History has taught us that ignorance (in certain contexts) yields a fear of the unknown, and what was unknown about different cultures in the past spawned cross-cultural fear, one possible cause of racial discrimination; and most of us have either seen or heard about the associated, sometimes disastrous, consequences of such anti-social behaviour. Indeed, anti-social behaviour is one ingredient in the sociopathic cocktail. Abiding in ignorance on this matter, from the macro view can contribute to an anti-social society. From the micro view, it can spell disaster for your personal and professional relationships.
Cross-cultural awareness has been an issue for at least as long as the concept of globalisation has been around. With the world metaphorically shrinking at an ever-increasing pace and with more societies becoming more and more multicultural, an acute cross-cultural awareness is crucial to not only your business success, but also the success of your interpersonal relationships. With the information superhighway at our fingertips, ignorance is no longer an excuse! However, before you get intimidated at the prospect of having to learn every single aspect of every other culture in the world, relax; you don’t need to. Remember, that potential foreign business partner or friend is in the same boat as you, and is about as likely to commit as many cultural faux pas as you. But you want that business transaction to go through smoothly without anyone getting offended, right? So what wouldn’t go astray is learning some of what is considered taboo in the particular culture you’re targeting.
Stereotypes Across Cultures
A stereotype is a belief that all people from a certain culture behave in a certain way. Stereotypes occur when we judge and compare a culture in relation to our own cultural values, and perhaps even prejudices. Stereotyping also seems to stem from what is termed inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is a form of logic where we attempt to draw a universal conclusion from a particular premise, observation or example. For example, from the premise/observation “all observed tigers are orange with black stripes” (particular), using inductive reasoning, the conclusion that “all tigers must therefore be orange with black stripes” (universal) might be drawn. The conclusions drawn as a result of using inductive reasoning are less than certain and probably not true! We know, for example, that there are white tigers with black stripes. And such conclusions are often also drawn based on cultural-based behavioural traits usually made in relation to the differences we see between that culture and our own. Afterall, if there were no differences, we wouldn’t know any different and we wouldn’t have the problem of stereotyping. These conclusions are also probably not true for every single person belonging to the culture in question, because people as individuals have choice. A common stereotype about East Asians in the 70s for example, is that if you were Chinese, you must know Kung Fu, and if you were a Japanese girl, you must be really timid. To some extent, these stereotypes still exist today! However, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a difference, however, between stereotyping and cultural generalisations. Whereas stereotypes are usually based on opinion, cultural generalisations are based on standard ways of doing things within a particular culture, but not on prejudice. To say that the Japanese have had a history of a collectivist culture, for example, would be true, or at least would have been true at one point in Japan’s history. But times do change.
Time is Money & Timing is Everything
Particularly in the business world, problems can occur when cultures clash with respect to time and punctuality. E.T. Hall introduced the concept of monochronic and polychronic cultures. Monochronic cultures are those where “one thing at a time” and “time is money” are the important concepts. Countries whose cultures tend to be of a monochronic nature include the United States, Australia and Germany amongst others. Polychronic cultures, on the other hand, are those where multi-tasking is the order of the day and time is inferior to interpersonal relations. Example polychronic cultures include Greece, Portugal, France and Spain.
70% of What You Say is Non-Verbal
Non-verbal communication makes up 70% of communication. In other words, almost three-quarters of the information you give to a person comes by way of body language and other non-verbal signs: eye-contact, gestures, silence in conversation and touching. The variation in meaning and contextual appropriateness of non-verbal communication among different cultures is great. For example, a comparative study by Graham (1985), showed the differences in non-verbal communication between Japanese, Americans, and Brazilians. The study found that firstly the number of silent periods greater than 10 seconds per 30 minutes was 5.5, 3.5 and 0 respectively; secondly, conversational overlaps/interruptions per 10 minutes was 12.6, 10.3 and 28.6 respectively; thirdly, facial gazing (number of minutes of eye contact per 10 minutes) was 12.6, 10.3 and 28.6 minutes respectively; and finally, the number of touches, excluding handshaking, per 30 minutes was 0, 0, and 4.7 respectively.
Non-verbal communication is as much of a language as verbal communication, and therefore the way that a person interprets non-verbal communication will be based on the non-verbal language they “speak” themselves. An awareness of the idiosyncrasies of non-verbal communication in the particular culture you wish to understand better, along with the spoken language, will go along way in helping to make yourself understood beyond what you actually say.
A Global Culture?
The question of whether there is likely to be a global culture considering that the world is “shrinking” is in all likelihood, no. That said, the “global culture” may not be of the variety that anyone in history has been used to, and in some cases even in today’s times. The global culture may simply be a global understanding, awareness and acceptance/tolerance of the differences between cultures. The study of cross-cultural differences could fill volumes. This generic article does not really do the subject much justice, but may serve as the impetus for you to begin your own targeted study of the cross-cultural differences between yours and another culture.
Source: HR Magazine