Intercultural communication- individual reflection


Intercultural Communication- Individual reflection

The essay looks at the reflection of the group work exercise. In doing so it looks at firstly what is meant by culture. On the basis of defining culture, it further looks at the communication barriers within intercultural teams when working within groups. Based on some theoretical models, the essay tries to identify the issues that arose during the group work. Some analytical view has been given to these issues based on the theoretical concepts to try and give some recommendations and guidelines for effective intercultural group work.

Definitions and Special terms:

Culture can be defined in many ways. A historic perspective of culture accentuates on traditions being inherited and amassed over time focus on fleeting down the culture. According to Gibson (2002), culture is not used in the senses of literature, music and art; it is more than in the sense of a shared system of attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour. The way people greet each other, dress, negotiate and resolve conflict, and even the way visual information is seen and perceived. Moreover Gibson (2002) illustrates the concept of culture by using various models such as iceberg model, onion model and tree model. The iceberg model reflects the tangible expressions of culture and behaviour are above the surface of the water, and the attitudes, beliefs, values and meanings underlie the water. The onion model is a layer of culture, which can be peeled away to reveal underlying basic assumptions. For instance, the out layers are behaviour, products, rituals and symbols, under layers are fundamentals, such as attitudes, beliefs and values. Furthermore, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) describe this is explicit and implicit level of culture. Gibson (2002) describes, the tree model contrasts visible and hidden culture, with the roots providing an image of the historical origins of culture. Moving between cultures is like transplanting a tree—to be successful, the roots have to be protected, and support will be needed in the new environment.

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The main difference in conditioned assumptions and preferences which is seen between cultures stems from what Hofstede calls the collective mental programming, which differentiate member of one group from another (1980:21). This process as per many researchers has resulted in cultural values (Kirkman & Shapiro, 1997). The Values , stated as a broad capability to prefer certain states of affairs to others (Hofstede, 1980: 19), shows significant influences on individual capabilities (Geletkanycz, 1997; Shackleton and Ali, 1990). In this regard cultural values, assumptions and preferences, build the underlying main structure of culture, whereas methods of activity and behaviours are the culture's only visible manifestation (Schein, 1985). As a result, the values associated within a culture are reflected in the conditioned assumptions and preferences, which helps members during the daily actions. Indeed there may be cultural differences within different countries (Locke, 1995), National cultural values are found to vary in a systematic manner more across cultures than within them (Adler, 1997; Hofstede, 1980).

Within any group work, communication is vital. Then again within different members of the group from diverse backgrounds the communication tends to be diverse as well. What actually is meant by such intercultural communication? According to Stoner (2009), communication is a verbal statement meant by one person. However, Littlejohe (1992) argues communication to be the transmission of information or symbolic communication such as language, signs, imagers by means of which they are often transmission. Mehrabian (1981) identified, there are three ways of human face of face communication such as body language, voice tonality, and words. Rosengren (2000) describe, communication is a combination of nonverbal, visual and understanding the field of communication. According to Tian (2000), Communication is one of the most important functions to master in order for any business to succeed in today's increasingly competitive markets, particularly for firms doing business internationally. Gudykunst (1994: 129-136) suggests three ways of interpreting other person's behaviour:

  • Perception checking
  • Listening effectively
  • Giving feedback

According to Gudykunst (2005), theorizing the communication within culture has had a tremendous progress within last 20 years. Initial attempts of theorizing the subject had been based on the values and assumptions of the cultures, but over the time most theories are supported by the researches. In order to reflect back on the intercultural issues that came up during group work, these have been addressed based around the theoretical models of cultural dimensions developed by researchers and explained within the model definitions in an analytical manner.

Collectivism versus individualism:

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Looking at the cultural dimension of collectivism versus individualism, it can be said that there was a sense of social connectedness (Earley & Gibson, 1998) within the team. It can be said that in contrast to individualism, whereby individual team members tend to look after themselves, there is a sense of collectivist efforts towards the team putting their interests towards the group work (Hofstede, 1991). There is a sense of collectivist team effort of finding pleasure in working together like a social group (Chen et al., 1998; Cox et al., 1991; Earley, 1998). Being in a collectivist culture the team members feel closely connected and committed to the project (Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991). There is emphasizes on harmony and cooperation within group members (Kim et al., 1994) and reciprocal cooperation of each member to assist in each tasks (Cox et al., 1991).

Yet there was a sense of lack of direction by the group leader. For e.g. the leaders authority or instructions were not adhered to which led to many tasks being unaccomplished. The carefree attitude of the group members was evident throughout the project. As mentioned by Hamden-Turner & Trompendaars (1993), Hofstede, 1980 and Triandis, 1983, the group members considered themselves as independent self-controlling entities and emphasized their identity as unique, independent individual. There was a more of an individualistic orientation whereby; individuals focussed on personal gain in combination or regardless of others often taking a competitive stance so as to maximize one's own gain, while hurting those of other team members (Pruitt, 1981; Graham, 1986; Graham et al., 1988).

Power Distance:

The dimension of power distance reflects a culture's acceptance of social inequality. In different words, power distance refers to the limit that those in lower social groups accept as a given the power and status of those in higher groups.In societies where power distance is at higher side,there is mostly a universal acceptance of notion ,that those with higher status deserve the respect they are afforded without any question

Unquestioning tends to greater levels of loyalty in organizational context and the taking of actions only after total approval of the superior. In high power distance cultures, policy of centralized decision making is followed rather than exception (Hofstede, 1980), presenting formidable barriers to teams that are highly interdependent (Shane, 1993). Thus, this should not be taken as a surprise that research suggests that members with a high power distance orientation will o seek approval before initiating any action, since they are accountable to having those at the top of the hierarchy make final decisions (Ueno and Sekaran, 1992). Generally, individuals with high power distance orientation are uncomfortable in determining authority and having decision-making powers given to them (Adler, 1997; Hofstede, 1980, 1991).

Within the group, team members at times were with a sense of low in power distance and inclined to be more of egalitarian in nature. These group members largely (though not completely) viewed each other as equals. Specifically, members within this cultural dimension interacted vertically within the group work and always seeking for approval and resources from those in power of other teams (Katz and Tushman, 1983). However, it is argued that the method of equality diminishes hierarchical power in organizations and further it encourage acting without full sanction from one's superiors in low power distance cultures. Hence, these members followed agendas of their own and were bypassing the leader (Howell and Higgins, 1991). That said these practices did not preclude those individuals from helping, when needed. Such member were always on wait for those in power but only if the need arose (Howell and Higgins, 1991). Consequently, members low in power distance orientation were more effective in supportive of team actions requiring upward interactions, while members high in power distance were less effective and indeed reluctant to do so.

Uncertainty avoidance:

Uncertainty avoidance has been defined as the limit to which the members of a culture feel afraid by uncertain or unpredictable situations (Hofstede, 1991: 113). Individuals from high uncertainty avoidance cultures feel uncomfortable dealing with uncertain situations, and therefore look for clarification when theey are in doubt (Hofstede, 1980). Cultures high on uncertainty avoidance prefers for structure and clarification, which results in an increment of formal rules and regulations in those cultures. In contrast, individuals from low uncertainly avoidance cultures tend to prefer a less regulated or strict organizational structure, hence opting to deal with ambiguous situations rather than seek clarification (Hofstede, 1991).

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In terms of uncertainty avoidance, it can be said the group members were threatened by the unknown situation of a group member leaving the team. In such there was a breakdown of the project events, which led to some low confidence within each members as this member was the group leader and also had strong characteristics. As per Hofstede such situation leads to not only less confidence and less motivation, but also lacks innovative thinking. Thus the uncertainty avoidance led to a resistance in innovation and creativity by the team members. It was this uncertainty avoidance, which led to a threat situation for the whole team.

Avoidance/Addressing behaviour

Another dimension, which was noticed during the project work, was avoidance / addressing behaviour. The group either denied there was a conflict existing or even acknowledging that a conflict exists. The team members tended to change the subject, when someone tried to discuss thereby involving avoidance behaviour cultural dimension. Avoidance tactics included topic shifting to avoid the specific issue of conflict, avoiding a member altogether, postponing discussion, talking about abstract things rather than the conflict on hand, silence and denying that a problem exists (Canary, Cunningham & Cody, 1988). Avoidance behaviour as per Weldon et al., (1996) exists when members do nothing to deal with the situation. As previously mentioned the group had a more of a collectivist approach. Hence research suggests, collectivists are more of avoiding a conflict than individualists who address it more likely (Adler et al., 1992, Barnland, 1975, Cupach, 1982, Graham, 1984, & Graham et al., 1987).

Recommendations & Guidelines:

Addressing the above issues, it can be said diverse cultures within a team tend to correspond to basic assumptions preferences and highly influence them to move towards a cultural dimensions addressed above. Let us look at some recommendations based on the theories surrounding these dimensions to provide guidelines for future project.

It is important that within a group the collectivist approach seems apt when working towards a project (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1997:52). They further add the manager or leader to be seriously affected by individualist approach. It is important to note certain areas of vital importance like negotiation, decision-making and motivation. As a leader there should be incentive based projects. This should relate to the achievement be it in academic terms or in a company project in monetary terms based on performance. Based on the empirical studies, the issue of power distance relates more towards individualism (Bochner & Hesketh, 1994; Bond, Wan et al., 1985; Franke, Hofstede et al., 1991). It is this individualistic approach at times, where there should be focus on equality among team members versus hierarchical structure. This is based on the assumption that treating members within a group as equal individuals is the best way to motivate them (Hampden Turner & Trompenaars, 1993).

Research suggests that interaction with outside constituents enables members to deal with any external threats or opportunities, which might confront them by allowing members to understand the ambiguities within their environment (Ancona & Cadwell 1992a; Lyonski et al., 1988). It is the acquisition of information, which reduces the ambiguities and avoids uncertainties. Members should not rely on one team member and should look for support either within themselves or look for outside support from their tutors and avoid ambiguities or uncertainties (Hofstede, 1991). As for avoiding conflict by not addressing it, it is best to move towards a direct behaviour dimension of culture. This should include acknowledging conflict and overt actions in contrast to not acknowledging it (Chua & Gudykunst, 1987). As per Weldon et al., 1996, members using overt actions will conduct conflict management behaviour in a professional manner.

In conclusion it is important to note that the cultural dimensions play an important role within any team and it project. The interaction of team member's effects from a combination of cultural values be it from a specific country. Each team has a varied combination of people and therefore there are various challenges, which may imply different norms and styles. However there needs to be some agreement on how to make decisions, a leaders attitude on how to deal with conflict etc.


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