Intercultural Communication in the Workplace Paper
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Communication is a very important aspect of any organization that seeks to achieve success. It becomes more vital in the event the employees come from different cultural backgrounds as culture has a great influence on how people perceive things and react to them. Intercultural communication at the workplace is therefore a very crucial issue that no organization should ignore. Most modern organizations have realized the value of diversity and tend to employ people with different cultural backgrounds. Cross cultural interactions do raise simple but very delicate and confusing issues that few people seem to be willing to address in most workplaces. The many cultural groups in the world do have different patterns of values, rules and behavior. Failure to establish intercultural communication at the workplace can be a very costly mistake. This paper seeks to identify and evaluate a scenario or situation in which intercultural communication is a disturbing issue. The context of the situation will be diagnosed and strategies/recommendations to help facilitate and establish intercultural competence and eliminate or avoid intercultural misunderstandings be provided.
The Communication Issue Scenario
BMC incorporated based in Los Angeles California recently transferred a new Director of their marketing operations through promotion from one of their Indian international office. In an effort to fit well in the American society, he prefers to be called Roger in spite of his full name being Rajaniud Marahabat. Reporting directly to Roger is Brooke Simpson a very young American lady born in California and who has worked at BMC for only four months. She is eager to the organization value and self worth. In her first encounter with Roger, she immediately developed an attitude of passiveness as well as studiousness towards him. She assumes that he is a smart but very reserved, friendly, polite, deeply religious and married hence on interested in romance escapades with workmates. After they talk a while about things that are not work-related such as politics and life in the United States, Simpson, as ambitious as she is perceives this to be an opportunity for networking. Simpson decides she needs to find a way of creating comradeship with Roger and offers to show him around California.
Californian women as compared to those from other parts of the world are more straightforward and extremely aggressive. In the United States, it is normal for men and women to do things together such as going to movies, shopping, to lunch and other social gatherings just as friends or colleagues without any implications of a date.
Roger however perceives Simpson to be interested in dating and even conspired to marry him because his culture does not allow men and women to see each other or do things together casually. Women are not aggressive in nature and do not out with a man without the company of other women or some kind of escort. In the Indian culture, if individuals of opposite sex meet together and particularly if it is the women that initiate the meeting then the goal is romance or implication that there is commitment. He had also watched from films and read magazines that American women were ‘loose’ and eager to get involved physically with anyone willing. He therefore saw this as a potential opportunity to have a sexual relationship with Simpson especially since he had not been around a woman in a very long time. Since Simpson was very friendly and smiled a lot when talking to him, Roger assumed her to be one of those American women he had read about and watched in the films.
Roger shocks Simpson by putting his hand on her legs during the drive. Since she has no idea what his intentions are, she pushes his hand away. Roger thinks that it is a tease and advances again. Simpson is so appalled and explains that she is not interested sex or him as she was already married leaving Roger not only confused but frustrated as well. Simpson gets so angry and even fears that the encounter and her refusal to comply will have effect on her position, one that she really cherished at work.
Diagnosis of the Scenario
An Intercultural conflict has clearly occurred in this scenario. Both Roger and Simpson are guilty of assuming, being ignorant and stereotyping the true cultures of each other. Each one of them conveyed an interest through verbal as well as body language that that was misunderstood by the other. Knapp (1997) defines intercultural conflict as the incompatibility (whether actual or perceived) of norms, goals, values or processes between more than one cultural parties over identity, procedural, relational or content issues. In the scenario, neither of the two parties communicated effectively. Neither of the conveyed messages was received as intended by the communicator resulting to the creation of vulnerability and frustration.
In order to operate effectively and achieve success in the international market, business managers require to posses the tools and skills that will enable them to be intercultural professionals. They need to have the ability to amalgamate cultural beliefs, behaviors and attitudes that are divergent so as to forge an international team that is both powerful and effective.
Stereotyping that rises as a result of overgeneralization is common particularly among individuals who do not frequently interact with other cultures. It is natural for the human mind to develop some system/order from what is observed especially when faced with uncertainty. This is most particularly true when the uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable. The mind hence reacts by creating its own rules and generalizations that are based on some though not many surface realities and even patterns that are observed. These rules however fail to address and account for variation in individuals and the real experience with them. In addition, the human mind tends to presume and draw negative motives and inferences from the created and observed generalizations in situations that make us feel threatened, creating opportunity for formation of prejudices.
Strategies for Dealing with the Issue.
In order to address this issue, it is important to note that people can never superficial knowledge and know what each of the other means or needs since everyone is programmed differently. In the event they need to communicate, they have to do it in a way that clarifies their meaning and provokes no misunderstanding in the other party. Messages communicated vary in intentions; they could be as complex as major negotiations or as simple as a sales pitch. The communicator often aims at delivering a reaction that is well defined to the conveyed message. The fundamental goal which is also very challenging is to receive the desired reaction from what is being communicated. To be able to do this, one has to practice and master cultural awareness as well as effective communication skills. Successful intercultural though a very fine and effective balancing act, requires the managers to be enthusiastic and willing so as to overcome the challenging cultural barriers.
In business situations, it is important to understand other people’s culture. This implies understanding and appreciating the values and beliefs that influence hence shape their behavior. Making efforts to learn a few words of the language in the event one is dealing with employees from a different cultural background from theirs makes a difference as it demonstrates respect and desire to develop rapport. It is crucial to be aware that non-verbal aspects such as body language, gestures and symbols have different meaning in different cultures. Because of the fact that these aspects of communication are not universal, making mistakes in using them is inevitable in communication. Whenever possible, meanings and phrases should be checked before they are applied in a speech. It is important to practice listening skills as they help eliminate some of these issues (Holstede, 2005).
People tend to take for granted the meaning structure from their own culture and apply it even when they cross cultural boundaries. Often they choose actions that are consistent with their culture and interpret other actions according to their enculturation in spite of them dealing with individuals that have a cultural background that is different from theirs. Unless people identify and acknowledge their ethnocentrism and work towards overcoming it, cross cultural communication is bound to break down. People have to understand that the standards of one culture can not be judged using those pf another. This is a concept of cultural relativism that needs to be understood so that one does not use their values, which are mainly influenced by their culture to judge others.
Other recommendations include focusing on the differences in pronunciation as well as accent as some words differ in meaning based on these. It is also important to concentrate on the non-verbal cues to ascertain the meaning of what is being said as they should convey the same message as the verbal one (Beamer, & Varner, 2006). In the event one does not understand what is being communicated, they could try to get the missing connection by repeating part of what has been said and letting the communication fill in what is missing. One should request for translation in case the spoken words are difficult to understand. Excessive use of filler words such as mmh, uhh, and long pauses should be avoided as they make the listener lose attention. It also is important to note that non-verbal communication forms the bulk of all communication (95 per cent). It ranges from gestures, tone4 of the voice, facial expressions and posture. It is important to keep eye contact but not stare as a way of showing confidence. Non-verbal communication should be kept consistent with the verbal message being delivered. An atmosphere that is open and comfortable should also be created during communication especially with customers (Beamer, & Varner, 2006).
If these strategies had been applied by Roger and Simpson in the described scenario, things would have turned out differently. If Roger was intercultural competent in this situation, would have known that in the united states, development of a relationship between males and females in corporate world and outside work did not necessarily imply that the two were romantically involved. Simpson, if intercultural competent would also have noted the Indian culture and taken a different approach in developing the king of relationship she wanted to develop with Roger. They would have both applied listening skills and displayed proper non-verbal communication that was consistent with what they said and what they meant to eliminate the intercultural misunderstanding that occurred.
Beamer, L., & Varner I., (2006). Intercultural Communication in the Global Workplace. Fourth edn. New York, NY:McGraw-Hill.
Hofstede, G. J. (2005) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the MindSecond edn. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2005
Knapp, K. (1997): “Cultural, Organizational, or Linguistic Causes of Intercultural Conflicts? A Case Study”. In: J. Beneke (ed.): Thriving on Diversity.Bonn: Dümmler, 117-134.