Get Ready for the Culture Clash – Part 1
By Terry J. Soto, President & CEO, About Marketing Solutions, Inc.
In recognizing the changing profile of customers across the country, companies are increasingly seeking to create multicultural workforces. Yet, as many take on the exciting challenge of working with people from different cultural backgrounds, they are finding that values inevitably clash and give rise to conflict.
Unfortunately, we are seldom aware of the cross-cultural impact to our organizations because we don’t often think about having cultural values or assumptions that are different from others. As the U.S. continues to evolve as a nation of immigrants, culture will continue to be one of the most powerful forces that acts upon us and which we must understand and recognize in our daily operations in order to be as successful with our diverse employees as we expect to be with our multicultural customers.
Marcelle E. DuPraw of the National Institute for Dispute Resolution and Marya Axner, a Consultant in Leadership Development & Diversity Awareness, point to six fundamental patterns of Cultural Differences that can severely impact how successfully you can train, interact, motivate and retain a multicultural workforce. Next time you suspect that cross-cultural differences are at play, review this list. Ask yourself how cultural differences may be shaping your own reactions.
1. Different Communication Styles
The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of “yes” varies from “maybe, I’ll consider it” to “definitely so,” with many shades in between.
Another major aspect of communication style is the degree of importance given to non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and gestures; it also involves seating arrangements, personal distance, and sense of time. In addition, different norms regarding the appropriate degree of assertiveness in communicating can add to cultural misunderstandings. For instance, some white Americans typically consider raised voices to be a sign that a fight has begun, while some black, Jewish and Italian Americans often feel that an increase in volume is a sign of an exciting conversation among friends. Thus, some white Americans may react with greater alarm to a loud discussion than would members of some American ethnic or non-white racial groups.
2. Different Attitudes Toward Conflict
Some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. In the U.S., conflict is not usually desirable; but people often are encouraged
to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. In fact, face-to-face meetings customarily are recommended as the way to work through whatever problems exist. In contrast, in many
Eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly. A written exchange might be the favored means
to address the conflict.
3. Different Approaches to Completing Tasks
From culture to culture, there are different ways that people move toward completing tasks. Some reasons include: different access to resources; different judgments of the rewards associated with task completion; different notions of time; and varied ideas about how relationship-building and task-oriented work should go together.
A case in point, Asian and Hispanic cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion toward the end as compared with European-Americans. European-Americans tend to focus immediately on the task at hand, and let relationships develop as they work on the task. This does not mean that people from any one of these cultural backgrounds are more or less committed to accomplishing the task, or value relationships more or less; it means they may pursue them differently.
In Part 2: three more fundamental patterns of Cultural Differences.
Moderator’s Comment: What are the challenges companies may be facing as a result of increasing workplace diversity?
How are companies managing cultural differences today? –
Terry J. Soto – Moderator