Cultural Barriers

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Categories of perceived images become ineffective when we place people and things in the wrong group. Cross-cultural miscategorization occurs when I use my home country categories to make sense out of foreign situations. For example, a Korean businessman entered a client's office in Stockholm and encountered a woman behind the desk. Assuming that she was a secretary, he announced that he wanted to see Mr. Silferbrand. The woman responded by saying that the secretary would be happy to help him. The Korean became confused. In assuming that most women are secretaries rather than managers, he had misinterpreted the situation and acted inappropriately. His category makes sense because most women in Korean offices are secretaries. But it proved counterproductive since this particular Swedish woman was not a secretary. Stereotypes

Stereotyping involves a form of categorization that organizes our experience and guides our behavior toward ethnic and national groups. Stereotypes never describe individual behavior; rather, they describe the behavioral Communicating across Cultural Barriers Adler 6 norm for members of a particular group. For example, the stereotypes of English and French businesspeople, as analyzed by Intercultural Management Associates in Paris, are described as follows: We have found that to every set of negative stereotypes distinguishing the British and French there corresponds a particular values divergence that, when recognized, can prove an extraordinary resource. To illustrate: The French, in describing the British as "perfidious," "hypocritical," and "vague," are in fact describing the Englishman's typical lack of a general model or theory and his preference for a more pragmatic, evolutionary approach. This fact is hard for the Frenchman to believe, let alone accept as a viable alternative, until, working alongside one another, the French man comes to see that there is usually no ulterior motive behind the Englishman's vagueness...
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