Other cultures are strange, ambitious, even shocking to us. It is unavoidable that we will make mistakes in dealing with them and feel muddled and confused. The real issue is how quickly we are prepared to learn from mistakes and how bravely we struggle to understand a game in which “perfect scores” are an illusion and where reconciliation comes only after a difficult passage through alien territory.
We need a certain amount of humility and a sense of humour to discover cultures other than our own; a readiness to enter a room in the dark and stumble over unfamiliar furniture until the pain in our shins reminds us where things are. World culture is a myriad of different ways of creating the integrity without which life and business cannot be conducted. There are no universal answers but there are universal questions and dilemmas and that is where we all need to start.
The impact of culture on business.
In recent years, many companies have expanded globally. They have done this through mergers, joint ventures and co-operation with foreign companies and now many more employees are working abroad in managerial positions or as part of a multinational team.
Take a look at the new breed of international managers, educated according to the most modern management philosophies. They all know that in the SBU, TQM should reign, with products delivered JIT, where CFTs distribute products while subject to MBO. (SBU = strategic business unit, TQM = total quality management, JIT = just-in-time, CFT = customer first team, MBO = management by objectives.)
But just how universal are these management solutions? Even with experienced international companies, many well-intended “universal” applications of management theory have turned out badly.
As the world gets smaller, we need to learn more about each other’s values, beliefs, habits and expectations. Clearly, we each live in a set of cultures and subcultures that interlock in complex ways.
In business people have to deal in person with all kinds of people. You may have to use English when talking to different people within your company who don’t speak your language: these may be colleagues or co-workers, superiors or subordinates – who may work with you in your own department, in another part of the building or in another branch. And you may also have to deal in English with people from outside the organisation: clients, suppliers, visitors and members of the public. Moreover, these people may be friends, acquaintances or strangers – people of your own age, or people who are younger or older than you. The relationship you have with a person determines the kind of language you use.
Here, in no particular order, are some cross-cultural issues, where there are variations in behaviour across different cultures, and some examples of the ways they relate to the business world:
Religion. Is it expected of people or a matter of individual choice?
Roles of men and women. Are women often found at the highest levels of business and society?
Hierarchy. What is the distance between managers and the people who work for them?
Levels of formality in language and behaviour. Is there an elaborate system of levels of deference in addressing different people?
Conversation. Settings (formal and informal meetings, social situations, etc.), turn-taking, proximity, body language, contact, etc.
Dress for different settings and occasions. Is the business suit essential?
The relation of work to private life. Are spouses expected to attend certain types of company event? Do business people invite colleagues and contacts to their houses, or is everything done in the office and restaurant?
Time. (Timescale of the activity.) Do meetings start on time? Is the summer break sacrosanct?
In every culture in the world such phenomena as authority, bureaucracy, creativity, good fellowship, verification and accountability are experienced in different ways. That we use the same words to describe them tends to make us unaware that our cultural biases and our accustomed conduct may not be appropriate, or shared.
Remember that people form an impression of you from the way you speak and behave – not just from the way you do your work. People in different countries have different ideas of what sounds friendly, polite or sincere – and of what sounds rude and unfriendly! Good manners in your culture may be considered bad manners in another.
Appropriate behaviour partly depends on the various signals you give, mostly unconsciously, to the people you meet:
The style of language you use and the words you choose.
Your tone of voice (your question can sound like a challenge or disagreement if spoken sharply).
The noises you make (sighing, yawning, clicking your pen, tapping your foot all mean something).
Your body language and the way you stand or sit. If you have your arms crossed you may look defensive, if you slump in the chair you may look sleepy, if you sit upright with your shoulders back you may look eager and alert (maybe too much).
Your appearance. Different business clothes are acceptable in different countries and in different businesses.
Even your smell! Millions of pounds are spent by men and women on perfume, after-shave and deodorants to combat body odour: different cultures have different comfortable smells.
Remember also that your body language, gestures and expression may tell people more about you than the words you use.
These are all interesting areas for discussion. And don’t forget about stereotypes (a belief that all people from a culture behave a certain way). They should, of cause, be handled with caution. Bear in mind that we are not judging whether other ways of doing things are right or wrong, but that we should be aware of the differences, and not see our own culture as the “normal” one.
2. Answer the questions.
1. Many companies have expanded globally. Why?
2. When can you use the knowledge of foreign languages, for example English?
3. Why can other cultures be shocking to us?
4. When and where can we see differences between cultures?
5. What helps us to understand other cultures?
6. Why can we feel confused when dealing with other cultures?
7. Do we need to know special features of different cultures? Why?
8. What special features of different cultures do you know?
9. Don’t you think these are stereotypes?
10. How do we get stereotypes?
11. Do you think some stereotypes can help you to communicate with foreign friends / partners?
12. Do you think you are prepared to communicate with other cultures?
13. What does appropriate behaviour depend on?
14. What does it mean if you have your arms crossed?
15. What does it mean if you slump on the chair?
16. What does it mean if you sit upright with your shoulders back?
17. What is the impact of culture on business?
18. What do you think about international managers?
19. Have you ever noticed you use different styles of language when speaking with different people?
20. Can you speak English differently with different people according to the age, position, situation, etc.?
3. Think and answer.
What topics do you talk about – and what do you not talk about – during a first meeting with your business associate?
And what difference does it make if the other person is:
a foreigner / a man / a woman / older than you / younger than you / senior to you / junior to you?
5. Study the following.
Different studies compare employees’ inclinations toward individualism and collectivism. Countries that rank individualism the highest are the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands. Attributes of individualism are low dependence on the organisation and a desire for personal time, freedom and challenge. Countries that rank high in collectivism are Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela and Colombia. Attributes of collectivism are dependence on the organisation and a desire for training, good physical conditions and benefits. In those countries with high individualism, self-actualisation will be a prime motivator because employees want challenges. However, in countries with high collectivism, the provision of a safe physical and emotional environment (security need) will be a prime motivator.
The degree of individualism and collectivism also influences how employees interact with their colleagues. Japan has a much more collectivist culture than the United States does, especially concerning the work group, and this causes contrasts at work.
Cultures are also categorised as being low-context and high-context. In low-context cultures (the USA, northern Europe) most people consider relevant only firsthand information that bears directly on the decision they need to make. In business, they spend little time on “small talk” and say things directly. However, other countries, such as in southern Europe, are high-context cultures – that is, most people consider that peripheral information is valuable to decision making and infer meanings from things said indirectly. When managers from two types of cultures deal with each other, the low-context individuals may believe the high-context ones are inefficient and time wasters. The high-context individuals may believe the low-context ones are too aggressive to be trusted.
Information processing is universal in that all cultures categorise, plan and quantify. All cultures also have ordering and classifying systems. However, sometimes cultures do this differently from one another. One needs to understand it to perform efficiently in a foreign environment. Information processing also includes ordering tasks. Cultures such as in northern Europe are called monochronic (or sequential), preferring to work sequentially, such as finishing with one customer or task before dealing with another. Conversely, polychronic (or synchronic) southern Europeans are more comfortable in working simultaneously with all the tasks they face. For example, they feel uncomfortable when not dealing immediately with all customers who need service. Imagine the potential misconceptions that can occur. U.S. businesspeople might erroneously believe that their Italian counterparts are uninterested in doing business with them if they fail to give them their undivided attention.
Synchronic or polychronic styles are extraordinary for those unused to them. Likewise, people who do only one thing at a time can, without meaning to, insult those who are used to doing several things.
How space is used and what that use signifies vary from culture to culture. Some cultures require a larger “comfort zone” of interpersonal space than others. Most people are unaware of how their own culture structures spatial relationships, and therefore do not take this factor into account when interacting with other cultures in business. Cross-cultural violations of spatial requirements can produce discomfort, anxiety, hostility, and even conflict, often without the participants understanding why they feel their territory has been invaded.
Like space, time has different meanings in each culture. How the culture defines time, and what value it gives to the past, present and future, communicates just as surely as words. The vocabulary, grammar, and meaning of time vary widely around the world.
Different individuals and different cultures may be more or less attracted to past, present or future orientations. Some live entirely in the present, or try to. “History is bunk”, as Henry Ford put it, and inquiry into things past is best forgotten. Some dream of a world that never was and seek to create it from their own imaginings or they may seek the return of a golden age, a Napoleonic legend reborn, a new frontier similar in its challenges to the Wild West. They believe the future is coming to them, as a destiny, or that they alone must define it. Others live in a nostalgic past to which everything attempted in the present must appeal.
Each nation possesses certain human, demographic and behavioural characteristics that constitute its national identity and that may affect a company’s methods of conducting business affectively in that country. But similarities can link groups from different nations more closely than groups within a nation. For instance, regardless of the nation examined, people in urban areas differ in certain attitudes from people in rural areas, and managers have different work attitudes than production workers do. Thus managers in countries A and B may hold more similar values with each other than either person holds with production workers in his or her own country. When international businesspeople compare nations, they must be careful to examine relevant groups, such as differentiating between people in rural and urban areas of a country when predicting what will be accepted.
6. Answer the questions.
1. What is the difference between individualism and collectivism?
2. What are the attributes of individualism?
3. What are the attributes of collectivism?
4. How do employees interact with their colleagues in individualistic countries?
5. How do you understand the difference between low-context and high-context cultures?
6. Give some examples of low-context countries. Defend your opinion.
7. Give some examples of high-context countries. Defend your opinion.
8. What is the difference between monochronic and polychronic cultures?
9. Why monochronic cultures are also called sequential?
10. Why polychronic cultures are also called synchronic?
11. How large is your “comfort zone”?
12. Compare your “comfort zone” with your classmates’. Is it the same or different? Why?
13. How do different cultures understand the meaning of time?
14. Why it would be difficult for an American and a Japanese to share the same office?
15. What would you say about Russian culture?
7. What do you think is right?
1. You are visiting your American partner’s office and have seated yourself in the conference room. When he joins you he will probably
a. sit on your right side.
b. sit on your left side.
c. sit in front of you.
d. wait for your invitation to sit.
2. You have received a fax from an American company asking for a price quotation. They are expecting your reply
a. by return fax.
b. by phone.
c. by regular mail.
d. in about one week.
3. You are on a training assignment at a Japanese company in Tokyo. They offer you a desk in the middle of a big hall with 15 other staff members. Will you
a. ask for a special room because you are used to working in a quiet office?
b. ask for a portable wall to keep others from looking at you?
c. accept the offer?
d. ask for a corner location away from traffic?
4. This is your second visit to your Arab business contact’s office. He asks you to come from ten o’clock to eleven o’clock in the morning to continue your discussion. You should arrive at
b. ten o’clock.
c. eleven o’clock.
5. Most Americans expect to shake hands
a. when they meet for the first time.
b. before they leave for work.
c. in the morning.
d. Only if you extend your hand first.
6. You are visiting the USA for the first time. You notice that most Americans stand in line at theatres, supermarkets, bus stations, etc. This indicates that they
a. are formal and believe in one status.
b. like to maintain harmony with everyone.
c. do not believe in competition.
d. believe in equality.
7. In a meeting with a Japanese team you notice that one of the managers has a continuous smile on his face. This means
a. He likes what you are saying.
b. He feels sorry for you.
c. You should smile back.
d. He is reacting to what you are saying.
8. You are discussing a subject with a Japanese team. Suddenly everyone is quiet. You should
a. tell a joke to wake them up.
b. give your discount now.
c. be quiet too.
d. ask them what the problem is.
9. You are discussing a business proposal with two Arabs in their office. You notice that their tone of voice changes depending on the subject matter. Should you
a. keep your tone of voice quiet?
b. go along with their high/low tone?
c. use a higher tone to impress them further?
d. tell them they are speaking too loudly?
10. This is your first week in an American office. Your American co-worker says to you, “Let’s get together sometime this week.” You should
a. accept it as a friendly comment.
b. invite him to your house to meet your family.
c. tell your spouse to prepare to have dinner with your co-worker.
d. expect the American to invite you to play tennis this weekend.
11. You are calling an American businesswoman on the telephone. She immediately says, “Yes, what can I do for you?” you should respond by saying
a. “Thank you, I don’t need your help.”
b. “Where is the order you promised me?”
c. “You are too impersonal.”
d. “How was your weekend?”
12. In a discussion with a Japanese businessman, if he nods his head and says, “Yes, yes,” he
a. understands what you are saying.
b. agrees with what you are saying.
c. is listening.
d. is bored.
8. Think and answer.
1. Your meeting was at ten o’clock but it’s ten forty-five, and he’s still talking to the previous visitor. Should you wait or leave? Why?
2. The invitation was for dinner at seven o’clock. What time should you show up?
3. Time is money. Does that mean save it or spend it?
4. When she said, “I’ll get back to you,” does that mean in an hour, a day, a week? When? Give your reasons.
9. What is the appropriate time to arrive for the following events? Share your answers with your classmates.
a. A doctor’s appointment for 8.30 a.m.
b. A class that begins at 10.25 a.m.
c. A business meeting set for 3.30 p.m.
d. Your job that starts 9.00 a.m.
e. A train that is scheduled to leave at 5.24 p.m.
f. A dinner party set for 6.30 p.m.
1. How do your answers differ from the other students’?
2. How would an American answer these questions?
3. How would a Japanese answer these questions?
4. For the events above, how late would you have to be before you would have to apologise?
5. What do your answers tell you about your culture and punctuality?
6. Do you think you are from a generally monochronic or polychronic culture?
7. Based on what you know, do you think the United States is a monochronic or polychronic culture?
8. Imagine you are going to do business with a person from a different time orientation than yours. How would you react to the differences?
9. Will your behaviour depend on where you meet? (In his/her country or in your country?)
10. How would you prepare yourself for the differences in punctuality and schedules?
10. The following are some more examples of countries whose cultures tend to be monochronic or polychronic. Enter your country and as many other countries as you know about in this table.
11. Recognising time orientation. Complete the chart.
1. Do only one activity at a time.
2. Appointments are approximate and subject to “giving time” to significant others.
3. Schedules generally subordinate to relationships.
4. Strong preference for following where relationships lead.
5. Strong preference for following initial plans.
12. What are your tips for doing business?
1. With past-oriented cultures.
2. With present-oriented cultures.
3. With future-oriented cultures.
14. Answer the questions.
1. Townsend, of course, writes about what the Americans themselves do think about their culture. Do you agree with him? Give your reasons.
2. What is your point of view about the Russians and Russian culture? Compare your ideas with your classmates’.
3. Compare American and Russian lifestyles. What do you think is common and what is different? (Use the information given above.)
4. What else similar or different can you remember?
5. What values are important in American culture?
6. Do people from different cultures choose different values to describe American culture?
7. What influence does your own culture have on the way you see people from other cultures?
8. How can you see people from other cultures without a bias from your own culture?
15. Fill in the blanks and discuss this situation.
Awareness of the cultural differences.
An American ______ had exchanged customary, polite greetings with his Japanese _______, a ritual which the American felt had gone on far too long. They had _______ come to the root of the problem and the Japanese president was being ________ , duckling all the straight questions and repeating that “with goodwill and sincerity” all such questions could be ________ answered.
As part of the initial _______ ceremony the parties had exchanged meishi (business cards) and the American, _______ of Japanese custom, had laid the cards on the table _______ him in the same pattern as the sitting _______ for the Japanese delegation. In this way he could call everyone by name, having a convenient _______ in front of him.
As the meeting ______ more stressful and his ________ with evasive answers grew, he picked up one of the cards, absent-mindedly ______ it into a cylinder, unrolled it again and crossly cleaned his nails. Suddenly he felt the ________ eyes of the entire Japanese delegation on him! There was a long ________ and then the Japanese president stood up and withdrew from the room. The American looked at the battered meishi in his hand. It was _______ the Japanese president had given him.
in front of
16. Answer the questions.
1. Did you know before about such customs?
2. Do you think the American had a systematic understanding of cultural differences?
3. Could he foresee such pitfall and others?
4. Do you agree with the following statement: “You can never be fully informed, since there is an infinite range of potential errors”.
5. Do you think he had learnt a long list of dos and don’ts preparing for this meeting?
6. Was it likely that “don’t abuse the meishi” would have been on the list?
7. How would you behave during such a meeting?
8. Would it be offensive for you to watch such a treatment with your business card?
9. What would you do in such a situation?
10. How do you see the end of this story?
18. Complementary text.
The multicultural manager
A manager with cross-cultural sensitivity and skills is much in demand today. The domestic work environment features personnel, customers and suppliers who come increasingly from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Foreigners with capital not only buy companies, buildings and resorts in other countries, but seek partners in joint ventures from those countries. Those who have changed from centrally planned economies invite representatives from free enterprise nations to do business in their countries, as well as to re-educate their management. Even small local business types are forced to seek overseas opportunities and to learn about world-trade realities.
Thus true transcultural managers are more “cosmopolitan” – that is, innovative leaders who are effective intercultural communicators and negotiators. These people are comfortable operating anywhere in the world. Whether representing a business, a foundation, an association, or a profession, these are high performers in the world marketplace. They are capable of functioning readily around their own homeland and its regional groupings or of moving across borders.
Multicultural managers characteristically
· Think beyond local perceptions and transform stereotypes into positive views of people
· Prepare for new mindshifts, while eliminating old mindsets
· Re-create cultural assumptions, norms and practices based on new insights and experiences
· Reprogram their mental maps and constructs
· Adapt readily to new and unusual circumstances and lifestyles
· Welcome and facilitate transitional experiences
· Acquire multicultural competences and skills including foreign languages
· Create cultural synergy whenever and wherever feasible
· Operate effectively in multinational / multicultural environments
· Envision transnational opportunities and enterprises
· Create optimistic and doable scenarios for future
Multicultural managers are
· Students of worldwide human relations and values
· Open and flexible in dealing with diversity in people
· Comfortable with those from different disciplines, fields, backgrounds, races and genders
· Facilitators of newcomers, strangers, minorities and immigrants to the workplace
· Collaborators in joint ventures, consortia or coalitions
19. Answer the questions.
1. What does it mean to be a multicultural manager?
2. Who can be a multicultural manager?
3. What characteristics should he/she have?
4. Why are multicultural managers so much in demand today?
5. Why do they function successfully both in their home country and abroad?
6. Why is multicultural competence so essential for such managers?
7. Do you agree with all characteristics of multicultural managers?
8. Do you think a successful multicultural manager needs different qualities compared with a manager working in his/her home country?
9. Many young managers in our country are not interested in a global career. Do you agree? Give your reasons.
10. Give your own ideas about how you see a multicultural manager.
11. Make a list of qualities or skills that you think a multicultural manager should have. Divide your list into technical skills and personal qualities.
12. What are the best ways to measure or evaluate technical skills?
13. How can you evaluate personal qualities?
1. Study the following.
Business employs, sells to, buys from, is regulated by, and is owned by people. Because international business includes people from different cultures, every business function – managing a workforce, marketing output, purchasing supplies, dealing with regulators – is subject to potential cultural problems. An international company must be sensitive to these cultural differences to predict and control its relationships and operations. Further, it should realise that its accustomed way of doing business may not be the only or best way. When doing business abroad, a company first should determine what business practices in a foreign country differ from those it’s used to. Management then must decide what, if any, adjustments are necessary to operate efficiently in the foreign country.
To successfully deal with a new culture, whether with a person from a specific company or a different country, you must make an effort to identify their cultural values and inherent priorities and how they differ from your own. Each culture has its unique way of handling business as well as social interactions, and the visitor to particular cultures must recognise the differences.
There are a number of situations in global management that can cause friction between managers of different cultures. These situations are simple, common things like personal introductions or telephone conversations. They also include somewhat difficult situations such as business meetings or presentations across cultures, as well as the problems of training and motivation of foreign workers.
Whenever a merger, acquisition or joint venture is formed by two existing companies, two or more distinct organisational cultures must be combined. It is ineffective when one entity simply tries to impose its culture upon another. It is more productive to seek a cultural synergy between and among systems involved. But the latter calls for finesse, the practice of sophisticated multicultural management. Nowhere is multicultural management desirable than in the formation of a consortium made up of several corporations or of representatives from industry, government and universities. Again, the managers in such situations have to utilise multicultural skills to create the best in the various organisational cultures and management systems.
Even within a world corporation, one faces cultural diversity among various departments, divisions and subsidiaries. In reality, every time a project team is assembled, made up of different disciplines and fields of expertise, the project manager must practice multicultural management. Engineers think differently from manufacturing or finance personnel who, in turn, may differ in perspective from marketing or public relations people; each profession or speciality has a unique subculture, often solving problems differently from one another. When such assemblages of personnel are escalated into an international project team or task force, the management challenges are even greater, for then varying macro- and microcultures are participating. Thus, those experienced in intercultural communication and negotiation are more likely to succeed.
2. Answer the questions.
1. What is the first thing you should do in order to successfully deal with a new culture?
2. Do you think your way of doing business is the best one?
3. What is subject to potential cultural problems?
4. What even simple situations can cause friction between managers from different cultures?
5. What can happen when forming a merger or a joint venture?
6. Why is it ineffective when one company tries to impose its culture upon another?
7. Is it more productive to seek a cultural synergy between and among systems involved?
8. How do you understand sophisticated multicultural management?
9. Why do different departments within one firm have different cultures? Does it depend only on their nationality?
10. “Those experienced in intercultural communication and negotiation are more likely to succeed”. Comment this statement.