For this blog my guest is Isodoor Jonker– whom I know through his work for Double Healix. This organization specializes in building an inclusive model of humankind using videoclips.

Isodoor: What we’re trying to do is give a clear inclusive image of what it means to be human, in all its variations, and give people an understanding of the beauty of what it can mean. Both in a descriptive and prescriptive manner: we are trying to describe what human beings are – what we look like, what we do, what our behavior is – the good, the bad and the ugly. But also in a prescriptive manner, in a sense of giving people a perspective towards a more positive future, trying to find the definition of what it means to be good.

I am working together with Isodoor because we use Double Healix’ platform MovieLearning. At International Business we use this digital platform for our Critical Thinking course: where we use film and documentary fragments to teach our students critical thinking. The short videos are related to the business world and we study how it frames certain aspects. Similar to this blog.

Isodoor has chosen a scene from the film Julie & Julia (2009) where three ladies, one American (Julia Child) and two French (Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) are in a negotiation.

Wypkje: To start off, why did you choose this clip?

Isodoor: Because the main characters are women and one of our focus points is to have more images of women as examples of leadership. In the movie they are writing a cooking book together. But as a team they are not performing as good as they could because Louisette’s focus lies somewhere else. She’s constantly skipping their meetings and classes with an excuse of a headache and thus she is not doing the work. So the two other women, Julia and Simone agree that a bad news conversation needs to be held.

We tune in just before they are meeting Louisette, when they are trying to decide who will bring the bad news. One of the most interesting things I found about this video is that there is a clear shift in the team roles that we are seeing. Before the meeting happens, you see Simone Beck saying ‘I cannot deliver this news to her.’ She thinks that she is too nice to do that. And then Julia Child says, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’ Julia is taking up the responsibility which might be a cultural difference because she is from America and Americans have a very much ‘let’s do it’ culture.

But Americans are also a bit indirect. If you have a conversation with your manager in America and he says, ‘Well, maybe you should think about doing that a little bit different.’ The message then actually is: ‘you should do that different.’ There is a very polite tone in the way that Americans are handling bad news conversations, which we also see when the conversation starts. Julia is very nice and amicably trying to bring the bad news. Louisette, the woman who is under-performing, however, is shifting the conversation topic and depicts herself as a victim.  

Wypkje: I would say it is even emotional blackmail because Louisette says: ‘My husband is leaving me and I am divorcing.’ A completely unrelated topic.

Isodoor: Julia Child is immediately expressing sympathy. And that’s when the change of roles happens, because then the French woman – Simone – she suddenly rises to the occasion and her sharp analytical side pops up and she says: ‘But you’re not doing the work.’ Julia then looks upwards as if she is not there. But Simone is actually very good at bringing bad news. Maybe at first she is afraid of her own sharpness, and that is why she thinks she cannot bring the bad news. But when the moment arrives, she is very clear and even goes further, stating that Louisette’s name on the cover should be in small print and ‘with Louisette.’

Wypkje: I actually wrote down a quote from Julia Child. She says to Louisette: ‘It isn’t that you’re not helping ‘to some extent’’ putting the stress on ‘some.’ Which should be a clear hint that she’s not helping at all. But Louisette just says: ‘But I am helping.’

What is interesting as well is that this video shows the before and after session. It is never just about only the negotiation session. It is also about preparation and the aftermath of the negotiation. In this case they decide on a negotiation strategy but it doesn’t work out at all when it’s happening. The American approach doesn’t work but the French approach of straight direct haggling does. They just haggle about the percentages of the book and that is the end of it.

Isodoor: There you see that Simone’s approach is working because Louisette very quickly comes back from her victim position and also drives a hard bargain. She gets rid of the emotional approach, a confirmation that the emotional response was just a diversion.

This is what I find interesting: the cultural differences. On the one hand, the more direct culture of France versus the more polite culture of the United States. France is a culture in which disagreeing is more confrontational whereas in the United States disagreement is more in a non-confrontational manner. When you are working as somebody from France in an American team, you’re going to need to spend some time looking into those cultural differences, because otherwise communication will be distorted.

And also: diversity works. Because the first strategy, if you would only have a team of Americans, the chance that this negotiation would have been a success is less. Now they were able to shift from one kind of communication style to another as an American-French team. Julia Child would not have been able to handle it on her own. It is important to have a diverse team because then you can just handle more situations, more challenges, more shape shifting.

Researcher for Change Management, investigating film, education & critical thinking. Implementing it as lecturer for International Business, all at THUAS.

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