Cross Cultural Issues

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Globalization and Cross-Cultural Issues in Project Management Dennis G. Ballow, Sr., MAED, PMP’ Project Management Knowledge Transfer, Inc.

Abstract With hot topics like globalization and cross-cultural opportunities in the Asia Pacific rim, one might think it would be easy to research the implications of cross cultural issues. Rather, what the writer found was a significant discussion all around the periphery but little in-depth analysis. Discussion prevailed on the socio-economic and technological ramifications. Others resources focused on the language issues but little work was intuitively available on the subtleties of cross cultural issues one may encounter. Based on experience working in the Asia Pacific rim for two years as a PMO Manager, and training PM’s in many European countries, I decided that understanding international socio-cultural issues encountered in business is essentially at the heart of the issues companies will encounter in globalizing operations. Therefore, the writer will approach the crosscultural issues from a personalized understanding based on his many months of first hand mistakes in understanding cultural issues encountered in Asia Pacific. I will base my observations of cross-cultural issues on my experiences in working most closely with individuals from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and India. Naturally there are more countries in the Pacific Rim but these mentioned provided the most opportunity for interaction. I want to also acknowledge the contributions of my wife, Helena Shiu Leung Chow Ballow, whom I initially met in Asia. Her wisdom, coaching, and meaningful insights on the many differences between Western and Eastern business and cultural practices were, and remain till this day, illuminating, helpful and daunting. Introduction Clearly we all understand to some degree the impact of cultural issues in communications. If nothing else, we have encountered situations where language was the barrier. But language may be the smallest of the issues when dealing with other cultures. Even when we pull out our Translation Guides or employ translators we may get pass some of the language difficulties. But from the writer’s experience, language is the least of the issues. Ingrained and systemic patterns of cultural behaviours can be so subtle as to completely deny meaningful communications. I found a really good example of just how easily cultural variances can cause communications problems. In this case the issues was “psychological filtering” of appearance or gesture. I would think is would also be easy for the reader to extrapolate this example into some experiences that may have encountered even in the West. Timofeev (2002), in an article in National Concepts and Globalization, provided the following example: “The idea or rather the hypothesis that underlies this paper was stimulated by a trivial chat with a friend of mine. Being a linguist by trade, Russian by origin and living in Finland, she is well aware of cross-cultural discrepancies and provided me with a curious example. It was a TV commercial of an international brand of Persil washing powder. Two young ladies were shown sitting in a crowded place, some restaurant or a café. One of the ladies notices quite a peculiar manner her friend has chosen to wear her wristwatch. It was placed above the cuff of her blouse. It turned out in a second that the only reason for placing her watch there was to cover some stain that regular detergents failed to deal with. "Oh dear, you should use Persil instead!" So everything was straight and simple. But before that, when the attentive and thoughtful lady was describing her version of her friend's peculiar manner of wearing her watch in Finnish (and I guess that the German, French and English versions were quite similar to that in Finnish), she said: "You are such a busy person. You have to wear your watch so that it can always be seen." While in Russian the same lady made...
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