was reduced.

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Here Lothar Cerny, Harry Reader, George Heffernan and Miriam Leibbrand participate in one of the exercises and find that sometimes the emotional response (here the pleasure resulting for the game) can lead to a distraction that in turn fosters cognitive overload.


Guiding Questions and Basic Outcomes

In essence, the workshop was designed with a focus on three questions: 1) The ostensible question concerning the possible effect of cultural differences on intercultural communication within the setting of job interviews. 2) The question concerning the applicability of phenomenological and hermeneutical methods as tools for fostering introspection during acts of communication. 3) The question concerning the compatibility of phenomenological introspection with role plays.

On the 13th of January, 2012, ten role plays were performed involving 14 participants from Germany, USA, Great Britian, Turkey and Italy. Directly following the role plays, a discussion session was held to get feedback from the participants on their preception of the role plays and on the effectiveness of the phenomenological method. Due to time contstraints, the hermeneutical analysis was done only with one group at a later date.

The feedback concerning the role plays and the phenomenological method was unequivocal. First off, the group was unanimous in their agreement that the role plays created a setting in which all participants perceived the situation as real. Not only did the interviewees experience an internal unrest and the interviewers have a sense of intense seriousness and duty, but many particpants actually had problems with intense persperation prior to and during the interviews: The role plays were not perceived as a mere games. 

The participants were equally unequivical in their judgment concerning the phenomenological method. While it did heighten their self-awareness, no participant without previous experience in phenomenology was in a position to actually implement the series of steps that make up the method. Even maintaining the perceptive distance achieved by the Epoché was difficult for most participants, and performing the various reductions - especially the "eidedic reduction" - was out of everyone's reach. The workshop made it clear that the application of the phenomenological method would require much more extensive training and practice in order to obtain viable results in the area of intercultural communication. 

On the other hand, the application of the phenomenological method within the framework of role plays did not present a threat to the role plays themselves. When cognitive overload became a problem for the participants, their activities as a participant in the role plays predominated and the introspection was put on hold until the cognitive overload was overcome. This means that the role plays remain a viable forum for phenomenological research even when the introspection has to be suspended, for the role play follows its course and maintains its organizational structure with or without the introspection. 


Hermeneutical Analysis

Due to temporal constraints, a hermeneutical analysis was done on only one of the role plays. We chose a role play that was done in German. The interviewers were employed in the area of personell management at a large, international corporation based in Bonn; both have had training on the interviewing process. The interviewee was an US-American  employed at a major  international organization based in Bonn that deals with international relations; she has a background in philosophy.


Interestingly, the notes of all participants pointed to the same events during the role play as being crucial, but the interpretation of those events were divided along cultural lines. During the first meeting it became clear that the time frame in the video text from roughly minute 8:00 until minute 14:00 was crucial and that especially around minute 11:07 the verbal and non-verbal communication was particularly relevant. These six minutes - especially the minute following 11:00 on the counter - became the sole topic of the 81 minute discussion in the second meeting. This section of the video is presented here:

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The interviewee recognized based upon the facial expressions, prosody and body language of the interviewers that something was going wrong at this stage of the interview, but she knew not what. The German interviewers had posed a "Fangfrage" - the question concerning weaknesses - and were surprised that the interviewee answered the question honestly, for they expected the interviewee to know that she should remain mute on this issue. Once this "mistake" had been made, the interviewers asked a series of questions designed to help the interviewee find a way to save the situation. The interviewee misunderstood the intentions of the interviewers, and repeatedly tried to answer honestly - her interest was in establishing trust. The interviewee's body language - especially the gesturing with her hands - became more energetic. The interviewee was frustrated - even slightly angry - with the interviewers for not accepting her answer, and the energetic gesturing was an expression of this frustration. The German interviewers interpreted this gesturing as a sign of fear and weakness, and the die was cast: the job interview did not go well.

The hermeneutical analysis had a long lasting effect on the participants, for they pondered their roles rather intensively for some time after the discussions. The analysis showed, however, that in spite of the fact that the participants did not yet have mastery of the phenomenological method, the method was able to heighten self-awareness enough to provide a basis for an analysis of the role play. The hermeneutical analysis was crucial as a tool to get beyond each individual's idiosyncratic interpretation of events in the role play to reach an common understanding of the meaning of the signs and gestures employed in the job interview, and the hermeneutical analysis made it clear that in this case the cultural orientation did in fact lead to misinterpretations in the German- English communication that were quite detrimental to the conversation.

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