Carl-Henric Svanberg, Swedish Chair of BP was blasted for his comment about "small people".Here is what he said:
..."He's frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. "I hear comments sometime that large oil companies or greedy companies that don't care but that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people."
Had this been said by an American it would have been condescending;however, Mr. Svanberg is Swedish. English is a second language. He was referring to President Obama's frustration about the impact on the people in the Gulf area and he was saying that he shares his frustration and concern for the people.
When it comes to communication, there is a sender and a receiver, an intention and an effect. My belief is that Mr. Svanberg's intention was to show concern for the common man and to convey that they are sorry for the oil spill and it's impact.
The effect was to trigger emotion and a feeling that he was talking down to the citizens. Two words-"small people"caused this reaction. And that is the power of language. Language and culture don't always translate. When the Chevy Nova was introduced in Mexico it didn't sell. NOVA in Spanish translated into" No Go".
It would have been more effective if the Chairman had used the terms, American people, people in the gulf region, or the workers. When listening to words we also need to listen for intention. And when somebody is speaking a foreign language, understand that there will be miscommunication.