International Business
A Reflection on Cross Cultural Interaction

Applications of Cross Cultural Theory

The cross cultural theories taught in the module are very good for students to understand how culture may differ among people around the world. It is very good to be remembered by the students, so that they can apply it in cross cultural communication or management. One of the very useful frameworks is the Hofstede cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 1993). Such a framework can more readily prepare me to analyze the cultural differences between people. In this section, the Hofstede cross cultural framework will be applied, to discuss my experiences on cultural similarities or differences between me and my peers (i.e., the group members as well as course mates or even friends in the university).

High or low power distance. I found that people from countries such as India, Pakistan or many part of countries in Asia has high power distance. They seem to be not willing or very afraid to critique the decisions of the leaders. Besides, they are more likely to follow the instruction of the leader, or the tutor without much questions. Many of the time, they will respect the elder people, or higher position people in the organization. In contrast, people from the West, such as France or UK, have lower power distance. They can talk openly between the followers or the leaders. It can be observed that the leaders or the tutors are so open-minded to talk with the students or the followers in such a friendly manner. They do not have the ego, or perceive that they should enjoy certain privilege from their rank or position or seniority. Me personally, as a Chinese (well, many of my friends as well), is having moderate power distance. We will respect the leader and the elder person, while at the same time, may not follow their advice depending on our own judgment. The power distance between elder and younger people among Chinese (or between leader and follower) is more based on the situations.

Individualism and collectivism. Individual performance is something highly valued by people from western countries. They have strong individualism culture. However, that is generally less true for countries such as from India, Pakistan or China. People from these countries tend to place more emphasize on team work, and the good and close relationships between team members. Although individual performances are also valued, they are not something that is allowed to spoil the effectiveness or the smoothness or harmony of the group work or relationships. However, people from other countries such as from Malaysia, and some from China as well, tend to have mixed behaviors. In certain situation, they can show high desire for individual performances. For example, they can show the desires to score well in exam, or to dominate the group work during assignments or presentations. In other times, they may suddenly become more team oriented, when they go out together with friends for gathering, or social works.

Masculinity or femininity. Basically, most of the people exhibit strong degree of masculinity culture. For example, people tend to value effectiveness, performance, and faster completion of work. They will put more emphasize on results. Besides, in many of the culture, the male dominate the decision making process. This is particularly true for culture from places such as India, Pakistan, China, Thailand and Japan (Sumantra et. al., 2002). The female often has no idea, or seemingly cannot push forwards their personal ideas to be accepted by the others.

High or low uncertainty avoidance. It can be seen that different people may exhibit different degree of uncertainty. However, based purely on personal observation, the high or low uncertainty avoidance is an issue more on the family background, but less on national culture. For example, no matter where the person come from, as long as their family background is dealing with businesses (i.e., business owners or self-employed professionals), they tend to embrace uncertainty. They love to take risks, and will not deter by failure. However, people in which their family is from government officers or employed workers, they tend to be very conservative. They want something certainty, and do not love to take risks. They see risks as something harmful to them. For them, even talking about taking risks can be stressful for them. They simply do not like uncertainty.

Focus on Self

The course is good to make myself understand myself better. In the course, I found I am more able to understand my behaviors, which I never know that is my habits or behaviors before the module. In fact, in the earlier stage, I do not even admit that my culture is having certain characteristics, but after some deep thinking, I found that some of the findings or assertions are true. By understanding myself more, I then can try to pick what behaviors I want to exhibit in a more logical way. That is very different, where I may not think much, but to fall back to my habits in making decisions or to act in certain way. Through the interactions on the group, I had become much more open minded, and less sensitive to actions or words used by people from other culture. I start to believe that people have different culture, and hence, we cannot blame them for acting in their culturally accepted way. Apart from that, such a module also enlarges my context to think about more deeply on business management. In the globalization world, I found that business management is becoming a more complicated subject, whereby the manager should not only have technical competency, but also ability to deal with all sorts of people in the organization. To deal with all sorts of people from different culture is challenging, and it definitely takes a lot of experience to become good at it. The module has forced to be exposed to such experiences, and I can feel that my interpersonal skills have been improving since then. At first, I started to become more aware on the many issues that I previously not aware of. Then, I started to pay more attention on myself, my assumptions, my thinking process. Later, I started to observe how people act and think. I have been becoming more sensitive to small signal used by people in the interaction process. For example, when someone turns they head down, or pretend to think something for some time, they may not agree on my ideas or proposition. Now, I can more readily observe or sense if I had speak of something perhaps annoying to some people, as I can see it from the facial reaction. All these are not something I practiced often before I am exposed to the subject of cross cultural management. Overall, I had also become more aware on the differences between people. I soon found that culture can be different not only from the nationality perspectives, but also from the profession, industry or family background perspectives. In effect, everybody is different, as they are affected by some many different cultures. For example, people whose family background is a doctor can have very different culture compared to those people from a business or entrepreneurship background. The course is very good to expose me to the issues of culture in such as wide context. It allows me to see things from many perspectives as well. By able to evaluate things from different angles, and then to think about certain issues from even opposing perspectives, I can found that I able to become more creative by just doing that. Put it simple, a person can really become more creative and resourceful when he imagine he is the different people, and then to approach a certain issues or ideas from different cultural settings. With that, he can found himself easy to perceive a certain issue from wide perspectives, and have better understanding on the real picture (or more comprehensive picture) on what is happening. That is certainly useful for problem solving or decision making process.

Focus on Other Individuals

In working as a group, different people will bring different impacts to the group work. For example, people who have high uncertainty avoidance want the assignment to be completed in a conservative manner. They do not want to try out new things, or try to be creative to ‘show-off’ the ideas or creativity possessed by the group. Thus, the many ideas are dropped, as people may not come into agreement on the creative ways to presents ourselves should be adopted. However, depending on the majority, people can be changed or forced to change as well. They may be required to follow the opinions of the majority, in an indirect manner. For example, when more people want to finish the work assigned fast (i.e., a sign of performance orientation), those focus on the process of relationships between people are forced to work on a result orientation basis. For them, the process may be dull, or not very meaningful, but as most people want to finish the work assigned fats, they are pressured by the group members’ expectations and to complete the work fast as well.

Focus on Interactions

By going through the module, the interaction between people had been changing fast. There are several changes can be found. Firstly, people become more acceptable to the behaviors or style of their friends from different culture or nations. They may not have such a highly intense negative feelings towards certain people from certain culture. For example, some people from different culture may talk loudly, as that indicate they are enjoying, open, and confident in the conversation. However, some people from other culture, may used to talking in a soft manner. It can be seen that when all these people are taught about cultural differences, they become more used to the ways other behave. Secondly, people starts to build up certain expectation on other people from different culture. For example, when we understand that people from Pakistan have the culture of high power distance, we will not try to argue with him when he had become the leader to manage certain works assigned to him. In contrast, when he is not the leader, we expect him to be quiet and shy away, as they may not openly questions the leader requests, ideas of demands. Yet, another important thing is that when it is learned that the Chinese are having collective culture, people starts to place more importance of feelings, friendships or emotions matter when dealing with the Chinese. It can be seen that people do learn that to better interact with the Chinese; they should firstly make friends with the Chinese. Based on those relationships, then only they move towards talking about other more serious works or projects. However, from my personal perspectives, I feel that is weird, and uncomfortable, as it can be seen people are faking the behaviors when dealing with me. Thirdly, it can be seen that people can become more easily to interact with each other. Awareness on cultural differences is always ‘on’. For example, people may ask directly, saying that “is this culturally acceptable in your culture?” All these enable the communication to become more respecting, and ease the condition from stressful interactions.

Focus on Cultural Diversity

In the group work, it can be seen that people from different culture can be hard to work together with the Chinese, when there are more than two Chinese (i.e., majority) in the group, while the other group members are from different culture. The group become not easy to function well, as people can have different expectations, different needs and react differently to different people (Woods et. al., 1995). For example, the minority may not understand certain decision supported by the majority group members. Not only is that, people simply may not know how to communicate well with the Chinese. There are several reasons for such situations. Firstly, when I speak to my friends, we have different way of communication. Most of the time, the important ideas or assumptions are known to each of each, but is not known to other group members. As we do not mentioned these assumptions or about what we value most (whereby, in many times, we do not even know exactly about our own assumptions), our communications can be short and yet carry a lot of meanings. People from different culture may not understand that, but nonetheless, they can smell that something is missing. However, the problem is that we, all of us, do not know what is missing. This is a great challenge for effective group work, as it seems will deteriorate the trusts between group members. Secondly, when we speak in the Chinese style, people may not understand our English. The arrangement of words can be hard to be understood by the people from different culture, of different language. Besides, when we do not have close relationship with other team members, it is too easy for us to not show same degree of kindness or communication intensity to them, causing them to not really feel to be in a same group. All these are serious issues to be solved for better team work.

For this, I have learned that in real life, communication process between people cannot achieve a total efficiency rate of 100%. For similar words, people may have different interpretation. Not only is that, people have different feelings to the same words, based on their experience of culture (Krefting et. al., 1997). Besides, a lot of things are not communicated. Very often, we simply assume that some things that we used to be thinking or assuming are known by others (Devoe et. al., 1999). That is not true, as people may not understand the assumptions or the thinking style adopted by us. Worst, for many people, they may not even aware that they have certain assumptions of expectations in the communication process. When all of these assumptions or expectations are not clarified, they will often cause confusion and lead to wrong interpretation between people. Thus, for effective communication, especially for cross cultural, it is important that people should not understand the culture of others, but also have better understandings on personal culture, as these personal assumptions often have huge impacts to the communication process.

 

References & Bibliography

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Devoe, D. (1999). Managing a diverse workforce. San Mateo, CA: InfoWorld Media Group.

Hofstede, G. (1993). Cultural constraints in management theories. The Executive, 7(1), 81-93.

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Krefting, L. A., Kirby, Susan L., & Krzystofiak, F. J. (1997). Managing diversity as a proxy for requisite variety: Risk in identity-conscious inclusion and pressures to conform. Journal of Management Inquiry, 6(4), 376-386.

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Saraga, E. (1998).  Embodying the Social: constructions of difference.  London: Routledge

Schneider, S. & Barsoux, Jean-Louis. (2003). Managing across cultures (2nd ed.). Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.

Schneider, S. C. and Barsoux, J-L. (1997).  Managing Across Cultures (2nd Ed).  Harlow: Pearson.

Sumantra, G. & Bartlett, C., (2002). Managing across borders: The transnational solution (2nd ed.). Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Walker, D., Walker, T. and Schmitz, J. (2003).  The Guide to Cross-Cultural Success: Doing Business Internationally.  U.S.A.: McGraw-Hill

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