In this section, the many cross cultural theory learned during the course will be applied to Peer Action Learning Sets (PALS). It can be seen that many of the theories taught in the module is very useful – not only useful for business management purposes but also for interaction with other people, primarily those from other culture. Perhaps more importantly, such a module is designed for the students to experience the cross cultural differences. By learning through such a method, the learning processes become more interesting, practical, and more easily to be remembered for applications in the later days. Through such a learning method, it is ensure that the concepts taught in the module enable me to assimilate the information – turning them into knowledge, and personal habits/ behaviors/ mindset when dealing with other person. In this section, the discussions on how the cross cultural theories can be applied will be arranged into four main categories: (a) focus on self, (b) focus on other individuals, (c) focus on interactions, and (d) focus on cultural diversity.
Focus on self. Perhaps the most important contribution of learning the course is enabling me to understand how I am different from others. As culture is ultimately about the basic assumptions, beliefs or rules used by a person in the conduct of daily life or businesses, it is very powerful forces not to be ignored by people to effectively communicate with the others. Such a statement is forcing me to keep thinking about my personal assumptions and beliefs. To think deeply on my personal assumptions has big impacts on my thinking style and my perceptions on myself. Before that, those deeply held beliefs are never being questioned; as I just tend to perceive or perform something in a certain way, without much understand on why I am doing what I am doing. However, that is no longer true as I am exposed to the cultural differences between people, and hence, takes more awareness to reflect upon my own self. For example, I tend to exhibit high power distance, which is argued to be a culture of the Chinese in many of the business management textbooks or journals. Upon deeper reflection, I found that such a tendency is caused by my parents teaching, which is the younger generations should respect the elderly, and not to act rudely or against the elderly, that that is not a good behaviors. From young age, I was taught about filial piety. Such teaching has caused me to respect and avoid dealing in conflicts with those elder than me. If I never question why I am behaving in such a way, I may not understand that my behaviors may no longer useful or practical in the real world. Now, I started to choose if I will continuously respect and follow the advices from the elder person whole-heartedly (which this is simply not possible if I do not even know I have the tendency to avoid all sort of conflicts with elder people). With such reflection, I can then empower myself more, and to choose the right choice for me, without being burdened by my personal assumptions. Apart from that, I had also started to realize how I can have different thinking style with other people from different culture. The materials on cultural differences enable me to understand the different behaviors of people from different part of the world. Not only is that, by understanding how people may differ culturally, I have become more patient in trying to understand the ideas and explanations of other people. I am more able to judge people from their own eyes – i.e., from their cultural settings and beliefs – without prejudices or stereotyping. For example, I tend to think that westerners are very rude, as they can speak loudly with their parents, or even question lecturer/ instructors’ ideas in the class. Now I no longer think in such a way, as I started to see that, the westerners believe such an act is justified, as long as the conflicts are constructive, and they believe that people should have the right and freedom to voice up (which is in contrast to the Chinese that will more likely to suppress own ideas to avoid conflicts with others).
Overall, after studying the cultural differences between people from different part of the worlds, I started more consciously to choose which basic assumptions or beliefs to adopt, as I can see how the culture of other people may be useful in certain situation. For example, in management, high power distance may not be a good thing to do, as it prevent the lower level employees to voice up what is their ideas or observations, which are truly something critical and important to be considered by the top management. Besides, I had slowly to become more flexible. For instances, I can soon switch between the collective or individualism culture, depending on who I am interacting with. No matter how, instinctively, I learned something and I just know it is more proper to act in certain ways when meet with certain people. Although such a new habit is not easily explained by words, it can be felt strongly when I interact with other people.
Focus on other individuals. People from different cultural settings can bring different impacts to the people around (Hofstede, 1993). For example, certain expectations of people from a certain culture can shape the interaction processes between two people from different culture. Apart from that, the tendencies or behaviors of certain people with certain culture will also affect the influence exerted by the particular individuals to others. For example, Chinese are naturally less expressive and less incline to share the ideas with others. Thus, such a behavior will cause the Chinese to contribute less in a discussion. Besides Chinese, other races or people from Asia are found to be more inward than outward, and is less tended to promote own ideas or to voice up certain wants or needs. In contrast, people with western culture may be more readily to express themselves, and to persuade others to follow their ideas. They are more direct in voicing up own opinions, as contrast to people from the east, that tend to communicate indirectly (i.e., high versus low context culture). All these will cause the interaction between people to become more complex, dynamic and unpredictable. The interaction between people from different culture will be discussed in more details in the following paragraphs.
Focus on interactions. As different people have different cultural background, the interactions of people from different culture tend to have more issues or conflicts to be solved. This is particularly obvious when the cultural differences are deep and contradicting. An understanding on such facts will lead us to understand why people around the world may engage in never ending conflicts as well as arguments, as they are all coming from different cultural background. When people come from different background, they tend to use their personal judgment and perspectives to evaluate or interpret a certain events or situations. When other people have different ideas or interpretations, people may simply feel uneasy, and view negatively on the others easily. For example, people from collective culture can always have a lot of conflicts to deal with people from individualism culture. In the collective culture, people tend to make decision together, and place more importance against the relationships between group members. They are more sensitive towards the feelings of others, while value collective actions and performance. In contrast, people from individualism culture tend to be more performance oriented. The put results first, while emotions or good feelings between team members second. All these may create conflicts between team members easily. For example, in order to achieve better results, team member from western country may openly critique the attitudes or ideas or behaviors of other people. That is something acceptable in the western culture, but that is considered as very rude actions or behaviors among those people from the east. In many instance, people from the east may even perceive such an act of open critique as challenging their authority, and thus, felt being threatened. When that happens, people can become unfriendly, and thus, effective team works simply become not possible.
Besides, cultural differences may also cause the interactions between people to become not effective. This is particularly true when the team members do not understand the cultural differences among the members in the group. For example, when people engage in conflicts, they will spend time in not effective efforts such as arguing for their ideas or against other ideas. Instead of listening or viewing from each other perspective, they may waste time defending own positions. In fact, even when people understand that cultural differences may contribute to different ideas, mindset and behaviors, the interactions between people will also take times to become more effective. For example, during group discussions, as we are forced to communicate and discuss with each others, and yet we are well aware that cultural differences exist among different people in the team, we have spent more time thinking about the ideas and the words used by others. This is causing the discussion to be long, and the communication among different people to be stressful, as not only we are required to discuss and communicate in the subject we are assigned to work on, but also on what is really meant by other people from different culture. This means a lot of the time is used to guess and interpreting the language used, body languages and response of the team members, as to avoid conflicts and to try to see from their perspective.
However, the cultural differences may not always be a bad thing for team work, or barriers towards effective human interactions. There are many instances whereby people from different cultural background can come together to contribute towards better performance and more creative decision making or problem solving process. Perhaps the most obvious and significant advantage is that by combining people from different culture, different ideas can be generated. As different ideas can be generated, the creativity of the team can be increased. Besides, it is also apparent that people from different culture tend to suit most or perform best in performing certain jobs. For example, in our team, different people can have different ideas on what is taught by the tutor. Although the same words are communicated by the tutor, and the very fact that all of the students sat in the same classroom, we tend to have very different interpretation. When we talked together, this make us to think how different people can interpret a similar event with such great differences. All of a sudden, we can see things from multiple perspectives. This greatly enlarge our views and enable us to interpret certain things from many different angle, which is a good things when we are learning new concepts, considering various possibilities in decision making, and evaluating certain business scenario or situation.
Focus on diversity. In learning the materials, I am taught that cultural can have many variety depending on the context. For example, there can be cultural differences between nations, industry, professional and even functional areas. I am taught that cultural differences can be characterized by investigating how different people from different countries behave. However, that approach has its limitations. For example, I found that even the Chinese can have many different cultural tendencies. Firstly, those mainland Chinese have different cultural believes compared to those Chinese in other nations around the globe (although it cannot be denied that they have many similarities in many ways as well). Secondly, even the Chinese from China can exhibit different cultural beliefs or behaviors, depending on the location they come from (for example, either North or South of China). For example, after learning that the Chinese have collective culture, some students from the western countries tend to think that all Chinese have such tendency, only to be surprise when they found the Malaysian Chinese can have strong individualism culture. Yet another example, not all Chinese have high context culture, whereby the messages to be communicated are not directly expressed. This is causing that reactions of the Chinese from other countries such as Malaysia or Singapore is not within the expectations of the Chinese from the mainland China. Generally speaking, all these mean that the cultural differences can vary in many different degrees. Individuals are different, and sometimes, it may not be useful to generalize the cultural behaviors of people from certain culture (although that generalization may work most of the time). For example, when I mentioned to my friends from Malaysia that I do not need a cup of water when visiting his room, he really assumed what I am talking is correct. However, that is just a way to be polite and show that I did not mean to trouble him when visiting him for chatting or discussion purposes.
Overall, the module is a great one. It allows and forced us to learn by experiencing communication across culture. Without the module, it is rare for people from different culture to come together, sit down and discuss and experience the cultural differences. This is because instinctively we understand that that is not easy, and it is very not psychologically comfortable to talk to people from different background (especially when the English of all of us are broken and poor). Through the communication process, it is shown how complex it can be for cross cultural communication. However, all these are necessary as it open us the students’ awareness on not only their personal culture or belief system, but also of the differences between cultures of people from different background from other part of the world. Particularly in the era of globalization, an understanding on the cultural differences is very important for business and inter-personal relationships success.
In going through the process of cross cultural communication, it can be observe that there are best practices to be practiced by people for effective cross cultural team. In this section, the many best practices that I discovered are summarized as follow.
Have the awareness on cross cultural differences. Without proper education or instruction provided for people that have no experience in cross cultural communications of interactions, it is hard for people to understand the many issues related to cross cultural interactions. This is because to communicate with people of different mindsets or experiences is never something easy for most of the people (as doing so require them to move out from their comfort zone). Thus, before someone can successfully or effective communicate or work together with people from different cultural settings, it is important for them to be educated, informed on the differences (Guirdham, 1999). This is to ensure that people have proper awareness and the accurate expectations on how cross cultural interaction will be. By having the correct expectations, people will more readily be prepared to engage in effective and successful cross cultural team work.
Have patient for cross cultural communication and discussions to gain results. Cross cultural communication is never something easy. The process required for effective cross cultural interaction and team work may be longer than the normal team work. Thus, it is important for people to spend the necessary time to get everything in context, and to ensure people are ready to involve and participate for successful cross cultural team work. Thus, patient is often required, as rushing for results may not effective. Besides, people must work in a persistent manner, so that they will not give up easily when faced by difficult problems during the interaction process.
Be willing to listen to each other sincerely. Listening skills are highly important for successful cross cultural communication. For cross cultural communication, it is even more important for people to listen carefully to each other (Scollon et. al., 1995), and do not dominate the communication process by keep talking or prepare to talk in order to ensure other will buy into certain ideas. In contrast, the best way to communicate is through listening attentively. By listen to the other perspective, and sincerely listening to the messages attempted to be communicated by the other people, people can sense such sincerity and will end up more willing to discuss any issues openly and constructively. Not only that, without listening carefully to other opinions, it is simply not possible for someone to communicate effectively. This is because listening is the key for two way communication to proceed, and without team members understanding the perceptions and views of the other team members, it is hard for people to come together to agree upon a certain solution, outcome, goals or common work.
Observe the body language. The body language used is very important in cross cultural management, as people may associate a similar word with different meanings. Thus, to rely solely on languages may not be sufficient. Furthermore, in many instances, people from different culture are communicating not in their mother language, but in international language such as English. Thus, it can be expected that people may not actually understand if the words they use are correct, if their interpretation of the words used by the counter party is relevant. Thus, under such a scenario, it is highly important for the people to observe the body language carefully, so that they can catch implicit meanings of make more accurate judgment on the situations.
Tolerate the behaviors of others. In cross cultural interaction, it is simply unreasonable to expect the process will be smooth and without errors (Harris et. al., 2000). In fact, many of the times, mistakes will happen, and certain mistakes may provoke anger between people from different cultural background. Thus, it is very important that people working from different background to have good emotional intelligence and tolerate the mistakes of others. Without this, people may simply lost their mind when they get angry, and once they lost their mind, effective team work is simply not possible. As such, good emotional intelligence and tolerance is required for people to come together, and to undergo the trial and errors process, to pass through the learning curve before they can become more skillful in communicating with each other.
Work towards constructive discussion for creative ideas and benefits from diversity. In a team, it is important for the team members to have a preset and agreed upon goals. This is crucial as the goal will turn people attentions to the attainment of goals, and this can encourage people to work together positively without distracted by the troubles and challenges throughout the process (Harvey et. al., 2002). Besides, how cross cultural interactions can contribute to the success of a team or how diversity can be beneficial to the team members should be understood by the team members, and repeatedly emphasized by the team leader. This is critical as people will then have a direction to work towards, and then they will be more ready to channel their attentions, efforts and focus on completion of these goals.
In cross cultural interactions, conflicts are inevitable. This is often due to the differences between people (Li et. al., 2007). For example, people can differ from several dimensions as follow: opinions, ideas, options, methods, skills, race, gender, jobs, age, interpretation, values as well as upbringing environment (Matveev et. al., 2004). When conflicts arises, the nature tendency of people is to solve the conflicts through the fast way, in which power of hard forces are applied to bring the opponents into agreement with their stand. In contrast, the proper way, and a more constructive way, is to solve the conflicts through negotiation (Awang et. al., 2010). However, negotiation is not preferred by most people most of the time as they are slow, and demands skillful communication and interpersonal skills in solving the conflicts.
That is a very common scenario, and instead happens always in the daily life. For example, when conflicts arise in family, the men always resort to brute force to handle disagreement from their female partners. This is particularly prevalent in certain culture, such as in the Indian or other East Asia culture. In many instances, the opinions of women are suppressed and ignored. There are many reasons why power is used to suppress the women opinions, and rights in these countries.
Firstly, in the eastern society, the education level of the women is generally lower than the men. They are not being emphasized to become educated by the elder generations. Not only is that, the women themselves might not think that education is important, because after all, they are expected to stay in the home to take care of the children and to handle the family duties and responsibilities. In contrast, the men are expected to be educated and to take up the responsibilities to provide sufficient financial support to the family. Thus, they are generally sent to universities by their parents. The differences in education cause the men to have higher ego, and the women to generally accept the decisions made by the men.
Secondly, it is the eastern culture that women are supposed to be obedient, and listen to the directions and instruction of the men. Thus, the women generally are softer, and will not persist in getting their ideas through in the negotiation or argument process. They have been conditioned to obey, and to suppress their own opinions. That is, even the women suppress themselves in the society. In contrast, the men are taught to be tough, and stand by their opinions are expected by the family to lead the family. Thus, in the long term, the men become more easily assume the responsibilities, and the rights to have the talk and power in the family structure.
Thirdly, the values placed upon in the society are different (Martinsons, 2009). The women are expected to preserve the harmonious of the family, while the men are expected to protect the family. Thus, what the women values and what the men values are generally different. For example, women generally value harmony, happiness, security while men may value freedom, the right to lead, as well as achievement. Thus, in the interaction process, the values tend to guide the behaviors of the men and the women. For example, women may not want to involve in conflicts, to the extent of suppressing their rights and opinions to ensure harmony relationships between people. However, men tend to value performance, and are more likely to assume leadership position (i.e., thus, stand by their opinions) in the interaction process.
Thus, overall, it can be seen that the differences attitudes, upbringing as well as values between men and women often lead to the different in power enjoy by the different gender. Due to the differences in attitudes, upbringing conditions (example, educational background) as well as values, the balance of power shifted to the men. As such, when differences occur, it is too often men will use that power (as they learned to use it and have been seeing such powers are used by their parents) to suppress the women opinions.
That is true even in workplace. For example, women are often required to learn up the masculinity traits, that is, to become more performance oriented, aggressive and tough in workplace. However, as women are not naturally used to these traits, they are often disadvantages in the career development in the organization. This is even more true when the women are the minority, while the men are the majority in the organization. Thus, in many times, the opinions of women are not solicited. All these contributing the indirect discrimination of women in workplace in Asia.
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