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Approaching the Culture Challenge at the workplace


Approaching the Culture Challenge at the workplace

Geert Hofstede who is one of the great authorities in culture has argued that culture is a complex issue made up of diversities in languages, values, traditions, way of life, beliefs and norms and the manner in which they influence attitudes, assumptions, perceptions, practices and behaviour. Each individual in the world is partly like everyone else, partly like no-one and partly like some others.

The Challenges
As people from the above mentioned diverse cultural groups converge together to work or learn, the possibility of cultural values conflicting is very high. Often-times, individuals with diverse cultures will misunderstand each other consciously or unconsciously even without realizing that it is their cultures that are influencing their behaviours. Some of the challenges arising from this diversity include:

Difference in communication styles and language
Manners and language of communication vary widely between and within cultures. In English speaking countries, students from Asian origin experienced distress due to their inability to express themselves and this affected them psychologically, socially and academically.
In the use of a common language, the meanings of certain words vary across cultures and foreigners unable to express themselves are locked out socially. The Indian or Chinese will promise to deliver on a project on a certain date even if they have no certainty of this. Compared to westerners, Asians at work avoid asking questions or indicating as if one has not understood whereas a westerner is comfortable giving a negative answer and asking for clarifications. In a learning situation, a learner with an Asian origin will likely indicate as if he has understood whereas he has not.

Non-verbal communication- Westerners would consider raised voices as a sign of a fight and hence react with alarm, while their Asian, Jewish and Italian counterparts would associate raised voices to an animated conversation.

Handling conflicts
In some cultures, conflict is viewed positively while in others, it is avoided. In the American culture for instance, conflict is not desirable but where it arises, the preference is tackling it head on. In India and China, conflict is frowned upon and where it occurs, the parties prefer to handle it silently without exposing it to others.

Approach to task completion
In both work and learning situations, individuals with diverse backgrounds tend to approach completion of task differently. Westerners are more focussed on the task from the beginning as opposed to forming any relationships associated with the task. Other cultures especially from the East are more oriented towards forming relationships from the beginning of the task and even cementing the relationships towards the completion of the task.

Decision Making
The western culture for instance delegates a lot so that individuals heading different tasks take full responsibility for decisions at their level. In Africa, consensus is the preferred mode of making decisions so that everyone is seen to be comfortable.

Disclosure and privacy
In some cultures, it is inappropriate to discuss personal information or be frank about emotions. When asking questions for instance, an African is likely to offer more answers to personal questions compared to a westerner who may feel that his privacy is being intruded.

Approach to knowledge
The western culture emphasize on knowledge that is tested empirically through science. In African cultures, affective knowledge and symbolism is common and there is a tendency for individuals to associate with facts that are followed by the majority irrespective of whether it has empirical backing. In dealing with individuals from such backgrounds, conflict can arise as some of them will rely on knowledge that others would deem as \'backward\' or \'wrong\'.

Resolving the challenges
When individuals are faced with others that they do not understand, the first tendency is to label them as abnormal or weird. If this tendency is not controlled or well informed, it gives rise to prejudice and this can graduate to other levels that make those from different cultures stereotyped or look down upon by others.
Learning- learning about other cultures opens individual’s mind to diversity of worldviews and starts appreciating them. Learning enables an individual to pick traits from other cultures that are positive and can be used beneficially.

Respect- cultural diversity calls for respect to other people\'s choices. High individualism when dealing with others can make interactions with other cultures difficult.

Collaboration- Collaboration calls for individuals with diverse backgrounds to come together and share in real searching for solutions. Collaboration acts as a mirror in which one appreciates the way others evaluate things.


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