Cross-Cultural Communication Problems in Expatriation- an American Working in Japan

Topics: Geert Hofstede, Cross-cultural communication, United States Pages: 6 (1819 words) Published: June 4, 2012
Cross-cultural communication problems in "Expatriation: An American Working in Japan" case.   
I decided to choose this topic because in the modern world, where globalization takes over the economy, the cross-cultural communication is becoming increasingly important subject to address for organizations and especially for its Human Resource Management.  Whether it is a multinational company with subsidiaries all over the world, or a manufacturing company with distribution network across continents, or just a wholesale company expanding to new markets, all of them may encounter cross-cultural difference problems among employees, with clients, with superiors, etc.   

The goal of this essay is to study the cross-cultural problems that arose between expatriate (Bob), his boss (at the headquarters) and local employees, in the face of  Mr. Hayashi, his direct Japanese superior, analyze these problems and provide suggestions on how to manage them within the organization.   

In order to analyze the cross-cultural situation that happened in a Japanese subsidiary of a US based company, I will try to apply the cultural dimensions concept offered by Geert Hofstede, which identifies the areas that affect cultures. This model will help to explain what caused problems in communication between Bob, Mr. Hayashi, and Bob's American boss, particularly the problems that may arise between expatriates and local employees.   

Mr. Hofstede analyzed the ways in which cultures are similar or differ one from another and presented a model of Five Dimensions of Culture. This model tries to identify the areas where cultural differences may cause problems for global organizations. These five dimensions are:

Power Distance
"is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally"(1). People in power tolerant cultures accept more easily the gap in power distribution and respect that inequality. In high power distance organizations employees tend to rely heavily on their superiors.

Uncertainty Avoidance
"is the extent to which a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations"(1). People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to avoid uncomfortable and unusual situations. They are trying to plan everything upfront: establish rules, regulations, security measures, etc. Whereas in low uncertainty avoidance cultures people are used to change and feel more comfortable with ambiguous situations. These people are trying to avoid control, rules and principles as much as possible.

Individualism (vs. Collectivism)
"is the degree to which individuals are supposed to look after themselves or remain integrated into groups"(1). Individualism represents the side where people are loose and trying to preserve their own personal goals, on the other hand collectivism shows that people can work together, i.e. integrated in groups

Masculinity (vs. Femininity)
"refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders"(1). Masculinity culture's values achievement, ambition, reward for success, whereas femininity represents quality of life, value of cooperation, etc.

Long-Term Orientation (vs. Short-Term Orientation)
"the extent to which a culture programs its members to accept delayed gratification of their material, social, and emotional needs”(1). Long-Term Orientation societies emphasize the importance of the future investments and value long lasting and pragmatic relationships. Short-Term Orientation focuses on achieving quick results and values related to the present.

Geert Hofsted explains these dimensions in scores for each particular country. This allows us to see the differences between countries and compare them one to another. The cultural dimension scores for Japan and United States are presented in the following table (2):

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