Imagine that you work for a multinational IT company and have been transferred to Japan for five years project. You want to adjust yourself culturally to the new environment so that you do not have cross cultural problems.
Which aspect of the local culture would you wish to observe and understand in order to avoid problems of cross cultural communication?
Communication is the process of exchanging ideas, facts and figures from one person to another. The term cross cultural implies interaction with people of different cultural, ethnic, age and class backgrounds.
Communication is interactive in nature and is greatly influenced by our relationship with others. Different words may mean different meanings to different people. In addition to this what makes cross cultural communication really difficult is the difference in language even the same word can mean different things.
Cross cultural communication is a form of global communication which describes how people of different culture communicate and interact with each other in different ways among themselves.
Cross cultural communication is a field of study that draws various ways that we have learned to speak and gives non-verbal messages.
Thus miscommunication is likely to happen when it involves significant cultural differences among the communicators. This is what known as Cross Cultural difference.
FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
There are six different cultural patterns that tend to vary from one person to another person. These are discussed as follows:
Varying communication styles
The way people communicate varies widely within people of different cultures. What may mean to one person may have a different meaning to other person. This aspect of communication style is known as language usage. Some words carries different meaning across different cultures.
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Another aspect of the communication style is the degree of importance given to verbal and non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication not only includes gestures and facial expressions but also involves sense of time, personal distance etc.
Different approaches to completing the tasks
Approaches to completing tasks vary from culture to culture. The reason behind this is different judgments of the rewards associated with the accomplishment of the task, different notions of time and access to resources available.
For example Asian culture tends to give more importance to the developing relationships and emphasize more on the task completion towards the end as compared to the European-American culture.
Varying attitudes towards conflicts
Some cultures see conflict in positive manner while others view it as something to be avoided. In the U.S conflict is not considered to be desirable however people often are encouraged to directly face conflicts as they arise.
In eastern countries conflicts are considered to be embarrassing; a written exchange might be favorable means to address the conflict instead of speaking.
Different styles of decision making
The role played by an individual in decision making process varies from culture to culture.
For example in US decisions are frequently delegated i.e. an official assigns the responsibilities to the subordinates associated with the task while in Japan consensus is the preferred mode.
Different attitudes towards disclosure
In some cultures it is not considered appropriate to be open about emotions, personal feelings and information or a conflict or misunderstanding. When you are working with others or dealing with a conflict questions like what was the conflict about? Or what was your role in the conflict may seem natural to you but may seem intrusive to others.
Varying approaches to knowing
Differences are likely to occur among cultural groups when it comes to knowing things. For example European culture tends to consider information acquired by measuring and counting rather than the other ways of coming to knowing things. Compare that to African cultures preference for affecting ways of knowing things including rhythm and symbolic imagery.
Some of the common aspects and challenges that he observed in Japanese culture are discussed as follows:
Rules and etiquettes
Japanese adheres closely to rules and regulations. It was clearly evident from the low crime rates. Aspects of etiquettes include vocabulary, grammar for polite conversation, Principles for exchanging gifts and greeting others. This made him aware that Japanese are very certain about their rules and regulations.
In Japan a strong hierarchical structure still exists with respect, responsibility and authority being rewarded based on age, status and experience. When communicating with Japanese it is considered wise to pay attention towards the face. Face is closely linked with personal pride and forms the basis for an individual’s status and reputation. Damaging face through over confrontation can be disastrous for business relationship in Japan.
Concept of time
Time is one of the major challenges while working in Japanese culture as Japanese are very strict regarding the punctuality. While working being early or on time for all appointments, meetings whether formal or informal is a show of respect and sincerity towards the task while any event of being late requires an apology.
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Understanding communication style is another biggest challenge that is often faced while working in Japanese culture. Japanese have a preference for indirect and high context communication. They emphasize more on the impact of body language, developing relationship, emotions and other non-verbal communication.
In Japan there is more emphasizing on collectivism rather than individualism. They place significant emphasize on loyalty towards the group. In Japanese culture it is important to understand that praising or prioritizing any one individual over others is likely to be embarrassing.
Excessive hard working attitude
Japanese people are highly dedicated to their work. For them, there is no day-night, hunger-thirst. When they are determined to achieve something, they achieve it any cost without thinking about any kind of comfort. For example if in India, 10 cars are manufactured in a day then in Japan, that number is 100. So, this is also a major challenge.
OVERCOMING CROSS CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
No matter whom you are or where you live or which culture you come from it is important to recognize that although other people may dress like you or even work for the same company they are not just like you. Some of the common aspects that Mr. A observed and decided to follows in order to overcome cross cultural differences are discussed as follows.
The key to effective cross cultural communication is knowledge. It is very essential for people to understand the potential problems of cross cultural communication and to be prepared to adjust your behavior accordingly.
Try to learn from generalizations about other cultures, but do not use those generalizations to oversimplify your ideas about other persons. One should practice and practice because the more effort you put in observing and learning about other culture more easily you can overcome cross cultural difference.
One should not assume that his way of communicating is the only right way of communication in fact one should keep questioning about his assumptions about the right way to communicate.
Try to listen actively and empathetically. By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes especially when other person’s perceptions and ideas are completely different from your own, you might need to operate at the edge of your own comfort zone.
Another key ingredient that helps in overcoming cross cultural difference is developing awareness about an individual’s culture. This is because if you don’t have understanding about different cultures than how do you communicate to someone who understands and relates to the world differently to you.
Reflective listening plays an important role in overcoming cross cultural differences. It is very helpful in checking out the meaning of what someone says by repeating back what you have heard which in turn helps you to confirm what has been said accurately.
Another important point that one must keep in his mind at workplace is to be wise. People need to be aware how to interact with people with respect and knowledge. One must show maturity of thought and action in dealing with people.
Thus working across different cultures requires a diverse skill set and a different business approach from business in general.
When bridging the cultures both similar and foreign to our own certain strategies are crucial for the success of international project which are briefly described as follows.
Learning about the project beforehand
This helps to get a feel for the atmosphere, attitude and the angle that the business has.
Observing new environment
One must carefully observe how people act, dress and treat each other. This will keep a person’s observation skills engaged and alert to elements that will help you to adjust in new environment easily.
Allow more time
Working across different culture takes more time to adjust. Communication may be slowed and logistics may be different. Give yourself more time to process information before taking any decision.
Learn to tolerate uncertainty
Definitive and concrete answers may not always be given especially when you working with Japanese culture with high tolerance for uncertainty.
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