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Culture means the customary beliefs, social norms, values, material traits, and behavior patterns transmitted from generation to generation that distinguish groups of people. Cultural background affects how individuals communicate and how they interpret messages received from others.
Five generally recognized core cultural dimensions are ethnicity, race, gender, age &physical disability. In addition to these core cultural dimensions for individuals, organizations such as corporations have behavioral expectations, values, and patterns of operation that are referred to as organizational or corporate culture.
Large corporations such as Microsoft seek personnel diversity that represents the multicultural environment in which the organization operates. The Standards of Conduct for Microsoft states the belief that retaining and fully engaging diverse talents leads to enhanced innovation in products and services.
The ability to successfully foster, improve & form relationships with the members of different cultures is known as cross-cultural communication.. It is based on other culture's manners, values, decision-making practices, social structure & perceptions, and the way of communication of group members - in person, verbal or non verbal, or in writing.
For understanding to take place, both people must have some form of knowledge or awareness regarding the norms or customs that exist in each other's culture.
It is essential that people understand the potential problems of cross-cultural communication, and make a conscious effort to overcome these problems and important to assume that one's efforts will not always be successful, and adjust one's behavior appropriately.
For example, one should always assume that there is a significant possibility that cultural differences are causing communication problems, and be willing to be patient and forgiving, rather than hostile and aggressive, if problems develop. One should respond slowly and carefully in cross-cultural exchanges, not jumping to the conclusion that you know what is being thought and said.
If words are used differently between languages or cultural groups, however, even active listening can overlook misunderstandings. Active listening can sometimes be used to check this out-by repeating what one thinks he or she heard, one can confirm that one understands the communication accurately.
Intermediaries are helpful in translating both the substance and the manner of what is said.
The impact different cultures have on people's behavior, emotions and thought processes are the focus of cross-cultural psychology. The norms and values within a culture go a long way toward shaping a person's psychological make-up and how she interacts with her environment.
Cross-cultural research examines how different cultures compare in terms of human behavior. The purpose of this research is to address the growing conflicts and global concerns that arise as a result of cultural differences.
Impact of Cross-Cultural Differences on Employee's behavior:
Individual behavior in organizational setting varies across cultures. The behavior patterns are likely to be widespread and pervasive within an organization.
Culture itself is an important variable for this variation. There are also other factors like differing standards of living and varied geographical conditions which cause variations in behavior. However, culture is a significant factor.
Although behavior within organizational setting remains quite diverse across cultures, organizations themselves appear to be increasingly similar. Hence, managerial practices at a general level may be alike, but the people who work with in organizations differ markedly.
The same manager behaves differently in different cultural settings. A manager may adopt one set of behaviors when working in one culture, but may change those behaviors when moved into a different culture.
Cultural diversity can be an important source of energy in enhancing organizational effectiveness. More and more organizations are realizing the virtues of cultural diversity, but surprisingly, little do they know how to manage it.
Issues in Cross-Cultural Communication:
Language: When people do business, they need to be speaking the same language. Even if two folks are not naturals of a certain language, there must exist a certain consistency in the verbiage in order to avoid some potentially catastrophic circumstances.
Workplace: More and more managers are seeing problems within their own workplace because of a lack of understanding of other cultures. It simply involves two people of a different ethnic background who do not understand the other culture well enough to effectively communicate with each other.
Lack of communication: This most often occurs when managers and upper level management do not feel the need to communicate with their workers because they do not know how.
Use of jargons: workers do not mean to harm anyone when they choose hurtful words, but the damage can often times be irreparable. In this case, it is always better to be safe than to be sorry.
Barriers of Communication:
A number of communication barriers exist when we are interacting with people from different cultures. These are:
Discrimination & Harassment:
Discrimination is showing favoritism toward or prejudicial rejection of people because of differences.
Business communication between the sexes calls for a clear understanding of remarks and actions that could be construed as sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature or with sexual overtones. It may occur for men as well as women.
A victim of continued offensive behavior should report the harassment to the proper person in the organization.
Lack of knowledge & understanding of cultures: An understanding of cultures means being aware that individuals within each culture have similarities and differences. It means responding to people as individuals while recognizing that cultural backgrounds and experiences influence behavior and communication.
Cultural Relativism & Ethonocentrism:
Cultural relativism compares the values and behavior of different cultures and usually means judging them against standards of right and wrong. This approach to other cultures becomes a barrier when you assume that cultural beliefs, values and behaviors are wrong if they differ from those of your culture.
Ethnocentrism is the inherent belief that your own cultural tradition and values are correct and superior. People around the world are ethnocentric to a degree. Beliefs, values, and behaviors that differ from those of your culture may seem peculiar, strange and even wrong.
An increase in multicultural interactions presents language challenges. When organizations communicate with the large number of people who speak the languages other than English - misunderstandings may occur.
Non verbal language influences the receiver's understanding and acceptance of a spoken message.
If the message receiver perceives a difference between the sender's verbal and nonverbal messages, he or she is more likely to believe the non-verbal than the verbal communication.
In multicultural business communication, non verbal signs vary as much as spoken languages do. Nonverbal greetings vary from a bow to a handshake or from a hug to an upward flick of the eyebrows.
Not understanding cultural differences in nonverbal messages causes communication problems.
How to overcome Cross-Cultural Communication barriers?
Introducing employees who will be working together in a non-threatening environment enables a good working relationship long term. Learning about another culture's language, rules and norms for acceptable behavior helps prepare your employees to deal with situations as they arise.
Conducting activities to demonstrate how dependent we are on language.
Provide workshops, tips and techniques for communicating effectively in cross-cultural work environments.
Coach employees to mediate conflicts related to cultural misunderstandings. Provide opportunities for employees to respond to situations from viewpoints different than their own.
Multicultural Communication Guidelines:
Understand your own culture: Improve communication with others by increasing awareness of your own culture and its influences on your beliefs, values, and behavior patterns. Recognize that your cultural background and experiences shape how you think, what you value, and how you communicate.
Identify and adapt to language differences : If you are communicating with persons from another culture, learn how that culture's verbal and nonverbal languages differ from your own. Observe and learn the meaning of nonverbal communication signal such as facial expressions, social distance for conversing, and hand gestures. Avoid nonverbal signals that may be offensive.
Keep an open mind and respect diversity: Learn about other cultures, beliefs, and customs without judging them by your own cultural identity and unexamined biases. This is not to suggest that you change your beliefs or disrespects your own culture, but rather that you recognize that cultural values affect beliefs and behaviors and that understanding how others interpret verbal and nonverbal language helps your communication receive the intended response.
High Context vs. Low Context Cultures:
Indirect communication patterns
Direct and specific communication
Fewer words, more nonverbal clues
High value on words rather than shared background.
Simple, ambiguous messages
Structured messages with technical details.
Highly verbal people perceived as unattractive; smiling associate with nervousness.
Informal, smile frequently, and frequent use of hand gestures and facial expressions
Reliance on long term relationships and underlying messages.
Transitory personal relationships; shared background not assumed for meanings.
Long term view of time.
Short term view of time.
Appointments considered flexible, "on time" may be within a half hour , week, or month
Emphasis on appointments, management of schedules, and punctuality.
Vague, non confrontational language preferences
Focus on getting a job done, succeeding, and profitability
Honor and face more important than business; defer to power and position
Transitory personal relationships; ideas and people assumed as equals.
Strategies for Effective Communication:
Aspects of Japanese Culture
Communication & Relationships:
On the basis of personal relationships, Japanese prefer to do business.
Greetings or seasonal cards maintain good relationships.
The person should be good correspondent to maintain communication & relationship with the Japanese.
Being recommended by someone who already know the Japanese company & also have good relationships would create a good impression.
Person must be vigilant at observing Japanese's non-verbal communication as they have crucial time saying 'no'.
Japanese are non confrontational.
Japanese prefer broad agreements.
Never raise your voice or loose temper during negotiations.
Be patient as Japanese remain silent for long time.
A gesture of goodwill - using Japanese lawyer.
Wait to be introduced.
Formal greetings & ritualized.
Impolite to introduce yourself.
Shoe correct amount of respect.
Traditional form of greeting - bow.
Understanding Foreign Ways:
They don't expect foreigners to speak or read in Japanese language.
As long as respect is shown, mistakes are allowed.
They are ready to help always but often feel embarrassed due to lack of knowledge of English.
Non-Verbal communication of Japanese:
Frowning is considered as a sign of disagreement when someone is speaking.
An impassive expression is maintained by Japanese while speaking.
Japanese rely on tone of voice, posture & facial expression to tell them what someone feels.
Staring at another person's eyes is considered disrespectful.
Scratching the eyebrow, inhaling through clenched teeth, scratching back of the head & tilting the head are some expressions to watch out.
Remove shoes & put on slippers before entering.
For dinner, arrive on time.
Dress formally until you've not been told that the occasion is casual.
Put on the toilet slippers before going to the toilet & then remove it when you're finished.
Men should wear conservative , dark colored suits.
Business attire is conservative.
Women should dress conservatively.
Business Meeting Etiquettes:
Rather than sending fax, letter or email, its better to telephone for an appointment.
Appointments should be made in advance for several weeks.
Arrive on time for meetings. Be punctual.
Japanese may take several weeks to be comfortable with you. Be patient and calm.
To prove trustworthiness & ability, respond quickly.
Present the senior most member of the company with a gift , at the end of the meeting.
Never refuse a respect by Japanese, as they believe in Long-term relationships.
A small amount of business may be awarded as a trial tto know if you meet your commitments.
The most senior Japanese person will be seated furthest from the door, with the rest of the people in descending rank until the most junior person is seated closest to the door.
Being a group society, be ready for a group meeting, even if you are expecting to meet only one person.
Always provide a package of literature about your company including articles and client testimonials