This is my seventh in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
See my earlier posts:
- Does Brand Loyalty Always Help in a Crisis? by Nicky Honghao Ruan
- On Surviving Online Shaming by Maura Yates
- On the Power of Why in Business by Jocelyn Jiaxin Cao;
- On Wall Street, Reputation, and Recovery by Julia Sahin;
- On Changing Narratives in Oil Conflict Regions by Claudia Espinel;
- A 10-C Model for Apologies by Iris Wenting Xue.
In this blog, Carolina Perez Sanz summarizes her capstone, focusing on the particular challenges women face in a workforce where men disproportionately fill the top positions. This could apply to banking, engineering, or any other industry.
And Carolina develops insights that would apply to all similar sectors.
But her primary focus is public relations, where women are 70 percent of the workforce but only four percent of the leaders.
Carolina completed a PhD in applied linguistics at Instituto Universitario de Investigación Ortega y Gasset in Spain. She is also a certified speech therapist. For her PhD she did extensive research into how female broadcasters use their voices when performing on the air.
Her dissertation, “Laryngeal Adjustments in the Voice of Female Broadcasters,” uses a technique called electroglottography to analyze the physiology of professional broadcasters’ larynxes when using their conversational speaking style and when using their professional speaking style. She showed that when speakers hyper-articulate, not only do they move their jaws, lips and tongues faster and more strongly, but also their larynxes.
She also writes her own blog, Power at Speech, that focuses on how voice and speech influence the perception of public figures’ personalities.
Carolina, who just received her M.S. in public relations and corporate communications from New York University’s School of Professional Studies, moved from science to social science, looking at women in leadership.
She takes into account cultural and personal biases, and also reflects on current insights on leadership generally.
She builds an interesting model based on trust at three levels of leadership:
- Being trusted to perform tasks
- Being trusted to manage projects
- Being trusted to lead people
She notes that many women find themselves stuck at the first or second level, and offers strategies to overcome this self-sabotage.
Her insights can help women in public relations and other fields reverse much of the marginalization they experience, and build more fruitful careers.
You can download the entire capstone here.
Female Leadership: How Women Can Inspire Trust and
Become Leaders in Male-Dominated Work Environments
by Carolina Perez Sanz, PhD, MS
If being very good at what one did was the critical factor to becoming a leader, the business world would look very different. Competence is necessary, but certainly not enough to taking on the mantle of leadership.
In the highly feminized industry of public relations, the disproportionate numbers between female employees (70%) and female top leaders (4%) gives proof of this disparity. Women get the work done because they excel in competence and ability, but it is men who set the goals and strategies for the firms.
The reason is that inspiring trust, and not mastering skills, is the defining trait of leaders.
Trust Is Key
Trust happens (or does not) between two people in a relationship. It is complex and nuanced, and different factors on both sides of the relationship contribute to bolster or cripple it.
The trustor (the person who trusts) needs to be in a psychological state of trust. The context of the relationship, personal and social biases, and the reputation of the other party influence the trustor’s inclination – or lack of thereof – to trust.
The trustee (the person to be trusted) needs to appear trustworthy in the eyes of the trustor. To do so, he or she has to possess and display certain characteristics.
The typical features that boost trustworthiness are grouped into three categories: ability, integrity and benevolence.
Ability: “I Can”
Ability encompasses the capabilities that professionals have that allow them to perform the assigned tasks. It includes the knowledge, experience, expertise and skills that are in the realm of the work that needs to be done. The expression ‘I can’ symbolizes the Ability level of trust.
Gardeners prove ability with their knowledge about plants, soil and weather, their patience, or their photographic memory. For neurosurgeons, ability includes a steady hand, a deep knowledge of brain anatomy, or being able to concentrate for long periods.
Integrity: “I Will”
Integrity is built on behaviors such as keeping one’s word, being loyal to the other party and the relationship, and respecting a set of values that both parties adhere to. The Integrity level reflects an ‘I will’ attitude.
Mail carriers exhibit integrity when they deliver the mail in a timely fashion to the right recipients, or when they don’t disclose mailing information to other recipients or senders. Public relations professionals show integrity by not working for a client’s direct competitor, or by not sharing clients’ confidential information.
Benevolence: “I Care”
Benevolence entails being able to put the other party’s objectives ahead of our own, demonstrating good will towards the other party in a business relationship, and caring for them more than we care for ourselves.
But it doesn’t mean sacrifice for the sake of an abstract concept of goodness, or avoiding hurting other people’s feelings. In business contexts, being benevolent means to behave in ways that are best for our clients and/or company. ‘I care’ summarizes the Benevolence level.
For advisors, benevolence entails speaking truth to power. They show benevolence because they act in the boss’s or client’s best interest and are ready to put their own position at risk. Attorneys demonstrate benevolence when they turn down cases that they cannot win.
The Competence – Trust Gap
The Three-Level Model of Trust provides an explanation for the imbalance between women’s participation in the workforce and their share of leadership. As Climb Leadership Consulting president Chuck Garcia very accurately told me, “Women strive for perfection, while men strive for progress.” In other words, women excel in the ability level.
Three Self-Sabotaging Mistakes
Perfectionism leads women to three common self-sabotaging mistakes that undermine their ability to inspire trust and hence, stifle their leadership potential.
- Deference to authority
When women’s most important objective is to deliver spotless, perfect work, they reflect that they expect that an authority figure will judge them and their work.Because they defer to a higher authority, they tend to hold back in meetings.Expecting (and fearing) to be judged, they prefer not to share an idea lest it be imperfect.And since they believe they need someone to validate their ideas, they are not assertive. Striving for perfection makes some women berate themselves for the mistakes they make.Again, their fear to be judged compels them to self-justify before someone starts pointing fingers at their mistake.
- Inability to create and project a vision
When they berate themselves for not being perfect, they show their inability to see errors as points in time and necessary steps for progress. They get stuck in what went wrong and why, which prevents them from looking to the future and finding the solution.Women apply only for jobs they feel they are perfect for.According to LeanIn.org, women don’t apply for jobs unless they meet 100% of the criteria, while men apply when they meet 60%. Besides insecurity, this habit reflects these women’s incapability to envisage their future selves. They can’t foresee how they will change and learn on the job because they consider only how they are now.
- Lack of benevolence
The perfectionist’s main objective is to be judged well. Benevolence, on the contrary, implies being able to erase oneself and work in the other party’s best interest.When women strive for perfection, they imply that they care about how they appear to others more than they care for others.
Bridging the Gap
While aiming at high quality standards is commendable, women need to get past the “worker ant” stage if they want to reach top leadership positions.
Showing authentic care for the objectives of others is what defines leaders.
When speaking in public, leaders care about the audience and help them connect. When leading teams, leaders care about the followers and help them thrive.
When leading a company, leaders embody its vision and help employees work strategically towards the ultimate goal.
# # #
You can download the entire capstone here.
This is my sixth in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
See my earlier posts:
- On Surviving Online Shaming by Maura Yates
- On the Power of Why in Business by Jocelyn Jiaxin Cao;
- On Wall Street, Reputation, and Recovery by Julia Sahin;
- On Changing Narratives in Oil Conflict Regions by Claudia Espinel;
- A 10-C Model for Apologies by Iris Wenting Xue.
In this blog, Nicky Honghao Ruan looks at the issue of brand loyalty, and makes a counter-intuitive discovery: Sometimes, very strong brand loyalty can make companies’ crises worse than if they don’t have brand-loyal customers.
Nicky explores a range of crises affecting different kinds of organizations, and identifies the criteria of the organization, of the customers, and of the crisis that predict whether brand loyalty will help or hurt an organization in crisis.
Better yet, she provides a template that can help leaders and their advisors anticipate what will work and what will hurt, and to adapt accordingly. Worth reading.
You can download the entire capstone here.
Brand Loyalty in Crisis:
How does strong brand loyalty affect a company during crisis under different circumstances?
Consumers are familiar with programs like “My Coke Rewards,” “Marriott Rewards” or “AAdvantage,” that help to contribute to a core marketing concept — brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty has long been endorsed by marketing experts as an intangible asset for a company or organization. Conventional wisdom suggests that strong brand loyalty can empower a company to overcome crises, but practitioners often overlook the potential risk of strong loyalty when the nature of the crisis changes. In some cases, strong brand loyalty does not shield a company from crisis, but can instead become a liability because the high expectations of loyal customers were not met.
Through case studies, in-depth interviews with crisis management experts, and public surveys, my capstone examines the interplay between crisis conditions and the role of strong brand loyalty, and identifies various causes for both helpful and harmful outcomes.
As a result, I developed a model for crisis management professionals to quickly evaluate whether to incorporate a brand’s loyalists as defense strategy, or instead to plan for ways to prevent the extra harm that could instead be created by loyalists.
Mapping the Template
Brand loyalty is more likely to help a brand under conditions in the left column (green), and more likely to harm one under conditions in the right column (red).
At the same time, those criteria in the top row (darker color) would have stronger impact than those in the bottom row (lighter color).
The one that falls in the middle column is especially situational and could go either way.
When a crisis happens, a company would be involved with more than one of these conditions. Depending on the situation at the time, crisis management professionals would take the template and check what criteria the brand fulfills and which side it tends to lean on more.
When Strong Brand Loyalty Helps:
Blue Bell’s Listeria Crisis
In early 2015, U.S. ice cream maker Blue Bell announced several rounds of complicated recalls of its ice cream after listeria in its products infected five consumers and led to three deaths.
Although its crisis response was strongly criticized, Blue Bell’s strong loyalists remained highly tied with the brand. The beloved Southern ice cream maker made it through the summer without having any product on shelves. During the time, fans continued to engage with the company on social media.
In fact, Blue Bell’s fiercely loyal consumers were waiting in long lines outside stores when the company finally came back to the market.
Apple iPhone 4’s “AntennaGate”
Very soon after Apple released iPhone 4 on June 24, 2010, complaints about signal attenuation began to flood the web.
When faced with growing negative reviews, widespread criticism and potential lawsuits, Apple’s initial solution was to tell users to not hold their phones in certain way.
Critics argued that Apple’s crisis response broke all the rules: the company didn’t apologize immediately or take full responsibility. Despite all the negative publicity and critics, demand for iPhone 4 continued to exceed supply.
In the case of Blue Bell and iPhone 4, the brand was in the green more than in the red. Therefore, their strong brand loyalty helped the companies overcome the crisis.
When Strong Brand Loyalty Hurts:
The “New Coke” Launch
Thirty years ago, Coca-Cola made its worst mistake when, without warning, it abandoned its original formula and replaced it with “New Coke.”
Long-standing customers felt betrayed.
Some deserted the brand for its biggest competitor Pepsi.
Ultimately, Coke’s strong brand loyalty led to one of the company’s largest PR crises, driven by a fierce reaction from fans who believed Coke was neglecting them.
After three months of justifying the unilateral withdrawal of its beloved Coke, and insisting that customers would prefer the new Coke, Coca-Cola brought the original back as Coke Classic.
Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood
On January 31, 2012, the Susan G Komen Foundation announced its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.
The halt would affect breast cancer screening and treatment services — mostly provided to poor or uninsured women — at 19 of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates.
Within hours after the news broke, Komen was flooded by public outcry. During the next three days, the foundation saw significant lost in donation and the negative response it received was overwhelming.
After 72 hours of the initial decision, Komen Foundation announced that it would reverse the funding decision. But the reversal didn’t stop the damage.
Long-standing Komen supporters who felt hurt and betrayed refuse to forgive the organization. Both event participation and revenue of the nation’s best known cancer foundation continued to drop.
Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that German automaker Volkswagen Group (Volkswagen) had installed software in a number of cars sold in the U.S. that would provide artificially positive results during emission tests.
Volkswagen later admitted that it had intentionally equipped its vehicles to cheat on emissions tests. For the first time in 13 years, Volkswagen’s sales in the U.S. declined 15% in November 2015.
Marketing and communication experts think that Volkswagen would be hard to forgive, especially by many of its loyal consumers.
The fact that the company voluntarily cheated on the public was worse than negligence or mistakes in testing procedure, which set itself apart from other auto recalls in the industry though some of them even linked to deaths.
The New Coke, Komen and Volkswagen crises saw far fewer conditions in the green compared to those in the red. Therefore strong brand loyalty in these cases created a backlash.
This model creates a shortcut for communication professionals to quickly evaluate their brand loyalty’s position and the likelihood that loyalty will help or hurt the organization navigate a crisis.
When a brand falls more into the green cells, instead of immediately pulling out everything, e.g. halting production or crafting the perfect apology, time and money could be better spent on gathering information and resources to fix the problem.
When a brand falls more into the red cells, the essence of response strategy should include gaining forgiveness from loyalists.
Perhaps more significant, the model can stimulate companies to take brand loyalty into serious consideration before making business decisions.
To my Students: A Fourth of July teachable moment on framing — starting with why — and career management, on the 240th birthday of the United States of America.
On June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, voted to separate from England; our own Brexit.
It passed a resolution put forward by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, declaring, in part: “These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
Who Writes The First Draft?
On June 11 Congress named a committee, known as the Committee of Five, to write the announcement. That committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
The committee initially asked Adams to write the first draft. But Adams, 41, considered himself a statesman and thought the work beneath him. So he suggested that Jefferson, 33 and a rising star, take the first draft.
According to the biography John Adams: A Life by John Ferling, Jefferson was confused by Adams’ suggestion:
“Jefferson asked, “Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
To which Adams responded, “I will not – reasons enough.”
That didn’t satisfy Jefferson, who insisted,
“What can be your reasons?”
And Adams responded, “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”
Adams may or may not have been sincere.
“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
Adams concluded, “Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.””
There is no evidence that such a meeting took place. There is evidence that Franklin, then in his 70s, edited Jefferson’s draft carefully.
Start With WHY
So Jefferson took on the task. But instead of simply listing the grievances against the King, Jefferson, who knew a lot about persuasion, decided to start with WHY — First, with a meta-WHY, why a Declaration of Independence, as opposed to simply an account of the vote? And second, the WHY of separation.
First, WHY the Declaration: Jefferson wrote that in such circumstances,
“a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind
Think about that for a moment: A DECENT RESPECT for the opinions of mankind. That’s the foundation of public relations — and of all civil government. This usually-overlooked opening to the Declaration is in many ways as important as what follows. It creates accountability and sets a standard — what reasonable people would appropriately expect a responsible provisional government to do when it decides to leave.
Second, WHY the separation: First principle: All are equal. Second principle: Fundamental rights are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Third principle: Government exists to secure these rights.
Move to HOW
And then the HOW: When government fails to do so, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government.
Of course, it was more aspirational than normative, as Lincoln pointed out 87 years later. We’re still trying to get it right.
Finishing the Draft
Jefferson’s draft was powerful but wordy. Franklin edited it; the Committee of Five submitted it; the Congress tweaked it more.
The Declaration was ratified on July 2, and published on July 4.
Note that of the 1,338 words of the Declaration, the first 1,180 are all about the WHY and the HOW.
The WHAT, the text of the actual resolution of the Congress, appears only in the last paragraph and consists of only 127 words:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
And the Declaration closes with the final 31 words:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Rivals and Friends
Adams never quite got over missing the chance to get credit for the Declaration. He went on to become the first Vice President and second President; Jefferson to be the first Secretary of State and third President.
History continues to view Jefferson — with all his flaws and contradictions — more favorably than Adams.
The two were fierce political rivals until both left office; then they became fast friends, frequently corresponding with each other (as only former presidents can do).
But Adams continued to envy Jefferson.
And both died on the same day, exactly 50 years after the Declaration was published, on July 4, 1826, exactly 190 years ago today.
According to legend, Adams, on his deathbed and unaware that Jefferson had died several hours earlier, lamented that Jefferson would outlive him.
He uttered this deathbed regret:
Of course, he was right.
Below, for reference, the final version of the Declaration of Independence.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Introduction by Iris Wenting Xue：
This is my second in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.
In her capstone, Stella Zhao analyzed corporate apologies in terms of wording, tone and body language. She compared different apology styles in the U.S., China, and Japan and came up with customized recommendations. As she notes, apology is not only about communication but also about anthropology. You can read the entire capstone here.
Through the Looking Glass:
A Cross-cultural Study on Proper Usages of Verbal and Nonverbal Elements in Corporate Apology Speeches – Guest Blog By Stella Danqing Zhao
My thesis is a study on different apology styles regarding wording, tone, and body language in the U.S., China, and Japan. The wording part mainly focused on IFIDs of each country, which means “Illocutionary Force Indicating Device”, also known in this case as the key apologetic words. The body language part focused on the eye contact, facial expression, gesture, posture, and also a particular way of apologizing – bowing.
The study contains two parts – study and survey. In the case study part, nine cases, three from each country, are analyzed to find the common apologetic words, tone, and body languages:
- Domino’s Pizza:
- General Motors:
- 2015 Shenzhen Landslide:
- Mindy Quah:
- Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant:
- Rikuentai Bus Company:
- Tokyo Electric Power Company:
In the survey part, a survey was distributed and assembled using the survey software Qualtrics. Participants were first asked to answer a few questions on corporate apologies to see their general perceptions regarding wording, tone, and body language. After this part, they were shown two corporate public apology speech videos – one from Volkswagen, the other from Toshiba. To exclude the influence of participant’s knowledge of certain language, they were asked to focus only on the nonverbal part and answered a few questions regarding on the tone and the body langue of the two speakers.
Based on the case studies and the survey, several similarities and differences were found between the perspectives of the audiences from those three countries. Therefore, we can have some recommendations on different apology styles in each country.
In the U.S., the most common IFIDs are “sorry” and “apologize”. According to the survey, people believe that the word “apologize” is more effective than the word “sorry”, but both of them can be used based on different situation. When using apologetic words, adverbs such as “sincerely” can be used to strengthen the tone. Honorific words are not extremely necessary and the speech can be informal to some degree, but it should still be written clearly and express regrets.
A consensus between the three countries is that the tone of an apology speech should be regretful, humble, and empathetic. However, in the U.S., people can accept a more firm, positive, and confident apology. It’s important to show your audience that you have the determination to fix the problem.
As to the body language, it’s important to make direct eye contact in the U.S. Avoiding direct eye contact can be seen as hiding and dishonest. The facial expression should be serious, and proper gestures can be applied. The posture should be formal but with natural movements instead of standing stiffly. Bowing is not recommended in the U.S. because it may be seen as an overreaction.
In China the common IFID is the derivatives of the word “qian (歉)” [In English: apology] such as “bao qian (抱歉)” [In English: apologize] and “dao qian (道歉)” [In English: apology/apologize] . “dui bu qi (对不起)” [In English: I am sorry] is also a common apologetic word but it’s less used in a formal corporate apology. Adverbs such as “cheng ken (诚恳)” [In English: sincerely] and “fei chang (非常)” [In English: very] can be used to show sincerity. One should also address the audiences with “nin (您)” [In English: you, but in a very respectful way, like “Your Majesty” rather than “Hey, you”], which is the honorific form of “you” in Chinese. The speech should be written in a formal style.
Besides being regretful, humble and empathetic, the tone of the apology speech should let people feel that you are somehow ashamed for the wrongdoing, which shows that you realized what you did was improper. It should also be firm without hesitation.
In China, direct eye contact is also welcomed. People can accept having a modest smile on their face, which means the facial expression doesn’t need to be blank or stiff. Proper gestures can be applied, and the posture should be as formal as possible. Although bowing is not required in apology speeches in China, it is recommended to show more sincerity.
In Japan, there are strict requirements for the choice of apologetic words. Using informal IFIDs such as “sumimasen(すみません)” [In English: Excuse me] and “gomen nasai(ごめんなさい)” [In English: apologize in daily setting] can be seen as a mistake. IFIDs such as “moushiwage gozaimasen (申し訳ございません)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] and “owabi shimasu (お詫びします)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] are recommended. One can use multiple apologetic words in one apology to make it stronger. Using adverbs such as “fukaku (深く)” [In English: deeply] and “hontoni (本当に)” [In English: truly] are also a good way to show sincerity. Honorific form of the words is required in a formal apology.
In Japan, the tone of the apology speech should be more “negative”, meaning it should be more sad, regretted other than positive and confident. It’s better to show you remorse for bringing other people trouble.
Direct eye contact is not recommended when apologizing to Japanese people. Lowering the head can show your regrets and humble. A smile is strongly prohibited. Although in the survey the respondents didn’t disagree with using gestures, they are seldom found in previous apology speeches. Usually, Japanese people stand in a very formal posture with their hands beside their body. Bowing is required and can be applied multiple times according to different situations.
|Wording||IFID||“Apologize”/”Sorry”||Derivatives of “qian” (歉)||
|Adverb||Sincerely||“fei chang” (非常)
“cheng ken” (诚恳)
|Body Language||Eye contact||✔✔||✔||✖|
The table above briefly summarizes how wording, tone, and body language shape public perceptions of corporate apologies, and how apology style differs in U.S., China and Japan. Reflecting on a better understanding of how stakeholders think and feel can help a leader, and those who advise the leader, to more likely craft an apology that will work.
Introduction by Iris Wenting Xue：
This is my first in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.
In her capstone, Erna Li conducted analysis on the China-born e-commerce company Alibaba and compared it to American e-commerce company Amazon in terms of social media and business model aspects to learn best practices. She focused on the challenge of building messages that resonate as the companies expand from just domestic online shopping platforms to global online retailers. You can read the entire capstone here.
Communication in E – Commerce: Guest Blog by Erna Li
Online shopping in a cash-based country could be a dream to a teenager. I still remember the excitement of winning the first bid for a backpack on eBay at my senior high school in China. After shopping online for over ten years and learning public relations/communication for six years, I realized how important it will be if e-commerce companies could strategically convey messages to their target audiences. They need to send out the right messages at the right time via an appropriate channel.
We assumed that communication would be easy for of e-commerce companies compared to other industries, because e-commerce is online, global, and almost everywhere. However, successful e-commerce companies face unexpected challenges when they try to expand to other territories. They need strategic communication to overcome challenges that occur in international environments.
Alibaba Case Study: Born in China, Created for the World
Alibaba is an enormous China-founded e-commerce company. This company powers 80% of online commerce in China. From flight ticket reservation to fresh fruit delivery, consumers are able to find most kinds of services they need. At the end of December 2014, Alibaba had almost 334 million active buyers on its website. Such success would not have been possible without a social media and public relations campaign.
Alibaba Corporate Communication Strategy: Domestic Shopping Day to Global Shipping Festival
Each November 11th since 2009, Alibaba has launched a domestic online shopping celebration campaign. The date is well known in China as Single’s Day — the date’s number eleven represents people who are single. Initially, the idea was for singles to celebrate their freedom and independence. Now, it is also an excuse to shop. People are more than welcomed to shop online whether or not they are single.
The above image is a screenshot of the Alibaba website. It says that all merchandise is available for at least a 50% discount on November 11th. Every year the discount theme is similar. Before 2014, Alibaba’s corporate message was about the discount and coupons. After Alibaba went through 2014 IPO, Alibaba changed its message and emphasized its global shipping services. The target audience is mostly the Chinese who live overseas. That is to say, Alibaba upgraded its shipping from purely domestic to global. However, Alibaba’s website is not available in English, which could limit participation of the international buyers in the Global Shipping Festival.
With their successful public relations and social media campaign, Singles Day in 2015 reached e-commerce sales to $9.8 billion. The chart above shows how Single Day’s revenue in China was more than all sales volume during the U.S. shopping holidays in 2014.
Challenge: Stock Decline
Barron’s, an American weekly stock market-focused newspaper, posted an analysis “A Hot Stock Turns Cold.” As the first chart shows, Alibaba’s stock has kept dropping since December 2015. The price reached its peak in November, which also suggests that Global Shipping Day campaign remains an important date for the company.
Situation analysis – Map impact and likelihood
I have learned the following chart from the crisis management perspective during the crisis communication course in 2015. Since then I tried to apply it in other business communication settings.
The above chart says that the most likely/ already happened is the stock price decline. The major impact of dropping stock is investment lost and negative influence on financial performance. The possible critical impact is that Alibaba might lose some investors. The major possible impact is that Alibaba’s credibility is criticized and questioned. Wall Street Journal, BBC, Fortune, Reuters and other media outlets might state the controversy from different angles. The critical remote impact on Alibaba is that the declining stock could cause public concerns and shareholders’ disappointment.
In Alibaba’s case, there are two main reasons behind the scene that led to the stock slide.
- Alibaba has strong domestic and overseas competitors. JD.com is a Chinese e-commerce company based in Beijing. It is one of the largest B2C online retailers. Another strong oversea competitor is Amazon. As Amazon has been in the e-commerce industry for decades, it has stable customer resources and deep understanding of the market. Even some of the Alibaba’s business models are learned from Amazon.
- A controversy regarding potentially counterfeit products sold through Alibaba has led to negative visibility and stock market declines.
Graphic Design is the communication framework
through which messages about what the world is now —
and what we should aspire to — reach us.
— Rick Poynor, British writer on design and visual culture
I love fonts.
So I was delighted recently when Ogilvy New York created “TypeVoice,” a website that allows users to generate their own font with their own voice. The technology of TypeVoice records a user’s voice through a computer’s microphone and uses volume, pitch, and other audio parameters as variables and delivers to the user a customized font.
I share a deep interest in fonts, especially when I am typing or reading online content. The typeface and spacing between letters and lines can have subtle but decisive impact on my perception – almost as if good typography puts me in a good mood.
Font is something that is everywhere and at the heart of everything we do. But font is also something that we easily overlook. But font is also one realm in which a small change can shake your world.
I am intrigued by the aesthetics of typeface. But more intriguing is the science behind typography.
Now, follow me and let’s start the adventure!
The Aesthetic of Fonts
Before reading the book The Miracle of Font (フォントのふしぎ) by font designer Akira Kobayashi, I could hardly imagine that font designer was a job. I experienced fonts as pre-installed in computer systems. In his book, the font designer, who studied and worked in Japan, Germany and the U.K., shows photos of fonts and insights on how fonts communicate around the world.
For example, when we see the logo of Louis Vuitton, we immediately associate it with luxury bags and fancy fashion shows.
During my research on logotypes, I found a blog post that describes on how luxury brands design their logos with meticulous attention to font and kerning, and know that a small change in either can cause a significantly different perception of the brand.
Why does the space between letters matter?
Kobayashi does not give us a final word, but he provides another example from ancient Rome. If you have visited the Pantheon or the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), you will be surprised that the ancient Romans did the same spacing between letters 2,000 years ago.
From a font designer’s view, Kobayashi explains that the ancient Romans intentionally spaced letters apart from each other, and made the words at the bottom smaller than those at the top. So, when people stand in front of the inscription, all the characters appear to be the same size because of the distortion of our view caused by the horizontal and vertical distance in between the letters.
According to The Study of Greek Inscriptions by A. G. Woodhead, the letters of Greek inscriptions are closely packed horizontally, whereas a certain space is left vertically between the lines. This is artistically effective, especially when the inscription calls for variety in size.
The Science Behind Fonts
In Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, Paul Saenger describes the neurophysiological effect kerning on the reading process in his book:
“Experiments demonstrate that the placing of symbols within the space between words, while preserving separation in a strictly grammatical sense, greatly reduces the neurophysiological advantages of word separation and produces ocular behavior resembling that associated with un-separated text.
From the reader’s vantage point, the salient quality of intra-textual space is not its relative width in comparison with a letter, but the rapidity with which the eye can distinguish it from the spaces otherwise contained within a text, that is, the space between letters and within letters.”
So, the space between letters and the space within letters need to be intentional. Neurophysiologically, the kerning helps us read more easily, whether ancient inscriptions or modern logotypes.
Kevin Larson of Microsoft Advanced Reading Technologies and Rosalind Picard of Massachusetts Institute of Technology argue that good typeface leads to better cognition.
They prepared the same content, an article from the New Yorker, using two different typefaces. They showed one half of a study group the text in good typography and the other half the identical copy in poor typography. Participants were asked to perform cognitive tasks after reading the texts.
Those who read the good typography performed better than those who read the poor typography. In one task 4 out of 10 participants who read the good typography successfully solved the task, but 0 out of 9 participants who read the poor typography solved the task.
The Most Influential Font Around the World
The one font that influences the world the most is Helvetica.
Here is a brief list of the famous brands that apply Helvetica in their logo:
The word Helvetica itself comes from the Latin name for the pre-Roman tribes of what became Switzerland. But today it is really considered as a global font in modern font design. There is even a Helvetica documentary that explores how the typeface affects our lives.
As someone who cannot live without museums and exhibitions, I feel so regretful to miss the 50 Years of Helvetica exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Helvetica is also the first typeface acquired for MoMA’s collection.
German typographer Erik Spiekermann jokes about how much the world loves to use this typeface: “Most people who use Helvetica, use it because it’s ubiquitous. It’s like going to McDonald’s instead of thinking about food. Because it’s there, it’s on every street corner.”
Helvetica has also been used globally in the transportation system. It is the official typeface of the New York City Subway (MTA).
Helvetica has also been applied as the corporate type of Lufthansa to unify its corporate image. The German airline applies the typeface of its logo to all forms of writing, from the menu on flights, to postcards to all publications and screens in the cabin. Even “Welcome” in its brochure and screen is written in Helvetica. In this way the typeface consistently represents the corporate image of Lufthansa.
Why did Helvetica conquer the world? Here I have three answers.
- First, as the description in MoMA’s exhibition reads: “Helvetica communicates with simple, well-proportioned letterforms that convey an aesthetic clarity that is at once universal, neutral, and undeniably modern.”
- Second, when the designer of Helvetica died in 2014, the Guardian newspaper explained, “In 1960s America, the new discipline of corporate identity consultancy used Helvetica like a high-pressure hose, blasting away the preceding decades of cursive scripts, pictorial logos, excitable exclamation marks and general typographical chaos, and leaving in its place a world of cool, factual understatement.”
- My own answer is much simpler: Helvetica was designed in the time (1957) where the post-war world was craving a change. Its simplicity and clarity is just the opposite of those old decorative fonts. That is probably also the reason why there are so many anti-Helvetica voices today. This font leads the trend of clarity and simplicity in font design for 59 years. It might be time for another change.
How Fonts affect Business
Now we know the aesthetic and science behind fonts, and we know how much love companies can show towards one particular typeface. With the background knowledge, we can easily understand why the following backlash happen:
Half year ago, Google and Apple changed their fonts one after another.
Google applied a custom geometric sans serif Product Sans to remain its “simple, friendly and approachable” style by, “combining the mathematical purity of geometric forms with the childlike simplicity of schoolbook letter printing.”
At the same time, Apple’s new system iOS 9 came equipped with the new font San Francisco – the same font used on the Apple Watch.
If you check the online comments of these two font changes, you will find predominantly negative feedback. (Since most of them contain words that are too unpleasant to share, I would suggest you read Why You Hate Google’s New Logo by The New Yorker and Why Apple Abandoned The World’s Most Beloved Typeface by Wired.) (pictures of both changes)
In 2009, IKEA changed the font of its logo from Futura to Verdana. The intention, according to Ikea’s spokesperson Monika Gocic, was that, “it’s more efficient and cost-effective.” We don’t know how much IKEA saved, but we do know that the change caused public disapproval and protests demanding the furniture retailer change back to the original logo.
In 2010, Gap Inc. also changed the font of its classic logo from Spire to Helvetica, which also evoked huge backlash. One angry designer described the new logo as “a grilled chicken without salt and pepper” because the typeface was not aligned with the brand image. Within one week, Gap Inc. gave up the new alteration and have been using the original logo ever since. (pictures of both changes)
It is no surprise that such arbitrary changes caused a public backlash. As we have learned from previous scientific theories, a good typography can induce good mood and a bad typography can induce bad mood.
In the context of changing brand logotype, consumers are angry not because of how the new font looks, but because the old one, with which they have a strong emotional connection, is gone without reasonable explanation or timely heads-up. So, don’t blame consumers, it’s not their fault, it’s the amygdala that controls their reaction.
One year ago, I organized a four-week book tour for the Chinese edition of Power of Communication, visiting more than 15 prestigious universities and participating in many events in four Chinese cities.
During the trip, I had one day off on my birthday while we were in Beijing. As a birthday gift to myself, I visited the Yonghe Temple (also known as Yonghe Lamasery), the largest and most perfectly preserved lamasery in China. It was built more than 400 years ago and was the imperial palace of the Yongzheng Emperor, the fifth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. After the Yongzheng Emperor’s ascension to the throne, the imperial palace became a Tibetan Buddhist lamasery.
The Yonghe Temple reminded me of my old days in Tibet – admiring the way lamas debated each other to come to a clearer understanding of Buddhism. It also reminded me of watching crows lingering over the top of the mountains. The smell of the incense and the poor-quality air at the Yonghe Temple mingled together smoothly. I do not subscribe to a particular religious tradition, but I respect all faiths. As I stood there, I reflected upon how religion and history intertwine in the same way those scents mingled together.
One year later, I gave myself another special birthday gift. Last Sunday, I visited the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. I decided to visit that place because there are some very significant Chinese notables buried there, including the former First Lady of the Republic of China (ROC).
My motherland China is famous for its five thousand years of history. My hometown Shanghai is famous as “The Paris of the East” during the 1920s and 1930s, the beginning of the ROC. I love everything about the old Shanghai and read many books by Ailing Chang, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Geling Yan, Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai and other writers who are either from that era or wrote a lot about that era. Everything from that era fascinates me. That is also why when I learned that the former First Lady of the ROC, the former Premier of the ROC, the former top diplomat of the ROC, and former governors of the ROC government and Central Bank are all buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, I knew I had to go.
The world lost several distinguished leaders this spring. We lost Nancy Reagan. We lost Harper Lee. We lost Umberto Eco. We lost “China’s Nightingale” Xiaoyan Zhou. We lost Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. We lost Japanese writer Satoko Tsushima (daughter of the renowned Japanese writer Osama Dazai).
We are rarely able to decide the way we leave the world, but we can easily decide the way we want people to remember us. Even the space in which our bodies take our final rest connotes the way we will be remembered. For example, in the history of the ROC, some notables made their memorials very ostentatious, while others opted for more low-key resting grounds.
The three mausoleums housing the first ROC President, the first female Vice-Chairman of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the first President of modern ROC in Taiwan were all built in an extravagant way:
- In his oral will, Sun Yat-sen, ROC’s founding father, wanted his remains to be embalmed for public display, just as the Soviet Union publicly displayed Lenin’s remains. But the Soviet Union did not agree to share their embalming techniques, as they believe that only Lenin can be “immortal.” In the end, China built a 80,000 square meter mausoleum for Sun in Nanjing, which is now a popular tourist attraction.
- Sun’s wife, Soong Ching-ling, also known as Madame Sun Yat-sen and one of the “Soong sisters,” had served as the Vice Chairman of PRC and survived heavy criticism during the Cultural Revolution. Her tomb is located in Shanghai and has also become a tourist attraction.
- Sun Yat-sen’s successor, Chiang Kai-shek, who ruled Taiwan as President of the Republic of China and General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, is “temporarily” resting in the Cihu Mausoleum in Taiwan. It’s temporary because he wished to be ultimately buried in his hometown in Zhejiang province once the Kuomintang recovered Mainland China from the Communists. He was not buried in the traditional way, but entombed in a black marble sarcophagus. He may end up being this way for a long time.
- (Left: Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum; Right: Soong Ching-ling’s Mausoleum; Bottom: Chiang Kai-shek’s Mausoleum)
On the other hand, the former First Lady of the ROC, the other two of the three Soong sisters, the former Premier of the ROC, one of the most influential Chinese diplomats and core leaders of the former Chinese Central Bank are buried in a very low-key way in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York:
- Chiang Kai-shek’s wife Soong May-ling, who was not only a First Lady of the ROC, but also Soong Ching-ling’s younger sister and Sun’s sister in law, is buried in a private room in the Ferncliff Mausoleum. Her lifespan covered three centuries (19th, 20th and 21st). According to The New York Times, she is the only first lady during World War II who lived into the 21st century. She did not want to be buried with her older sister Song Ching-ling in Shanghai nor with her husband in Taiwan. Rather, she wanted to be buried next to her eldest sister, Soong Ai-ling, who died before her and was already buried in Ferncliff.
- The eldest Soong sister, Soong Ai-ling, who was also a sister-in-law of both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang kai-shek, rests next to Soong May-ling’s private room in Ferncliff. Soong Ai-ling seemed to be the most low profile Soong compared to her Vice Chairman sister and her First Lady sister. However, she was Sun Yat-sen’s chief secretary after her graduation from Wesleyan College – all Soong sisters are Wesleyan’s alumnae – and gave the job to her younger sister Soong Ching-ling, who later became Sun’s wife. Soong Ai-ling was also the matchmaker for Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling. Soong Ai-ling is buried with her husband, Kung Hsiang-hsi, and their children, making her the only Soong who is buried with her husband and has children.
- Soong Ai-ling’s husband, Kung Hsiang-hsi, is buried alongside her and their children in Ferncliff Mausoleum. He was the former Premier, former Minister of Industry and Commerce, former Minister of Finance of the ROC and former Governor of the Central bank of China. He received a master’s degree in economics from Yale University.
- Kung’s brother-in-law, Soong Tse-ven, is one level down in the same Mauseloum building. Soong Tse-ven was also highly influential in determining the economic and diplomatic policies of the ROC government in the 1930s and 1940s. After graduating with a master’s degree in economics from Harvard University and a doctorate degree in economics at Columbia University, Soong Tse-ven returned to China and served in the Kuomintang-controlled government as the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank of China, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was the head of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945, which later became the United Nations. He was in charge of negotiating with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow and in charge of negotiating with the 33rdS. President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C.
- The second youngest brother in the Soong family, Soong Tse-liang, is also buried in Ferncliff Cemetery. He was not as influential as his sisters and brother, but he also served as the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the ROC government.
- (Upper Left: Kung with
Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten
; Upper Right: Soong Tse-ven on TIME’s cover; Bottom Left: Soong May-ling on NBC; Bottom Right: Soong Ai-ling graduated from Wesleyan College.)
The Soong sisters are not the only Chinese notables in Ferncliff Cemetery. The cemetery listed three Chinese in their Celebrites & Notables list: Madame Chiang, Soong Tse-ven and Wellington Vi Kyuin Koo. Koo was a very prominent diplomat of the ROC. He attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 as one of China’s representatives; he served as an Ambassador to France, Great Britain and the United States; he was a participant in the founding of the United Nations; he sat as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague in the mid 20th Century.
(Photo of the members of the commission of the League of Nations created by the Plenary Session of the Preliminary Peace Conference, Paris, France, 1919.Wellington Vi Kyuin Koo is the 4th standing from right to left.)
Koo’s daughter, Patricia Koo Tsien, a senior official in the United Nations and the founder of the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women in the U. N. Secretariat, is buried next to her husband on the second floor of the Ferncliff Mausoleum. Another influential Chinese diplomat, Dr. Victor Chi-tsai Hoo, the first Chinese Under-Secretary of the United Nations, is buried in the same building.
(Patricia Koo Tsien in 1989. Source: Columbia Library columns)
The last unexpected name I saw in Ferncliff Cemetery is not as famous as any of the rest, but completes the puzzle of a well-known Chinese romantic epic. There was a legendary Chinese poet Xu Zhi-mo in the beginning of the ROC. He was legendary in part because of his romantic poems, and his friendship with the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, but mostly because of his romance with three Chinese women. He had two sons with his first wife, Yu-Yi Chang, a woman he never loved but who he married at his parents’ direction. Xu finished his studies at Columbia University and flew to London, and fell in love with Chinese architect and writer Lin Hui-yin. His most renowned poem is about his feelings for her and their days together in Cambridge. By the way, Lin Hui-yin’s niece is Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Xu divorced his wife, but Lin only ever saw Xu as a friend. Xu later married another Chinese artist, Lu Xiaoman. This union was regarded as unethical because two divorcees getting married was not considered appropriate in China 90 years ago. Xu died in a plane crash in 1931. Lin Hui-yin died in 1955 and is buried in Revolutionary Cemetery in Peking because she contributed to the design of the Chinese national flag, the National Emblem of the People’s Republic of China and the Monument to the People’s Heroes located in the Tiananmen Square. Lu died in 1965 and is buried in Suzhou. Chang was not as famous as Xu’s other love interests, but she had another happy marriage after her divorce with Xu and lived much longer (she died in 1988). She is buried in Ferncliff Maseoulum. And her son with Xu and daughter-in-law are buried beside her.
(Lin Hui-yin,Rabindranath Tagore and Xu Zhi-mo)
I was surprised to see so many famous Chinese names in a cemetery in Westchester County, New York. But I am not surprised to see that a part of Chinese history is buried more than 7,000 miles away from China.
I still vividly remember the squawking crows in the cemetery in Hartsdale. I had never thought of the crow as a spirit animal associated with life and death until I saw them in Tibetan lamaseries, in Japanese Shinto shrines, and now in a cemetery in Westchester County.
People rarely visit a cemetery on their birthdays. I did. And I am still not quite sure if all human beings are born equal, but I am pretty sure all human beings are equal in death. If you visit any public cemeteries, you will find that Christian crosses and Jewish Stars, Chinese names and English names are standing next to each other – sharing together this hallowed ground.
Born in Shanghai, Chang is one of the most influencial writers in modern China. Her fiction is among the best Chinese literature of her time. As University of Southern California professor Dominic Cheung says: “Had it not been for the political division between Nationalist and Communist Chinese, she would almost certainly have won a Nobel Prize.” Her second husband, Reyher, was among those who helped to extricate German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht and his family from Nazi Germany. Chang was found dead in her Los Angles apartment where she had lived as a virtual recluse, according to New York Times Obituaries.
Geling Yan (1959 – )
Born in Shanghai, Yan is a renowned novelist and scriptwriter. She is a member of the Hollywood Writer’s Guild of America and the Writer’s Association of China. She served in the People’s Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution and later as a journalist in the Sino-Vietnamese War, achieving a rank equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel.
Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung (1937 -)
Pai is a famous writer, who wrote about the Old Shanghai, Taiwan, Chicago and New York. He was born Muslim, but attended missionary Catholic schools and embraced Buddhist meditation practices. His father was a well-known Kuomintang General. Pai won the Order of Brilliant Star award for ROC for outstanding contribution.
Leo Ou-fan Lee (1942 – )
Lee is a commentator and author. He was a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Princeton University, Indiana University, University of Chicago, University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard University. He was elected a Fellow of Academia Sinica (Chinese Academy) in Taiwan.
In communication, we learn that in order to be an effective leader we must first meet people where they are. In conflict resolution, we learn that in order to reach success we must also meet people where they are.
We must appeal to not just the demographics of the group but to what really matters to them. We must dig beyond the surface.
As the United Nations halts Syrian peace talks in Geneva, the prospects of a resolution or even a ceasefire in the near future are dim. The five-year ongoing conflict has been characterized by tremendous war crimes, atrocious violence and a dire humanitarian situation.
So what’s next for Syria? Are the international community, the Assad regime and the opposition truly ready for peace? The quickly interrupted beginnings to peace talks have fallen to intensified air raids by the Russians, coming to the aid of the Assad regime. As Aleppo continues to burn, what is the true prospect of peace for Syria?
Meet the Opposition
The web of actors involved in the prospective peace talks is expansive and complex. Jordan has reportedly assisted in the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria to draw the thin line between opposition groups and terrorist organizations.
While the self proclaimed Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliate, Jahbat Al-Nusra are the two strongest opposition groups in Syria, they are internationally recognized as terrorist organizations and are not invited to any UN backed peace talks. The two groups will not be included in talks yet both carry a significant weight in the Syrian conflict.
The most prominent countries involved in the opposition are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. Qatar and other Gulf countries have also been influential in talks alongside their longtime Saudi allies. Turkey and the United States also play integral roles.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long fought for regional dominance. Both Iran and Russia have come to the aid of Assad for their own regional advantages. Russia and Turkey have also had a strained relationship following the downing of Russia’s SU-21 Bomber in November 2015 by Turkish forces. The involvements of Hezbollah, the Syrian Kurdish Forces (PYD), along with other rebel faction group have also contributed to substantial tensions in the potential of talks.
The Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC), a Saudi-led opposition coalition has adamantly insisted that they will be involved in talk only if the Syrian government lifts sieges on rebel led towns or commit to a ceasefire. To the surprise of few, the Assad regime has not complied.
Assad Does Not Negotiate
While politics have taken the front seat, the reality of the situation in Syria is appalling. With more than half of the prewar population internally displaced or fleeing abroad, the Syrian people have endured extraordinary suffering at the hands of opposition groups, with Assad being no exception to the violence.
In fact, Assad has contributed significantly to the casualties and displacement of Syrians. If talks continue, Syrian delegation will be lead by Syrian Ambassador to the U.N., Bashar al Jaafari. While Assad’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mallem has confirmed the government’s desire to engage in peace talks, many question the true prospect of peace with Assad being involved in the talks. Does Assad even want peace?
If the prospect of peace involves Assad’s immediate and guaranteed departure, it is clear Assad wants no part. It is no coincidence that the beginning of peace talks was overshadowed by intense attacks on the opposition. Assad has repeatedly shown his lack of interest not only in meeting people where they are, but in any form of negotiation or resolution.
Bashar Al-Assad has not quivered in his no-negotiation policy, initially firing at peaceful protestors, igniting the conflict that continues to rage on today. Al-Assad has been able to withstand the surrounding revolutions in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
The involvement of Russia has allowed Assad to make significant territorial gains against the opposition. Yet at what cost? He has maintained control via brutality, zero tolerance to opposition, and the ruthless war crimes against his own people.
The Assad regime has committed grave violations of humanitarian law; the use of chemical weapons against its own people, the complete leveling of entire villages, the use of bomb barrels (with the backing of Russian air-strikes) and starvation as a political tool.
The chaos that today is Syria has manifested as a result of political instability and social unrest. The unrest cannot be viewed separately from Al-Assad’s authoritative regime. Terrorist organizations, most notably the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra, have aims far larger than the demise of the Al-Assad regime, yet the organizations have been successful in capitalizing on the unrest in Syria.
The peace talks were intended to follow a two-track negotiation. With governance and humanitarian subjects being the centers of the conversation. To believe that Assad will partake in the negotiation of his own departure not only threatens the chance of any productivity but also is sadly naive.
The parties will meet separately prior to having any form of conflict resolution together. Unfortunately, the prospect of peace is what U.N. mediator Staffan De Mistura has described as an already ‘uphill battle’, in which regional powers, opposition groups, international terrorist organizations and the Assad regime have all become heavily intertwined.
The fight for Syria cannot be resolved if the parties involved are not willing to go beyond their immediate concerns. Syrian President Al-Assad’s cabinet has shown little desire for peace, raising the question as to whether Syria can truly exist without his departure.
A simplistic view of the situation does not do justice to the complicated road ahead. The process to end the violence in Syria is multifaceted and carries social, ethnic, religious and political weight.
The parties that can find common ground for the future of Syria as a country will likely be more successful than those that are fighting to continue to their own personal reign over Syria. The world will be waiting for the resumption of talks, as the feeble prospect for peace in Syria continues to wither.