ptations 1. Smiling fish is a: A.a.
term used by Middle Easterners to describe American tourists. B.b. French chef working in a Japanese kitchen.
C.c. dish served in China in which the fish is still alive. 2. In England, to table an issue or motion means to: A. put it aside until later.
B. send it to arbitration. C. bring it up and discuss it.
3. Allah is the Supreme Being of which religious group? A. Shintos B.
Buddhists C. Moslems If you answered C to all three questions, you probably have a reasonable grasp of cross-cultural orientations. The growing population of international students and employees in the U.S., the disproportionate trade deficits among countries, the popularity of international acquisitions and joint ventures, and increasing international interactions among companies today force leaders in U.S.
organizations to learn to interact and communicate more efficiently with a greater variety of cultures. The problems and results of mismanagement and miscommunication are evident daily. The problems are not likely to dissipate merely with increased interactions among other cultures, and the results of perfunctory relations and communications are not likely to improve. The responsibility for acknowledging this increasing problem and the obligation for eliminating its sources rest firmly with the organization’s leaders. Unfortunately, many organizations are not aware of current trends or the changes occurring around them in the international business environment. An understanding of some of the aspects of intercultural interactions represents an important step toward being able to adapt to and confront these complex situations.
This article discusses some of the aspects and ramifications of interacting with other cultures. CROSS-CULTURAL INTERACTION LIMITATIONS A primary source of misunderstanding among cultures is the differences in values and priorities. Some of the most common lie in the way dissimilar cultures perceive, time, thought patterns, personal space, material possessions, family roles and relationships, language, religion, personal achievement, competitiveness and individuality, social behavior, and other interrelated environmental and subjective issues.
Another important source of miscommunication and misunderstanding is in the perceptions of the leaders, managers, and communicators about the persons with whom they are dealing. For example, if people presume their values and habits are superior and more sophisticated than those of other cultures, this attitude will be reflected in the way they communicate. Some of the factors that affect intercultural relationships are outlined below. Time Americans place an exceptionally high priority on time, perceiving it as a commodity that holds value. Conserving time to them is an efficient process, a significant asset.
Many cultures, conversely, place more worth on relationships and a decelerated, more relaxed lifestyle. If an American tries to coerce others to conform to his tempo, members of other cultures may find it offensive and avoid doing business with him. They may think he or she is someone who is “more interested in business than people” or who thinks, “being punctual for an occasion or appointment is a fundamental goal of life.” Before some business people will conduct business or interact with others, an amicable relationship must first be established. Thought Patterns Americans declare that their past is behind them; however, some cultures believe that a person’s past is in front of him, since he can view what has happened. Americans assert that their future is in front of them; others believe that the future is behind them, because they cannot see into the future. Additionally, many Americans would like to foresee the future so they could take advantage of impending opportunities or events.
Other cultures believe it fortunate that one cannot see the future because that way he or she is not exposed to negative information that would likely cause worry or pain. In the Going International film series, George Renwick describes the Arab’s speech and thought behavior as moving in loops, whereas the American’s speech and thought behavior is direct or linear. Those unaware of these patterns could confound the process and cause negative consequences by forward, abrupt, or aggressive communication. Other thought and perceptual traditions influence behavior and communication patterns and could lead to unexpected outcomes if leaders do not take the time and effort to understand them. Personal Space Cultures maintain unwritten rules on the distance one member remains from another in face-to-face interactions, in lines, and in public places. Although the distance is affected by the relationships of the people involved, one member of a culture may be offended if someone from another culture, in which personal distance rules are different, violates the space rule by “invading” his space.
The closer conversation distance of Arabs and Africans typically makes Americans uncomfortable; Arabs and Africans may feel rejection by the lengthy personal distance of Americans. Many Americans dislike it when another touches them on the arm or shoulder, but it is more a personal preference than a cultural rule. In some cultures, however, it is inappropriate to touch another person with the hand (especially the left hand), particularly if the party is of the opposite sex.
Managers should learn the personal space and touching rules of the society in which they are working so they do not offend host nationals or make them uncomfortable. Material Possessions U.S. advertisements reinforce “more is better” or “bigger is better” values. Business publications print annual lists of the largest corporations, the highest-compensated executives, and the wealthiest persons ad nauseam.
Consequently, the attention devoted to these accomplishments prompts Americans to equate success with material wealth. Those cultures that place little or no great significance on possessions may feel that it is vulgar, greedy, and disrespectful to flaunt wealth, and cannot relate to the values held by those who do. Managers need to know the value of material possessions not only in facilitating the communication process, but also when trying to motivate those of other cultures.
Family Roles and Relationships In many societies, family roles and relationships are very traditional, personal, and predictable. The husband is the provider, the wife supervises the household, and males in the household are more valued than females. Each member of the family has a designated role and the responsibility for maintaining status quo for those roles. Peer pressures preserve the roles, and work situations and business interactions are less influential than familial responsibilities.
One American businessman became very disconcerted to learn upon his arrival in Egypt that the man with whom he had an appointment was in another city to attend the funeral of his brother. Although the death had occurred a couple of weeks earlier, the Egyptian businessman had neglected to telephone the American and inform him of the expected absence. Rather than show his displeasure at the inconvenience placed upon him, the American capitalized upon the opportunity and pretended the purpose of his trip was to express his personal condolences. An expression of impatience or anger would have probably severed all future relations; the expression of sympathy was most suitable to the occasion. This philosophy is illustrated by a Latin American parable: “Man does not live to work–man works to live.
” To maintain open communication and good relations, family roles and relations must be honored. Language All cultures use verbal and nonverbal communication systems or languages, and each culture’s vocabulary reflects its primary values and composition. Eskimos use many words and expressions for snow and its components, Arabs have numerous words for camels, and Americans have multiple words and meanings for computers and accessories.
Although words themselves have no meaning (meaning comes from people), managers should observe and respect the role and composition of languages and other subtle cultural cues. In his book, Big Business Blunders, David Ricks details numerous problems that have developed as a result of words or behaviors in one culture or language having opposite or obscene meanings in another. 1 Even with a language, accents, usages, or differences in the way things are said can create disharmony. Terpstra and David indicate that “while an American would say that he put some gas in his truck, drove to his girlfriend’s apartment, took the elevator to her floor, and rang the doorbell, an Englishman would say that he put some petrol in his lorry, drove to his girlfriend’s flat, took the lift to her floor, and then knocked her up.” 2 Ricks also noted some of the problems that developed as a result of a difference in the meaning of words between British and American English.
Religion Religion is the dominant force in the daily lives of some peoples, such as Arabs. Arab life revolves around prayer times, holidays, and daily events, and many occurrences are justified in the name of religion. Phrases such as “it was Allah’s will” are used as rationalizations for a major disaster or disruption of business.
Successful foreign businesses operating in cultures where religion governs business and social practices are those who respect and deal with their hosts’ customs, such as prayer requirements and dietary restrictions. Businesses should also be aware that if changes affect religious and cultural patterns, resistance from religious and government leaders could result. One can sense the problems that may occur by examining the Iranian revolution of the early eighties, when many Iranian leaders felt threatened by cultural changes that were developing. Additionally, a disregard or lack of respect for cultural traditions can result in loss of communication or business, or in consequences even more serious. Personal Achievement Achievement is another value espoused by the traditional American businessperson.
The success and prestige of our business leaders are measured by the magnitude of their organization, the amount of their compensation, and their location in the hierarchy. The larger the organization and compensation and the higher the stature, traditionally the greater the adoration. In other cultures, especially where family time is meaningful, the quality of relationships and time spent with family are the symbols of success and prestige. When Americans (perhaps subconsciously) communicate this acquisitive attitude to a culture that does not share their achievement motivation, communication channels can be damaged or severed. Competitiveness and Individuality Competitiveness and individuality are other values supported by most American businesspersons.
Within reason, competitiveness is considered a natural, desired trait. Consequently, individual ambition within an organization is encouraged and rewarded. In some international business cultures, aggressive behaviors that demonstrate individuality and competitiveness discouraged. Instead, team spirit and consensus are valued traits. Problems, misunderstandings, or miscommunications occur when these opposing values enter into communications and behaviors.
For example, in the haste to pursue business, aggressiveness can demonstrate a lack of concern that alienates many international associates. Since many cultures value modesty, team spirit, collectivity, and patience, the competitiveness and individualistic demeanor conveyed in American interpersonal verbal communications, advertisements, physical gestures, status symbols, and so forth represents unacceptable behavior. Social Behavior Punctuality is expected in most U.S.
business situations, but tardiness is acceptable in numerous social situations. For a number of reasons, however, punctuality is not a revered characteristic in many of the world’s societies. The typical American psyche lacks patience with those cultures that do not value punctuality. Consequently, those who supervise persons from cultures that do not revere punctuality may appear pompous or unreasonable. Noisy eating habits and belching are almost never acceptable in U.
S. culture; they are expected as evidence of satisfaction in others. Some Chinese cultures feel it is polite to take a portion of each food served.
One American businessman learned of this custom only after taking some Chinese businessmen to a cafeteria. Each Chinese wound up with three trays of food and the American exceeded his daily expense account. Many behaviors seen by Americans as innocuous are considered inappropriate in other cultures. Such behaviors as showing of the soles of one’s feet, touching with or delivering objects with one’s left hand, or speaking first may create cross-cultural conflicts. ETHNOCENTRIC ATTITUDES Persons who believe their cultural values, habits, or religion is superior to all others possess ethnocentric attitudes. Unfortunately, ethnocentric attitudes usually surface in the form of patronization, superiority, disrespect, or inflexibility.
One form of ethnocentricity is seen in stereotyping. If a communicator imagines that a person from another culture will react in a particular way, he will usually convey this attitude in his speech, expectations, or behavior. A man attending an international relations banquet was seated across from another man who possessed Asian physical characteristics.
Wishing to advance international relations, he asked the Asian, “Likee foodee?” The man politely nodded his head. During the program, the Asian was introduced as an award-winning professor of economics at a prestigious university and was asked to make a few projections about world trade imbalances. After a brief discussion in perfect English, the Asian professor sat down, glanced across at his astonished neighbor and asked, “Likee talkee?” To avoid similar embarrassing situations, managers should not make assumptions from physical appearances, attributes, or other superficial characteristics. To prevent stereotypes from negatively affecting his or her actions, the manager should be prudent. Some precautions are discussed below. Flexibility and Sincerity Flexibility is possibly the most important of the precautions necessary to minimize mistakes and misunderstandings in intercultural relationships. While it is logical that not all stereotypes are necessarily negative, assumptions about others should be limited or guarded so the circumstances, situation, or actions of others are interpreted correctly.
A flexible manager will cautiously analyze the responses and reactions of subordinates in an attempt to correctly interpret what their cultural reactions indicate. Sincerity is another characteristic that contributes to the understanding of intercultural interactions. If a manager adopts a sincere attitude by patiently accepting a subordinate from another culture, that empathy will normally be received in a trusting, positive manner. Intercultural Socialization Intercultural socialization involves becoming aware of the other culture’s habits, actions, and reasons behind behaviors. Americans presume they are the safest, most sanitary culture in the world, but a large majority of the automobiles in the U.
S. would not pass inspection in West Germany. The Japanese (and other cultures) think Americans are unhygienic for locating the toilet and bathing facility in the same area.
Many cultures think the American habit of sitting on a toilet seat very unsanitary. There is usually a logical reason for cultural habits and rules, but the reason is not necessarily universal. Managers from all cultures should be willing to accept other cultures’ habits and actions and consider that they might be logical or proper. Other cultures’ rules and behaviors may seem strange, but they are usually established on historical or religious traditions. Many cultures shake hands upon meeting or greeting others, while bowing is customary in others.
Leaving food or drink after dining is considered polite in some cultures, but impolite in others. To prevent social blunders with influential leaders or primary decision-makers, managers should follow the rules of etiquette of their cultures. Establishment of Relationships Although Americans conduct business with persons they do not know, this practice is not customary in other cultures. One Mexican businessman said on a recent news report, “Why should I do business with a person I do not know?” For the Mexican businessman an amicable relationship was mandatory before transacting business. To establish relationships, American managers must devote time to becoming acquainted with prospective business partners. Certainly, a prerequisite to this process is to learn about their culture and traditions and then dedicate time to becoming familiar with the clients.
A word of caution, however: in the process of getting to know another, one needs to learn what subjects are permissible, what subjects to avoid, and what questions to expect. Asking about a man’s wife in some cultures is equivalent to asking an American man about his sex life. Additionally, you should not be offended if an Asian inquires about the size of your salary or the price of your home or car. Those are not impolite questions in his culture. The American adage that the world is getting smaller symbolizes the idea that we are becoming more mobile and interacting with more cultures. To successfully meet this challenge, it is imperative that managers adapt to different situations. Flexibility and adaptability are important at the upper levels of management as well as in the lower levels.
The book Megatrends 3 noted that business had developed from a national economy to a world economy; this trend does not affect the upper levels of management any more than lower levels. Accompanying the increase of social and economic interaction, the entire organization must become more interculturally adept. Those proactive establishments that implement progressive measures for confronting and adapting to the changes occurring in the work environment will be better prepared and more adept at facilitating and operating in the intercultural era that is upon us. 1 David A. Ricks, big Business Blunders: Mistakes in Multinational Marketing (Homewood, Ill.
: Dow Jones-irwin, 1979). 2 Vern Terpstra and David Kenneth, The Cultural Environment of International Business (Cincinnati: South-Western Publishers, 1985). 3 John Naisbett, Megatrends (New York: Warner Books, 1982).