Intercultural Differences in Work Environment

Topics: Cross-cultural communication, Geert Hofstede, Culture Pages: 6 (1946 words) Published: July 2, 2013
Intercultural differences in work environment

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Nelson Mandela
Culture does not only consist of different languages or our background; it is almost everything that defines who we are. Our age, gender, religion, color, one’s peers or our personal values. What a lot of people forget, and what Mister Mandela wanted to draw attention to, is that it is not enough to address only one part of a man’s culture to communicate well with him. And where else than the workplace is it more important to communicate with different people who bring different cultures with them? Normally, people cannot decide who they work with in our globalized world where more and more companies are international, and so are their employees. Although the competences that different cultures provide a company with are definitely welcome, the awareness of potential for conflict between individual employees is increasing steadily. Consequently, constructive dealing with different cultural value systems on the interpersonal level is a key skill for managers of international corporations and this skill will emerge into a very important goal of personal development.

Defining Culture
Culture per se “is the totality of human behavior (including norms, values and lifestyles) and therefore, influences every area of life” (Kauffeld, 2011, p. 163). Its development results through different aspects of a human life. It is crucial where we were born or how and in which country we were raised, which friends we had and so on. This results in our culture dictating how we behave in certain situations. It affects three elementary levels which are: communication, thinking patterns and emotions. For example, if we have a very family centric culture and we notice that our counterpart is treating a family member not as well as our culture demands, we may start having negative feelings towards that person which affects our thinking and how we conduct further communication with that person. In a situation in which both communicators have the same cultural background this is not as likely to happen, since the three levels are most certainly much alike. One can say that culture works as a simplification filter of interaction between two individuals with different backgrounds. It helps to reduce complex information that assures a smooth interaction with others. At the same time it has negative side effects. Especially in the workplace environment where communication is usually limited by time and therefore, has to be precise, slight differences in culture can have a great effect. Misinterpretations are only a small part of things that can go wrong. For example, in a team that has to conduct business with a partner; the team might develop a logical plan to address an issue. However, when the team has to negotiate with someone with a different ethnicity, cultural differences might impair the negotiations. To specify the example: It is very common for Middle Eastern entrepreneurs to begin negotiations with long small talk, which is not common in Germany. One might think that the entrepreneur would adjust his behavior to the culture of the addressed communicator, but often times people’s culturally influenced perception leads them to believe that they are doing nothing unusual.

Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions
There are many dimensions where culture can affect individuals, but a lot of them can be summarized in main concepts. One scientific approach is “the five cultural dimensions” theory by Geert Hofstede. Through a large survey in cooperation with the IBM Corp. with over one-hundred-thousand participants in over seventy countries, Hofstede defined five cultural dimensions across a variety of cultures. These dimensions can be used to analyze a particular culture or be used for distinguishing between many (Kauffeld, 2011). Through his...

Bibliography: Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s Consequences. Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Kauffeld, S. (2011). Arbeits,- Organisations- und Personalpsychologie für Bachelor. Heidelberg: SpringerMedizin.
Prechtl, E. (2009). Interkulturelles Assessment Center - Prognosekraft für Auslandsentscheidungen und multikulturelle Gruppen. Lengerich: Pabst.
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