Working Within Hierarchies In Intercultural Backgrounds Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Our interviewee has had the opportunity of working in various dissimilar organizational cultures where the term hierarchy holds entirely different relevance and values. According to him, 'Hierarchy' is more of an 'old-school philosophy' in developing Asian world. Career development is based not only on individual's performance but also on his/her loyalty towards organization. The greater the number of years an individual has given to an organization, the greater is the probability of him stepping higher in the ladder. He also observed that good relationships with subordinates and superiors can significantly increase one's ability to meet his/ her professional commitments. In Asian culture, the hierarchy is predominantly 'Vertical' whereas superiors are respected and orders are received. It is assumed that hierarchy will be maintained both within and outside the organization's premises. 6

As globalization continues to expand at an increasingly rapid rate it becomes more and more evident that intercultural awareness and adaptability are not only positive assets, but also required competencies in regards to effective business management. As a result of our studies and experiences we recognize the importance of intercultural understanding and the ability to interact effectively with diverse cultural environments now more than ever. In search of further insights to intercultural management we conducted and interview with Karim Elguindi, a Technical/ Program Consultant at the Ministry of Social Solidarity in East Timor. We selected this individual as our interviewee for his unique cultural background, exposure and experiences regarding intercultural management. Below you will find a summation of our questions; our interviewee's applicable responses and our interpretations in regards to the theories presented in class as well our collective intercultural understandings and experiences.

First, he talked about his background. He told us that he was born in Japan from a Japanese mother and an Egyptian father. Then he moved to Saudi Arabia, Canada, Italy and Pakistan with them. When he was old enough he decided to move again, alone, to Canada. After that he spent a lot of time travelling and living abroad, (he still spends a lot of time traveling). Another element, which helped him build his diverse intercultural background, was his parents, who told him stories about their work life across the world, (about Africa from his father and about South America and the Middle East from his mother). This made him more aware of what 'intercultural' means. As he lived in very different countries with very different cultures, he usually has a good understanding of what to do or not to do in when faced with diverse cultural situations while he also tries to avoid stereotyping and analyzes others behaviors instead of criticizing them.

After that he talked about the advantages he finds in possessing such a great cultural diversity. The first one is 'better understanding of foreign people's behavior'. This is apparently useful for him as people usually don't expect him to be able to understand them. Therefore, he gains a competitive advantage, which helps him not to consider stereotypes but instead act against them. The other advantage of his situation is 'greater ease in adaptability'. As he has a heavily intercultural background it is easier for him to shift from one group to another with fewer difficulties than many others might have. This helps him to save time in the trust building step. The last advantage he finds in having such a great intercultural exposure is that, because of this unique cultural composition, he is considered different in different parts of the world. For example, he is considered European in Africa, Latin in Asia and Pakistani in Canada. This gives him the ability to experience various points of view and clichés regarding different cultures.

Next he described the disadvantages of his situation. The first one is related to childhood. As you always look different from the people you grow with, you are never properly accepted. At that time he was more into internet and globalization. The second point is related to his present life. Even though his parents are Egyptian and Japanese, the fact that he has been fortunate enough to have international exposures and has become so multi-cultural that now he is considered neither Japanese nor Egyptian. He has too broad a number of different cultures to be characterized by any single one.

Section 2: Positive / Negative Impacts of Working in an Intercultural Environment

Globalization is defined as 'a process whereby worldwide interconnections in virtually every sphere of activity are growing; some of these interconnections lead to integration/unity worldwide; others do not' (Parker, 2005). It drives the economic interconnections worldwide. More business activities, such as mergers and acquisition, outsourcing and exporting, take place in the global arena, which, in turn, makes multinational companies seek human resources who possess cross-cultural perspectives and knowledge of different cultures. To study the impact of globalization and increasingly culturally diverse work environments, we asked our interviewee 'What are some positive and negative impacts of working in an intercultural environment'. According to his abundant experience of working in different countries, he presented that working in an intercultural environment has both strengths and weakness for business progress and corporate development. Quoting him, we tried to analyze each of his response.

Positive impacts

"If the scope of business activities is international, it is useful to have co-workers/colleagues that are from or are familiar with target client's cultures."

According to Solberg's (1997) nine strategic windows, when companies reach the mature level of preparedness for internationalization, they consider doing business internationally, in order to gain more resources and market shares. Cultural differences may cause lack of communication, misunderstandings and even cooperation failure. Firms should know the cultures of target clients or partners, so that they can avoid the risk of business failure due to cultural differences.

"It is an indicator that the employers are modern and in-touch with the world (I believe cross-cultural is mainly a good thing."

Globalization leads to the integration of cultures worldwide. Managers, who have inter-cultural perspectives and skills, are more eligible to take the challenge of managing international team and to cooperate with foreign partners successfully.

"People from different cultures may have different ways of doing things. They can complement each other. This, however, can enforce stereotypes, and the notion that persons of specific nationalities are good at different things."

Stereotypes are a categorization of the characteristics and behavior of a set of individuals (Ashmore & Del Boca, 1981). Due respect should be given to the fact that people with different cultural background may have different ideas or solutions of problems. This greatly increases the possibility of success.

"People who have cross-cultural skills might learn different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking which can improve them."

Different cultures have their own values based on their histories and experiences, which influence personal notion and behavior. People who have cultural intelligence have good personal adjustment and have the ability to enhance good interpersonal relationships cross-culturally. Also, they can effectively complete task-related goals.

Negative Impacts

"People from different cultures may have different ways of doing things and they may not complement each other."

As mentioned previously, cultures are formed by history and experience. People from different cultural backgrounds have their own notions and values. Sometimes it is difficult to adapt to other people who have distinct cultures. The conflicts between different cultures negatively influence the corporate harmony and benefit.

"Language barriers and miscommunication."

Language, as the most essential tool of communication, plays an important role in intercultural cooperation and international business. Working in intercultural environment may lead to variance of languages and misunderstandings, and subsequently can damage the efficiency of working.

"If you are a minority (the odd one out) you may have to work harder to prove yourself or to become fully integrated or adjusted, which could be awkward."

When there is big proportion of employees from two different cultural backgrounds, the one in minority may feel pressure to behave according to majority and thus, may become under-confident. One needs to exert more to adapt to the majority's culture, which at the same time interrupts one's self-performance and the contribution to the work.

Section 3: Significance of Hierarchies in Different Cultures

Stupendous knowledge of hierarchy is a substantial asset for efficient management in multi-cultural environment. Hierarchy can be defined as the arrangement of individuals, within an organization, according to their power, status and job functions. It has great influence on the employees' ability to advance within an organization ( In an organization, hierarchies can be either vertical, where power percolates down from top to bottom or it can be horizontal, where power and responsibilities are spread evenly across the organization. We were curious to learn the significance of hierarchy in different cultures and countries and therefore, requested the interviewee to narrate his experiences accordingly.

Our interviewee has had the opportunity of working in various dissimilar organizational cultures where the term hierarchy holds entirely different relevance and values. According to him, 'Hierarchy' is more of an 'old-school philosophy' in developing Asian world. Career development is based not only on individual's performance but also on his/her loyalty towards organization. The greater the number of years an individual has given to an organization, the greater is the probability of him stepping higher in the ladder. He also observed that good relationships with subordinates and superiors can significantly increase one's ability to meet his/ her professional commitments. In Asian culture, the hierarchy is predominantly 'Vertical' whereas superiors are respected and orders are received. It is assumed that hierarchy will be maintained both within and outside the organization's premises.

On the other hand, our interviewee's experiences from working in a Western Urbanized World, presented him with a contrasting picture of Hierarchy. The hierarchy in developed world is more 'Horizontal'. A young recruit enjoys the similar degree of 'Right to question' as any other veteran in an organization. He stated that 'Age' holds no barrier in Western world and a talented youth is respected for his agility and his better access to technological know-how, which older generation lacks. 'Democracy' is the underlying concept adopted to take majority of decisions in developed world. However, he concluded that though democracy in organizations is good but over reliance on democracy can have negative affects as well, as sometimes it merely becomes a popularity contest rather than a means to have best alternative.

Well-versed with both the cultures, he effectively utilizes his knowledge on day-to-day basis. He described an instance where he was required to put his knowledge to practice. He is a consultant working for the Government of East Timor, a Vertical hierarchic country of South-East Asia; on a project which is funded by United Nations, an International organization that follows Horizontal Hierarchy. The Head of project for United Nations was a young professional in his early thirties whereas the Chief appointed by Government was an experienced veteran in his late fifties. Our interviewee struggled hard to make his old boss accept the credentials of young UN professional. It was difficult for the Chief to take orders from a person half his age. Our interviewee acted as a bridge and helped in developing the relationship between the Chief and the UN head. The trust and relationship between the two not only eased the management of project but also increased project's productivity by manifolds.

According to Miller's (1986) work on authority and power, managerial behavior of person is derived not only from personality of the person. It also occurs in the context of the social system in which the organization exists and from which the manager comes. In other words, relative importance of hierarchy is amalgamation of the social system in which people are born, educated and socialized. In this case, we see that our interviewee's diverse background and his immense exposure to different cultures tremendously benefited him to understand various individual's take on hierarchy. Our interviewee exploits the Iceberg model of societal/national culture i.e. three levels of culture (Schein, 1985) and uses them vigorously in his personal and professional life to manage the hierarchy to which he is exposed on a regular basis.

Section 4: Factors that Help the Evolvement of Intercultural Awareness

With the development of technology and the process of globalization, the structure of companies around the world has changed to a large extent. The demand for employees with intercultural and international exposure is rising among companies who want to possess this competitive advantage. Twenty years back, managers may have been in charge of a group of employees that came from same city or province. Currently in regards to globalization, it is highly possible that a manager is still in charge of the group of same size group but its group members are compiled from various areas, France, China, Columbia, etc. Naturally, the significance of intercultural awareness should never be underestimated.

The fourth question we asked was, "How has your intercultural awareness evolved through your various positions and assignments?". The reason why we brought up this question is that we strongly believe that knowing the process of intercultural awareness is quite practical and helpful for us given that we all come from different cultures and have intercultural exposure in our educational studies. Thus, the thing we wanted to know next was 'HOW' to have evolvement of intercultural awareness.

According to the interviewee, he is convinced that more the interaction with different cultures the greater the awareness of differences between groups and people. He stated that the interaction and communication with persons from other cultures provides him the opportunity to observe and to learn their habits and patterns. With those experiences and knowledge gained, he becomes more confident and effective when dealing with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Up till now, we totally agree with him. More experiences, more understandings, more understandings, more sophistication. Also, we believe that with the communication and interaction with different cultures and people, we will definitely see more about our own culture that we may never notice before. As there is an old Chinese saying, 'one can never appreciate the very beauty of the mountain whilst you are on it' (不识庐山真面目,只缘身在此山中). It is true that sometimes we never ask questions about things we have become used to, simply because everybody around us are doing that and we are taught to do so. But when we meet people from other cultures and see the differences between us, it raises our curiosity to uncover the real reason why people are doing so, and hence, we understand more about our own culture.

In his response, he mentioned that his earlier perceptions were that non-western/Asian cultures are more strange and difficult to deal with. He also states that the world is changing and adapting to each other where easterners are learning western cultures and science, whilst westerners are sticking in their ways. He supported this by quoting that there are more Chinese people learning English than western people learning Chinese.

However, while we agree with some aspects of his statement we hold different opinions in others. In his conclusion, he told us that he felt non-western/Asian cultures are more difficult to deal with, and we agree with this to some extent. We believe that the reason for this could be a problem of communication. As discussed in class, the majority of western cultures are low-context countries while most eastern cultures are high-context countries. This means Westerners are straighter and tend to express themselves loudly and clearly; while their counterparts, Easterners express themselves in more indirect ways and try to avoid direct conflicts. Therefore, he feels more comfortable dealing with people from more western cultures. When he claimed that Easterners are adapting to western cultures while Westerners are keeping their own way, we were slightly skeptical about this trend. According to Martin Jacques, the columnist for the Guardian and New Statesman and the author of "When China Rules the World", the reason for this situation is the fact that for the last 200 years Westerners were the dominant power of the world. They didn't need to understand other cultures and civilizations, where two thirds of world's population lived, as they had the military force to make things run in the way they prefer. On the other hand, Easterners were forced to know and to accept western cultures and habits because Westerners were so powerful and dominating. It appears nowadays, that Easterners possess more knowledge of western cultures than Westerners do about the east. However, considering the rapid development of globalization, we believe Westerners are going to have to learn and understand eastern cultures as well.

Section 5: Effectiveness of Communication (verbal/non-verbal, direct/non-direct, languages) in Intercultural Environments

While managing a team and being a part of a team, which is essentially multicultural in nature, communication is a key aspect that should be taken into account. Different cultures have different ways of communication. Body language can play big role is many situations and special care should be taken to avoid unnecessary positive or negative signals. In order to gain insights as to how things work in multicultural environments, we asked interviewee questions regarding communication. The following can be considered as an extract of response we received from interviewee. Most of the advice provided appears relevant and useful.

Our interviewee ascertains that sincerity and enthusiasm in communication are keys to success while facial expressions play an important part of the process. Also it is essential to note that the individual take the opportunity provided to show their attributes, as doing so will help in gaining trust, recognition and appreciation from the people around. Also the way of talking in different parts of world differs vastly. The interviewee gives strong importance to dialects and tones, which are required while working in a diverse cultural workspace. Thus, it is needed to adjust the way we talk. While doing so, be careful to treat others as responsible. Charisma is important; it helps in maintaining the others' interest. It is very important to analyze how we put our words, effective speaking is the key to success. It is imperative not to convey wrong message. While working in diverse culture we need to be precise and correct while conveying the message.

The people around us may often have stereotypes about other cultures; try not to fall prey to it. Our interviewee stressed the importance of leading by example. Remember the fact that nobody is perfect and thus even people around us must have some shortcomings. He continued to stress the analysis of these shortcomings. It is highly possible that we excel in the shortcomings they have. It is essential to present our skills while overcoming their shortcomings in a positive way without hurting others ego. Once this is established, our skills are our strength. In a similar way there can be certain shortcomings that we possess which others can overcome. Don't hesitate to ask for help, most of the time people are always happy to help. Thus, mutually helping each other is essential and gives us an opportunity to get closer to our colleagues.

As an expatriate, we are always working in a different cultural environment. It is necessary to know about the local culture; the interviewee emphasized on this point. He also tries hard to get involved in local cultural activity. He recommends best way to achieve this is to learn local language. By his experience he found out local people are more than happy when we are open to learn their local language; they try to help in this process. While working in East-Timor, he worked on his local language skills and was very successful in making good relationship with local community as well as with local staff. We, as a team, find our experiences so far in France to be quite similar - trying local language, (as such French is quite an international language), trying French food and adapting to the local French cultural has helped us to positively build relationships. With all the good attributes regarding the adaptation and understanding of local culture, the interviewee cautions about using language with senior people in office. According to his opinion language should be used carefully while interacting with seniors, using local language can backfire. As many of us are new to the local language we may not entirely proficient in it, so mistakes are bound to occur which in turn may offend senior and may embed wrong impression about us in his mind. Thus one has to be very careful and aware of these subtle differences.

By being aware and smart one can be quite successful in working in a very international and diverse working atmosphere. Also upon analyzing the argument put by the interviewee an article titled "Communication with Strangers [1] ", we found that in intercultural environment there are three levels of communication. The primary level is the "cultural level", where one receives information regarding the difference between one's culture and the local culture. The second level is the "socio cultural level"; at this level one gather data about people around, their behavior and their lifestyle. Lastly, the third level is the "psycho cultural level"; at this level one gathers information about the individual's characteristics. These guidelines are not to be followed strictly but they provide us the knowledge of how things work in intercultural diverse atmosphere and we can formulate our own methodologies to deal with it.

Section 6: U-Curve of Cross-Cultural Adjustment (Lysgaard, 1955)

In order to better understand the various phases of our interviewee's experiences when adjusting to new cultures we asked that he highlight them according to the U-Curve of Cultural Adjustment. As an individual with a diverse cultural background it was interesting to see how he was able to transition effectively.

When preparing his response to the phases he first mentioned that his dissection of the model would be according to his adjustment in East-Timor. He mentioned that he didn't know what to expect, as he had no comparable culture of relevance therefore he went in "blindly".

The "Honeymoon" stage was full of excitement for the newfound adventure. His interests included the nature and beauty of his new surroundings and a general blissfulness of the unknown environment. The second phase "Decent to Culture-Shock" expanded on the reality of his situation, much different than expectations and preconceptions he had formed. He mentioned the difference in incomes when comparing the local Timorese to the various members that made up the community as well as the adaptability challenges when trying to "fit in" and adjustments not only with cultural beliefs and values but even choices of clothing. The "Adjustment" phase highlights how he gained trust and acceptance to the various groups within the community. As per the locals he showed them that he was not the typical foreigner, (that they were wary of), by actions, words and even "color" in a way. Regarding the European colleagues he built trust through doing some of the more "undesirable" tasks and showing that he could work hard and accomplish the tasks he was assigned. He refers to this point of his adaptation as "part- local part-European". This adjustment was undoubtedly essential to move to the next phase of "Mastery." It is the Mastery phase where he was able to prove his adjustment and adaptation therefore receiving three promotions in just one year's time. He also went on to mention that a proper "balance" of actions as per particular relations helped achieve mastery and overall adjustment to the new cultural environment.

According to Lysgaard's U-Curve of Cultural Adjustment, all aspects of our interviewee's experiences proved true. Lysgaard stated that the "Honeymoon" stage is about "seeing and sounds" and all the new interests of the new surroundings which was reflected in the interviewee's commentary. The second stage "Culture Shock" is depicted as "disillusionment" where the individual must come to realization that they will have to makes essential adjustments to cope with daily life, which was also identified above when he wrote of having to "fit in". During this phase of the model there is a downward slope indicating that this is the most undesirable and/ or unpleasant, but essential, part of the diagram. The third stage Lysgaard titled "Adjustment" where acceptance comes into play and adaptations begin to take place. Gradually during the adjustment phase the slope of the curve begins to climb again indicating an ease out of the "Culture Shock" low point. Our interviewee remarked that this was the point where some of the small changes made big differences in his cultural adjustment evolution. Finally, Lysgaard completed the U-Curve model with the "Mastery" phase in which the individual has adjusted accordingly and therefore had adapted. In the case of our interviewee, we feel as though he more than adapted in the mastery stage, but excelled.


Our interviewee provided us with quite an in-depth knowledge about his experiences and learning, which he acquired through immense intercultural exposure in his personal as well as professional life. From the interview and through our own experiences, we acknowledge the growing importance of intercultural management in this rapidly globalizing world. Cross cultural competence is a competitive advantage, which can bring individuals and organizations to a much higher level than their competitors. It is beneficial to look for similarities rather than differences in different cultures to overcome the cross-cultural differences. Finally we like to conclude our thoughts, our beliefs and our evolvement in inter-cultural awareness through a quote by L. Hoecklin, "The essence of culture is not what is visible on the surface. It is the shared way; groups of people understand and interpret the world. These differing interpretations that cultures give to their environment are critical influences on interactions between working and managing across cultures."