Cross-Cultural Management: Transformations and Adaptations
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.
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.
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,