Written by Karelle Bélanger
A step towards the benefits of cultural diversity
In today’s world Western, Eastern, Southern and Northern influences are spread around the globe. By the idea of opening the world to free trade businesses, it expanded the boundaries of every country and increased considerably migration of citizens within a country or outside of the geographical borders. This phenomenon expands the cultural variety in businesses and consequently requires adjustments in the way of managing employees. Disagreement exists in between researches concerning the benefit of cultural diversity among employees in workplace. Indeed, some researches argue positives outcomes of cultural differences such as variety of perspectives and behaviours increase creativity and problem solving efficiency (Cox et al., 1991). On the other hand, some researches induce that visible racial diversity lead to negative group outcomes such as distractions, misunderstandings and communication breakout. For the need of this assignment I will focus on the positive outcomes of heterogeneous groupwork and argue that organizations can benefit from cultural diversity.
Organizations can benefit from diversity by first acknowledging differences among labours and understanding these various characteristics. It is imperative to embrace the varied skills and perceptions of his workforce through knowledge sharing (Bennett, Aston, & Colquhoun, 2000; Boyacigiller, 1990). The success of a heterogenic labour leads to innovation where ideas blossom and creativity has no limit.
Heterogeneous group tend to promote a pool of different points of view and therefore stimulate non-obvious alternatives. According to Charlan Jeanne Nemeth (Charlan Jeanne Nemeth, 1986), even cultural variety exposure increases considerably creative thought processes. I believe large variety of workforce stimulate originality by their different cultural frame of references, perspectives and attitudes towards issues. On the other hand, creativity does emerge in a controlled environment of diversity. In order to benefit from diversity it is necessary that team members be aware of the differences of other members but also conscious of their own. Indeed, for me awareness start by being open minded and questioning ourselves, be critical about our way of thinking, reactions and behaviours, being interested of knowing and understanding other cultures. Second of all, being able to adapt our behaviour in order to interact efficiently and in collaboration with others. Corporate training is now a days a standard way of creating this awareness in organizations. In addition, once team members are conscious of diversity it reduces miscommunication problems and increase problem-solving efficiency.
A second benefit from cultural diversity is problem-solving efficiency, indeed diverse labour carry broader experiences and perspectives to address difficulties. Therefore the different critical ways of approaching problems improve the quality of problem-solving in heterogeneous teams. Various cultures also keep the group away from leaning on “group-think” phenomenon (Janis, 1982) (Ester Barinaga, 2007)- “ absence of critical thinking in group caused partly by excessive preoccupation with maintaining cohesiveness” (Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake, 1991, p. 51). According to research on organizational culture, there is a strong link between company effectiveness and cultures, in fact organizations that focus on sharing and communication management strategically diversity become a productive resource (Brannen, M. Y., & Salk, J. E., 2000).
I believe cultural diversity could be understood as a net value to organization processes in the sense that if organization management doesn’t frame and support the differences, the cultural workforce won’t emerge at its fullest (Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake, 1991). Indeed, researches argue that well managed diverse labour restrain competitive strength for organizations.
A diverse workforce can lead to profit making in any office by differentiating employee’s management practices. Management should focus on cooperation and develop inclusive work practices to create a harmonic environment.
Interpersonal interactions in workplace
By definition diverse work places come with challenges that as described previously are somehow manageable, like organizational functioning problems. A type of obstacles that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the relationship related to informal interpersonal interactions in workplace. Indeed, cultures in intercultural environment have consequently a significant impact on the well-being of the organizational members, for example promotion and personal growth and attitude to diversity.
Promotion and personal growth
Every member of an organization have a natural desire to create a positive impression on their superior; it is also argued that cultural values and background influence the goals one’s trying to reach in the organization. Impression management can create frictions in diverse teamwork, especially when it comes to the legitimacy assign to upward oneself. “Impression management has been defined as any behaviour by the individual attempting to control or manipulate others’ attributions and impressions of him (Tedeschi & Riess, 1981, p.3).” Impression management and cultures are particularly relevant when the strategies used to maximize rewards create cultural gaps in organization. Everyone construct a desirable self-identity in order to impress superior, but indeed Pandey (1966) “claims that there are specific ingratiation tactics that are used in specific cultures. Some variables influences the legitimacy behaviours, for example societies with limited economic and political opportunities, visible minorities and lack of social power are more susceptible to “conform their social images as closely as possible to prototypic characteristics of the role they are playing (Leary & Kowalski, 19990) “ (Zaidman, N., & Drory, A., 2001). In my opinion, since the norms of impression management are created through intercultural interactions within organization, manager should therefore closely define the boundaries within the organizational culture.
Attitudes to diversity
Success or failure of intercultural interaction is also impacted by social aspects such as; timescale, hospitality and protocol, courtesy and code of behaviours. Indeed, manners in different cultures are enriched by what is considered proper and improper based on values in varying circumstances. Informal communication such as small talk, personal space, modesty and taboos are setting the orientation of the interaction and therefore creates dilemma on how to behave properly in intercultural environment. Unfortunately there is no international etiquette to follow and direct the comportment and attitudes.
Taboos are rooted deep in history, beliefs and customs of every culture. Not following the forbidden practices is sign of disrespect and in some country can cause bigger social damage (Richard D. Lewis, 1999, p. 162). Four years ago I went teaching English in Pasuruan, a small village on Java Island, Indonesia and I rapidly learned that the head is considered as sacred and should never be touched by anyone. In addition in school, girls and boys should never be asked to work in team. Unfortunately I had to learn these taboos by making mistake that caused the children to lose confidence on my skills and stop attending my classes. My former colleagues solved the situation and I promised them to never do the same mistakes again.
Nether less, the use of time varies widely in different cultures and causes a lot of dissatisfaction, for example western and eastern sphere tend to employ time differently and it can create discordance within intercultural workplace. For some culture like American “time is money”, acting fast and productively drive the interactions. In America and Finland punctuality is a fundamental quality to embrace no matter the situation, while oppositely some culture, like Spanish do not accord importance to time schedule, therefore it messes up timetable and give a wrong start to the working relationship. An understanding attitude towards time can avoid unnecessary complication.
Cultural diversity influence formal and informal communication differently but as importantly driving the direction of the intercultural work relation. Adopting a broad attitude such as open minded, integrative, understanding and ready to learn from others is surely a successful start towards cultural effectiveness.
Cultural differences and misunderstandings are not only obstacles to communication
Communication is a very integral and complex process that simply enunciated involved a transmitter, a message, a channel and a receiver. It is during the process of encoding, decoding and feedback that obstacles and misunderstanding can increase the chances of communication failure. Every human encode the information differently according to their cultural frame of references, Edward Hall argue that culture acts as a filter; it lets things in and blocks others. Following the idea that one is trying to make sense of every action, the way people organize and perceive the action is a crucial turning point in intercultural communication. As the cultural differences and misunderstanding are not the only obstacle to communication, this assignment will focus on three impediments; perspectives, linguistic boundaries and non-verbal communication.
As mentioned previously, in a communication process human open their senses and try to recognized meaning in obvious truth by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. After capturing the information we categorize, interpreted and organize it into the system of references we have. This awareness is tinted by cultural circumstances therefore culture act as a resource of sense making of actions (Barina, 2007). As communication is object of interpretation it is reasonable to conclude that perception is a result of an education whose memory has kept traces. According to the fact that communicating is a subjective process, it is therefore prompt to create conflicts in diverse environment. Indeed the ways a receiver understands a message does not necessary correspond to the message the transmitter wanted to transmit; the main idea can be lost in the interpretation process. Even though this twist in the process can be negative, I also believe it could be used as strength in intercultural environment. In addition every culture has their own language and the use of English can also be tainted by linguistic boundaries.
Language is an important tool of communication that comes with its strengths and weaknesses. Speech has its own norms, forms and codes and delivering a message also project personal, regional and national identities. In international environment small translation errors can bring big misunderstanding for example in Finland citizen use a different time line, therefore the expression “ let’s meet at half seven” actually mean 6:30, but for a native English speaker would mean 7:30 (Lewis.D Richard, 1999). In addition, communication is a two-way process involving listening habits, variety of cultures don’t use speech neither listen the same way for example; in Finland listening is an important part of communicating, Indeed, a research that has been made in university of Turku that define the Finnish silence as
listening carefully, focusing on something, showing interest,
communicating without words, being polite, being in one’s own
thoughts, respecting and giving private space to others, thinking
(hard), willing to wait for one’s turn to talk, being calm, etc.;
(Michael Berry, 2012).
Other cultures with different listening habits would definitely start a business meeting on the wrong foot, “However, it is argued that differences in culture and communication styles are important obstacles to expatriate communication management (Dowling & Welch, 2004; Welch, Welch, & Piekkari, 2005).”
Our understanding of a message is 65% influenced by non-verbal dimension, therefore eye contact, body language, voice tone, facial expressions and silence have a strong impact in intercultural workplace. Certain amount of behavioural concepts has been identified, as cultural patterns to distinguished different culture such as: kinesics, proxemics and haptics (touching behaviour). On a cultural context, those patterns create conscious or, unconscious expected reactions by the speakers and a failure to provide these expectations can lead to a communication misunderstanding (Dahl, Stephan, 2004, p.8).
- Berry Michael. “Response Able: Where is the cultural richness in Finnish Silence and Autonomy”, Turku school of economics, University of Turku, 2012, 26p., [Online], http://www.utu.fi/en/units/tse/units/unit-for-languages-and-business-communications/Development_projects/Documents/Response%20Able.pdf,
- (Page consulted the 10th of November 2014).
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- Charlan Jeanne Nemeth, "Differential Contributions of Majority and Minority Influence," Psychological Review, 93, 1986, 23-32.
- Cox, T.H., Lobel, S.A. & Mcleod, P.L. Effects of ethnic group cultural differences on cooperative and competitive behavior on a group task. Academy of management Journal, 1991, 34, 827-47.
- Ester Barinaga. "Cultural diversity” at work: “National culture” as a discourse organizing an international project group. Human Relations, 2007, 60(2), 315-340.
- Hall Edward T. The hidden dimension, New York, 1966.
- Pandey, J. (1986). Sociological perspectives on ingratiation. Progress in Experimental Personality Research, 14, 205–229.
- Richard D.Lewis. When cultures collide : Managing successfully across cultures, Nicholas Brealey publising, London, 1999, 462p.
- Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake. Managing Cultural Diversity: Implications for Organizational Competitiveness. The Executive, Academy of management Journal, 1991, Vol. 5, No. 3, p. 45-56.
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- Zaidman, N., & Drory, A. (2001). Upward impression management in the workplace cross-cultural analysis. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25, 671-690.