Discussion topics

Culture and business negotiations

Different people behave in different ways. However, cultures may have a big impact on how people behave. Here are some ideas to consider during international negotiations.

1. Purpose of negotiation: signing a deal or building relationships? 

In some businesses and cultures, the aim of negotiations is to sign a contract. Other businesses aim to build a strong relationship between the parties.

A survey from “The Global Negotiator” showed that 74 percent of Spanish businesspeople set signing a contract as the goal of negotiations, but only 33 percent of the Indian executives had a similar view. It means that for some companies you need to show that you can build a long-lasting relationship, not just sign a contract. 

2. Attitude towards time

If your business partner wants to build a relationship with you, they might want to invest more time in negotiations in order to get to know you better.  For example, in some Asian countries shortening the time of negotiations might seem like an attempt to hide something, while Americans tend to get down to business quickly. 

3. To show emotions or not to show?

Here the individual differences show up the most. Different people have different tendencies of showing emotions. However, some cultures encourage hiding emotions, while others don’t.

4. Take the risk or avoid it?

Geert Hofstede’s research showed that some cultures tend to take risks, and others tend to avoid them. For example, the Japanese usually gather more information and need more time to make decisions, which makes them risk-averse. On the other hand, Americans tend to be risk-takers. 

Do you agree with the points in the article? Edit Homework
How do negotiations work in your company? Do Homework
How do you behave in negotiations? Do Homework
Have you ever participated in international negotiations? If so, have you noticed any cultural differences? Do Homework

How to be more productive

It’s difficult to be productive when you work at home. Sometimes, you are busy all day and don't make any progress on important work.

Some people tell themselves to “Try harder!” or blame themselves for not achieving enough. Other people work with a long to-do list and try to do many tasks at the same time. But these solutions aren’t helpful.

Instead, you should do this:

  1. Write a long to-do list.
  2. Choose one task from that list. If you choose something big, break it into smaller tasks.
  3. Put away your long list. Don’t look at it again until you’ve finished your first task.

After you’ve finished the task, cross it off the long list, and choose another one.

You will be more productive if you follow this method.

Choose three new words from the text and make sentences with them. Do Homework
Is it easy to work at home? Why or why not? Edit Homework
What methods do you use to make yourself productive? Edit Homework
Does your company or society expect too much productivity from you? If you said "Yes", how can we improve this situation? Do Homework

How to overcome fears

We face many fears in our lives. People are afraid of all sorts of things: from seeing spiders to talking to other people. In fact, psychologists say that social fears are the most common. According to experts, 77% of people are afraid of public speaking. So why are social fears so widespread?

The psychoanalyst Alfred Adler wrote that when we were children, we felt helpless because we depended so much on our parents. And this fear of helplessness and powerlessness might stay with us forever.

While we are growing up, we are creating an image of ourselves. We hear what people say about us and we analyze that. But in many cases, we judge ourselves in the process. We focus on the judgement more than what we learned. In other words, we tend to remember negative things about ourselves rather than the positive.

That is one of the reasons social fears appear later in life. We think that we are not good enough to give this presentation, to speak with the boss, to go to that interview. So how can we solve this? Remember, how you played when you were a child and how you pretended that you were a doctor, a firefighter, a magician, etc? Alfred Adler suggested doing the same. Before giving a presentation, pretend that you are a person who is really good at public speaking, for example, Barack Obama. It is called “acting as if”. If you are acting as if you are a very confident person, you will behave as a confident person. 

Please, explain the article back to your teacher. Do Homework
Do you have any fears you’d like to share? Do Homework
Do you feel nervous when speaking publicly? Do Homework
How do you cope with your fears? Do Homework
How can managers help employees to overcome social fears? Do Homework

A radical direct feedback model

How do you feel about total honesty in the workplace? Most often, in order to avoid the discomfort of offending someone, bosses, managers and colleagues find inventive ways of giving feedback that skirt around the real truth. In fact, as we develop our communication skills to navigate work relationships, we learn many phrases and expressions to soften our language and say things indirectly that otherwise could be said much more directly.

One of the world’s most revolutionary entertainment companies claims to owe its phenomenal success to just the opposite approach. At Netflix, constant innovation is the key and CEO Reed Hastings wants only the absolute best talent on the market in order to achieve it – he calls it ‘talent density’. To attract the most brilliant, creative, hard working people, Netflix pays them up to ten times the going rate and assures its select hires complete freedom (there are no vacation or expense policies). Netflix makes no promises of job security or long careers. Its model is that of a high-performance ‘team’ - not a ‘family’ - and among themselves they practice something called ‘radical candour’. It breaks down as follows:

  1. Trust your team.

  2. Be radically honest.

  3. And never, ever try to please your boss.

If radical candour works for Netflix, could it work for other companies which also rely on innovation? There would be less need for translating the hidden messages lost in polite  language. Most managers and colleagues could indeed be better at giving – and receiving – direct feedback. But, on the other hand, there is a lot to be said for coded communication as well. Work is where people learn to manage social interactions and transparency doesn’t necessarily work in all cultures.


Before reading this article, what had you heard about the Netflix business model and its keys to success? Do Homework
Could ‘radical candour’ work in your company? Do Homework
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of giving and receiving feedback in this way? Do Homework
What do you think the next innovation in corporate culture might be? Do Homework

Quitting the rat race

According to CNN, young people across China are getting tired of the fierce competition for college and jobs, and the relentless rat race once they get hired. They are now embracing a new philosophy they've called "tang ping," or "lying flat," which emphasizes the pursuit of a simple life.

Talk of "lying flat" has spread rapidly throughout China as young people contend with intense competition for the most attractive jobs, especially in tech and other white-collar fields. The public has grown wary of what many see as a grueling work culture.

This type of phenomenon, though, is not limited to China. Across East Asia, young people say they have become exhausted by the prospect of working hard for seemingly little reward.

In South Korea, young people are giving up on marriage and home ownership. In 2017, 74% of South Korean adults said they gave up at least one thing—marriage, dating, leisure activities, home ownership or another aspect of life—because of economic difficulties.

And in Japan, young people are so pessimistic about the country's future that they are choosing minimalism over material possessions.

Summarize this article in three sentences. Edit Homework
What are some pros and cons of “lying flat,” or pursuing a simple life? Do Homework
Have you had to give up an aspect of your life due to economic reasons or lack of time? Do Homework

The Decade of Indigenous Languages

The United Nation declared a “Decade of Indigenous Languages”, beginning on January 1, 2022. There are currently over 7000 languages in the world, but roughly 40% of those languages are endangered, as adults no longer speak the language to their children. According to the U.N., one language is lost every two weeks. 

Languages become extinct due to colonization, urbanization and globalization. Colonists may purposely try to eradicate the language and culture of the indigenous people. When indigenous people leave their homelands to find work in cities, they need to speak the dominant language to survive. And young people need to use it to participate in today's global world.

Reviving an endangered language is no easy task. Remaining native speakers must be tracked down, grammar and pronunciation reconstructed, and then teachers trained and provided with teaching resources. All of that costs time and money—it’s a major investment. A few places, such as New Zealand, Australia, Morocco and Canada, are making that investment. According to Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Leslie Williams, “Aboriginal people have told us language is indivisible from their identity. The cultural inheritance of our Aboriginal communities is too precious to be lost.” The knowledge Indigenous cultures have of sustainable agriculture, herbal medicine and bio-diversity conservation is especially vital to today's world.

Summarize the article in 2–3 sentences. Do Homework
What indigenous languages still exist in your country? Are they endangered? If so, why? Edit Homework
Is it worth the investment to save indigenous languages? Why or why not? Do Homework
"The freedom to express ourselves through our own language is a fundamental human right." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why? Do Homework

The History of Planned Obsolescence

On December 23, 1924, a group of international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would change the world for decades. Delegates from all major lightbulb manufacturers were present, including the Netherlands’ Philips and the United States’ General Electric. While revellers celebrated Christmas elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the global incandescent lightbulb market.

Though the cartel’s control of the market lasted only into the 1930s, its enduring legacy was to devise a shorter life span for lightbulbs. By early 1925, this was codified at 1,000 hours, a huge reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours which had previously been common. To justify their decision, the cartel stated their approach was a trade-off: lightbulbs would break more often, but they would be of higher quality, more efficient, and burn brighter. They would also cost a lot more. In purposefully creating a lightbulb with a shorter life span, the cartel devised the industrial strategy known as planned obsolescence.

With many countries phasing out incandescent lighting in favor of more-efficient, pricier LEDs, the story of the Phoebus cartel is worth revisiting. It teaches us that every convenience comes with a cost, be it monetary or material.

Can you think of any modern examples of planned obsolescence? Do Homework
Why do companies or groups, like the Phoebus cartel, create products with finite lifespans? Do Homework
What are 3 problems that planned obsolescence presents? Do Homework
Instead of planned obsolescence, what strategies can companies implement to ensure that customers return to buy their products? Do Homework

Diversity and inclusion at work

How diverse is your workplace? And how inclusive is it? While many organizations may feel prepared to answer the first question, the second often causes a bit of confusion. Isn’t it just the same question rephrased?

Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer, explains.

Diversity is the “what”; inclusion is the “how”. Diversity focuses on the makeup of your workforce—demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, etc.—and inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive. People sometimes use these terms interchangeably, but they are quite distinctly different.

So, why is it important to focus on both diversity and inclusion? Again, Rita Mitjans:

Great talent is always in demand, and organizations are in competition for top talent. Candidates evaluating whether to join an organization want to see others who look like them at the top, and work in a culture that values different perspectives and supports authentic, respectful behaviors.

Define the difference between diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Do Homework
How diverse is your company? How inclusive is it? Do Homework
Do the demographics of your company reflect the demographics of your country? Do Homework
Do you think diverse companies are more successful than homogeneous ones? Why or why not? Do Homework

Visuals: Global Income Distribution

The World Social Report 2020, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, shows that income inequality has increased in most developed countries and some middle-income countries, including China. Inequality is growing for more than 70 percent of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development.

Have a look at the chart below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

As best as you can tell, where does your country fit on this chart? Do Homework
What are some ways to alleviate poverty in the poorest countries of the world? Do Homework
Is income inequality a problem in your country? In the world? Does it present any benefits? Do Homework

How humanity nearly went extinct

According to NPR, around the year 70,000 B.C., a volcano called Toba on Sumatra Island in Indonesia, erupted, blowing about a thousand kilometres of vaporized rock into the air. It is by far the largest volcanic eruption we know of.

That eruption dropped roughly six centimeters of ash over all of South Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian and South China Sea. With so much ash, dust and vapor in the air, science writer Sam Kean says Toba "dimmed the sun for six years, disrupted seasonal rains, choked off streams and scattered whole cubic miles of hot ash (imagine wading through a giant ashtray) across acres and acres of plants." Berries, fruits, trees, African game became rare. Early humans, living in East Africa just across the Indian Ocean from Mount Toba, probably starved, or at least, he says, "It's not hard to imagine the population plummeting."

It is estimated that the population of Homo Sapiens—or humans—decreased to 5,000 or 10,000 and our species nearly went extinct. Little clumps of people hunted and gathered for thousands of years until, in the late Stone Age, we began to recover. But for a time there, says Sam Kean, "We damn near went extinct."

Please summarize this article in three sentences. Do Homework
Is it important to know these stories about humanity's past? Why or why not? Do Homework
How does the climate affect our lives? Do Homework
Is climate change going to cause major disruptions in your country? Please explain. Do Homework

Visuals: Consumer digital privacy

Digital privacy has come to the forefront of business news over the past five years. According to Gartner, a business research company, the combination of data ethics violations like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and data breaches like Equifax, has led to increased sensitivity among consumers about what they share and how it is used.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

Is online data privacy important for you in your personal life? How about for your company? Please explain how. Do Homework
Of the listed concerns, which one is most important for you? Why? Do Homework
Which concern is the least important for you? Why? Do Homework
Can you think of solutions to any of the concerns listed? Do Homework

The Dalai Lama on leadership

The Dalai Lama wrote an opinion piece for the Harvard Business Review about the importance of leadership and what makes a strong leader.

He says that the world is facing an emotional crisis where rates of stress, anxiety and depression are higher than ever. The focus on turning a profit often overrules a commitment to people and society. In organizations, he explains, people work closely together every day, but many feel lonely and stressed. This is because there is a lack of responsibility toward each other.

He advises leaders to be mindful towards each other, saying that the opposite of fear is trust, which boosts our self-confidence. Compassion also reduces fear, reflecting a concern for others’ well-being. He asserts that people are naturally driven by self-interest, but we need wise self-interest that is generous and cooperative, taking others’ interests also into account.

The Dalai Lama concludes that Buddhist tradition describes three styles of compassionate leadership: the Trailblazer, who leads from the front, takes risks and sets an example; the Ferryman, who accompanies those in his care and shapes the ups and downs of the crossing; and the Shepherd, who sees every one of his flock into safety before himself. 

Please summarize this article in 3 sentences. Do Homework
Do you agree with the Dalai Lama that the world requires more compassionate leaders? Why or why not? Do Homework
What kind of compassionate leader do you identify with the most—the Trailblazer, the Ferryman or the Shepherd? Do Homework
Is there space for spirituality in the business world, or should the two stay separate? Do Homework

A strategy for early retirement

For many people retiring means hitting a certain age, usually above 65. It is associated with stopping one’s career and having grandchildren. Recently there has been a movement that changes the perspective on retirement. Retirement is not about how old you are, it is about a financial number you have.

This is what the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement is about. The goal of this movement is to save and invest most of your income - about 50-75% - so that you can retire very early - in your 40s or even 30s. 

How do people do that?
In a nutshell, FIRE is about cutting your expenses down to the bare minimum and investing everything you save. The earlier you start, the more return you will gain. 

There are different types of FIRE:

  • Fat FIRE or extreme savers. These people generally have very high incomes and an aggressive saving strategy, generally about 70 or 80% of their income. After early retirement, they can keep a high level of expenses.
  • Lean FIRE or moderate savers. People in this category save around 50% of their income. After achieving early retirement they can generally live without working whilst adhering to a minimalist and restricted lifestyle. 
  • Barista FIRE - This is for people who can’t completely sustain their lifestyle after retirement but they don’t need to work full time either. They can work part-time and use their saving to achieve a lifestyle that is comfortable for them. 

The first step in achieving FIRE is calculating how much money you need. Many online tools can help you with that. The rule of thumb is saving at least 25 times the annual expenses you want to have after retirement. 

FIRE is not necessarily about being idle after retiring. For many people, this movement is about being independent and financially secure. They can work as much as they want on any project they wish, without having to stick to a classic nine to five working style. 

Please, share the main ideas from the article with your teacher Do Homework
What do you think of this movement?  Do Homework
What would you do if you didn’t have to work for money? Do Homework
Do you know what percentage of your income you save? Do Homework
Do you think that saving 70% of your income is possible? Do Homework

Empathy and business transformation

According to The Harvard Business Review, studies on organizational change show that if you want to lead a successful transformation, communicating empathetically is critical. However, most leaders do not actually know how to do it. In fact, a survey of over 200 leading company executives found that 69% of respondents said that they were planning to launch or are currently conducting a change effort. Unfortunately, 50% of these same executives said they had not fully considered their team’s sentiment about the change.

Here are a few steps a leader must take to smoothen a transition:

Profile your audience at every stage. Change consultants typically advise leaders to create personas of various audiences when they kick-off a change initiative. Considering that people’s wants and needs will evolve throughout the process, managers should reevaluate these personas during every phase of the journey.

Tell people what to expect. While you may need to keep some facts private during a transition, the general rule is that the more informed your people are, the more they’ll be able to deal with discomfort.

Involve individuals at all levels. A transformation won’t succeed without broad involvement. Incorporating ideas about how a change would affect every member of an organization and their unique responsibilities helps every impacted individual understand their part.

Please summarize this article in three sentences. Do Homework
Do you agree that empathy is needed for a smoother transformation? Why or why not? Do Homework
What are some elements that would help with a business transformation missing from this list? Do Homework
Have you ever been part of a business transformation initiative? If so, please describe it. Do Homework

Roof gardens on taxis in Thailand

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed down tourism in Thailand, thousands of taxis were abandoned by their drivers. No tourists equals no taxis. Drivers lost their income and couldn't afford to pay the rental fees for their cars. Companies struggled to stay afloat. The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi co-ops together ended up with 2500 (out of 3000) cars sitting idle in parking lots. The Thai government offered no financial support.

Faced with this situation, the Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi co-ops decided to join forces to create rooftop gardens on the idle taxis. They built bamboo frames and stretched black plastic bags over them. The frames were then filled with soil. Co-op staff have grown a variety of crops in these small gardens, including tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans. 

The produce doesn't make up for the loss of income, but Thapakorn Assawalertkul, a co-op executive, says, "The vegetable garden is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this tough time." He added, "Thailand went through political turmoil for many years, and a great flood in 2011, but business was never this terrible."

Summarize the article in 2–3 sentences. Do Homework
Should governments give financial assistance to businesses during times of crisis? How much? For how long? Do Homework
How is creating gardens on taxi rooftops an act of protest? Do Homework
Do you think the pandemic will cause permanent changes to tourism and the tourist economy? What good changes might come out of this crisis? Do Homework

The idea of Universal Basic Income

According to Vox Media, the idea of a basic income was, for decades, something of a policy fantasy. However, the last few years have seen it become less fringe and more mainstream. In fact, we now have many limited basic income programs running around the world.

The general idea—that the government should give every citizen a regular infusion of money with no strings attached—has been around since the 16th century. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has given the idea fresh momentum, with the crisis generating significant financial loss and uncertainty.

Critics worry that UBI will disincentivize work and hurt the economy. They also say that it is unaffordable for the government to pay every citizen enough to live on, regardless of whether they work. So far, the evidence has not supported these critiques.

Proponents of basic income argue the best way to end poverty is by simply giving everyone money. Some also say it will help society cope with a coming era of automation-induced joblessness. And the evidence so far suggests that getting a basic income tends to boost happiness, health, school attendance, trust in social institutions and many parts of the economy, all while reducing crime, hunger, and extreme poverty.

Please summarize this article in 2 or 3 sentences. Do Homework
Do you tend to agree more with the critics or proponents of universal basic income? Do Homework
Are there other benefits or risks associated with universal basic income? Do Homework
Do the rich have a responsibility to help the poor in society? Do Homework

Diversity of research sources

According to PhysOrg, a scientific publication, scientific knowledge used in international studies is predominantly sourced from English-language documents, as it is assumed that all scientific knowledge is available in English. However, according to research scrutinizing over 400,000 peer-reviewed papers in 326 journals, published in 16 languages, scientific papers written in languages other than English may hold untapped information crucial to the conservation of global biodiversity.

These findings have important implications for global efforts tackling the biodiversity crisis, where lack of evidence is an issue commonly faced when trying to implement evidence-based conservation. The authors demonstrate that incorporating non-English-language studies can expand the availability of scientific evidence on species and ecosystems into 12%–25% more areas and 5%–32% more species.

This research also sheds light on how diverse scientific communities can maximize the contribution of science to addressing urgent global challenges. Amano, who is a native Japanese speaker, said, "[The research] showcases why it is important to nurture culturally diverse scientific communities. Global challenges call for contributions from diverse communities from every corner of the globe."

Please summarize this article in two sentences. Do Homework
Is it problematic that a large percentage of academic papers are written solely in English? Why or why not? Do Homework
What are some other factors limiting research on biodiversity? Do Homework

Pinterest: safety over free speech

How much should tech companies regulate information? While Facebook and Twitter have up to now chosen to err on the side of free speech, an unlikely platform has taken an important step. Pinterest found that users were searching for information on vaccines, so CEO Ben Silbermann pulled all medical information from the platform.

Vaccines have been a contentious issue in social media, but not in science. While the science is clear that vaccines save lives, there has been a reemergence of previously eradicated diseases like measles. That reemergence has been linked to disinformation shared in social media. 

Since mid-2019, Pinterest has only allowed verified sources to post medical information. While the site is admittedly smaller than the tech giants, Pinterest still boasts 291 million monthly active users. Silbermann has gone on record stating that his site has a responsibility to avoid harm, and as such is holding itself accountable for the consequences of the information that's shared on the site.

Silbermann said to Vox, "If you don’t take some responsibility for what people see, you’re at some level responsible for the downstream consequences of that."

He went on, "The lesson that everyone’s learned over the last few years is that if you want positive things to come out of internet technology, they have to be deliberately engineered that way."

Do you agree with Silbermann's approach? Do Homework
Some tech companies have the idea that technology will bring happiness (called "techno-utopian"). Do you agree? Do Homework
What do you think is an ideal policy for a big tech firm like Twitter or Facebook? Do Homework
If you could create a social media platform, what kind would you like to make? Do Homework

What is accent-ism?

It is not a secret that people might judge you by the way you speak. For example, if you sound confident, people might trust you. 

But for some people, it is also about what accent you have. Studies showed that people might link your accent to not only your place of birth, but also your personal characteristics. Some accents are perceived as "good" or "correct." Listeners think that the speaker is intelligent, honest and hard-working because of their accent. On the other hand, some accents are seen as something negative and needing correction, with speakers seen as less intelligent. Both positive and negative conclusions are stereotypes.

The situation when you are judged by your accent is called “accentism” and is considered a form of discrimination. It is a new concept. It is possible that many people have experienced negative treatment in their daily lives because of their accent but they haven’t noticed it. 

What is accentism? Do Homework
Have you ever faced accentism? Do Homework
What can be done to change this situation? Do Homework
Should non-native speakers always try to get rid of their accents? Do Homework

Women artists: Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Limpicka (1898–1980) was a key artist in the Art Deco period of the 1920s and '30s. Born in Poland, she also spent a lot of time in France and the U.S. Her real fame came when high-fashion magazines began to use her art for their covers. Soon she was painting portraits of the aristocracy, and even royalty. Although her name is not well-known today outside of Art Deco fans, de Lempicka was one of the most important and popular artists of the Art Deco movement.

Art Deco grew out of Cubism and the Arts and Crafts movement, adding elements of "exotic" Asian, Egyptian and Mayan art. It used simple forms and planes of color to create new designs representing luxury and wealth. The pieces also represented faith in social and technological progress.

Art Deco architecture soars upward, with geometric designs on its walls and windows. Paintings and graphic designs use those same geometric lines to express the independence and industry that inspired the optimism of the early 20th century. 

Tamara de Lempicka rode that wave of optimism in her paintings. She painted rich people in high-class settings, enjoying the fruits of progress. Many of her paintings included scenes of sensuality, with women in loose clothing or even nude. But these women were independent; they looked cool and detached, in no need of male support. This was revolutionary for her time. In her words, "My goal: never copy. Create a new style, with luminous and brilliant colors, rediscover the elegance of my models."

Describe de Lempicka's painting, "Saint Moritz", shown at the top of the article. How does it represent the Art Deco movement? Do Homework
Do you like Art Deco art and design? Why or why not? Do Homework
People in the early 20th century were very optimistic about the technological and social progress of the time. Looking back, do you think they were right to be optimistic? Do Homework
In your opinion, are magazine covers art? Do Homework