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Korean Air Co.’s Communication and Motivation Case Study

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Updated: Apr 24th, 2021

What are some of the key elements of communication that you have gathered from this case?

The communication process consists of several elements. These elements include the sender, the receiver, the message, the channel, and the feedback. Each of these elements has its own unique function that is crucial when two parties are communicating. The sender passes the information to the receiver who must understand the information being conveyed.

A pilot is supposed to send and receive information from the control tower to ensure safe landing and be advised on the weather conditions. In addition, the captain should motivate his or her juniors so that they freely express their opinions without fear. However, in the Korean Air case communication barriers existed, which prevented effective communication to take place. There was no interaction between the pilot and the control tower. The pilot made assumptions that he would land safely in the bad weather without the advice of the controllers in the control tower. In addition, the first officer was not empowered to talk to the captain in confidence about the bad weather; he gave information that lacked channel richness. The officer was not allowed to express confidently his opinion to higher authorities even though his idea was right.

The first officer and the flight engineer spoke face to face to the pilot yet the pilot did not respond to their message. It is possible the pilot saw nonverbal signs of communication such as fear and nervousness on their faces yet he did not respond to them. The outcome of this communication breakdown was fatal. It resulted in the crash of Korean Air Flight 801, which killed hundreds of people. After Korean Air decided to change its communication style, the tragedies reduced dramatically and Korean Air became successful and won several awards.

What are some of the potential internal and external (PR) dangers associated with mandating that non-native English speakers speak the English language?

The fatal accident made Korean Air change their leadership and the new leader brought new ideas. One of the ideas was that everyone in the cockpit was to speak fluent English. The ability to speak fluent English would help the pilots communicate effectively when landing in other nations that speak English. In addition, speaking fluent English would help pilots communicate effectively to their superiors without regarding the Korean hierarchy.

However, speaking the English language by non-natives had some disadvantages too associated with public relations. The public would think that the company was trying to adopt the American culture and abandon the Korean culture. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory, which states that individuals are motivated by various needs that run in a systematic order. A sense of belonging is one of the needs. In this Korean case, by trying to adopt a new language that is non-native, the public would feel as if they did not belong there. The public would not feel motivated to go and do business with them. Therefore, there was a possibility the company would lose some of its customers.

Another potential danger of mandating that non-native speak the English language was that the employees would be involved in a culture and language with a different heritage. The Koreans would not follow the strict rules of the Korean chain of command and would speak up to their bosses as they please. In a case where the superior was trying to give orders or assign specific duties, the juniors would not respond immediately but would start questioning the orders of their superiors.

How might a global company based in a high-PDI culture have a competitive edge over one founded on low-PDI cultural principles?

Power Distance Index (PDI) is one of Hofstede’s dimensions used to analyze a particular culture’s behavior towards hierarchy and the amount of respect given to power. Nations that have High PDI esteem highly those in power. Moreover, there are significant differences between those in and without power. In lower PDI nations, every person wants to be heard regardless of their work position. Moreover, they will resist authorities whom they think are dictatorial or demeaning.

A company with high-PDI culture has a competitive edge over one founded on low-PDI culture because such a company has inherent values that cannot be changed. If high-PDI companies are founded on good values, then it will be possible for the employees to follow these values strictly without question, which will help in achieving the goals and objectives of that company. Another advantage of high-PDI culture is that people are in a position to work in an environment that is founded on respect, which is given according to rank.

South Korea is an example of high PDI. In order to communicate with the high authority, one has to pass through several levels, which depends on the relationship between the messenger and the receiver. All steps are carried out according to the hierarchy. Because of Korea’s high PDI, the captain used his authority to do as he pleased and nobody could question his actions. He could not delegate duties to the other pilots who were doing nothing. High PDI works effectively when the listener can listen carefully to the speaker and when the speaker and the listener both have ample time to digest the message being processed. However, in the case of Korean Air Flight 801, high PDI could not be effective because the pilot was exhausted and time was running out.

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