Cross-Cultural Differences Problems and Solutions
The good news
Multinational companies have the great advantage of working in and with different cultures to make their products and services accessible to a far wider community. The impetus for reaching beyond their own borders makes commercial sense. The less good news
When multinationals develop into or with other countries there may be an assumption that because everyone within the company is working for the same goals and to the same values, they will automatically communicate, think and view the world in the same way. When multiple cultures begin working together, problems or difficulties arise that many people within these companies are not skilled or adept enough to deal with effectively. This can simply be because they've never had to deal with the issue before. Language is often the least difficult barrier to breach. When we know there may be language differences, we have a greater awareness of the potential for problems. However, much more often it's a completely different way of seeing things and an inability, or unwillingness, to see what the other person is seeing that causes the difficulties.
Misunderstanding is the norm
At Impact Factory we say that 'misunderstanding is the norm'. We assume that because the other person knows our language (or we know theirs) that we speak the same language. Often we don't. Even when our 'Mother' tongue is the same, we don't speak it the same way. When we work with other cultures, it's easy to be influenced by common stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices about our new colleagues. Without realising it, we carry those misconceptions and stereotypes into meetings, conferences, trainings or even social gatherings that can make communication difficult and hard work. In our own culture (where we feel at 'home'), we are all individuals with a host of differences; yet there are so many similarities that the differences can seem negligible. There appears to be more in common than may actually be so, but somehow we absorb and adjust to the differences. When we are abroad, or even in our own home territory working with others from abroad, the differences are far more apparent and it becomes much harder to see the similarities. 'Home' is that place where we feel most comfortable. The landscape looks familiar and we know the signposts that tell us where we are. When we are away from 'home' we may try to recreate that landscape: we surround ourselves with people who are like us; we join clubs where we're all similar; we may even try to get the 'aliens' to be more like us so that we feel more comfortable. Not only that, if we start having difficulties with someone, it seems easier to focus on the differences and to start gathering 'evidence' to support our case about how difficult they are, than to look for the common ground which might lead to a resolution. We might even create a hurdle out of a hillock!
Changing you to change others
Life would certainly be a lot simpler if other people would just shape up and see things our way! As ridiculous as that statement looks when written out, that is often what we think when things aren't going well, particularly when communication starts breaking down. We wait for the other person to change so well be all right ('If only he'd listen to me I'd be fine.' 'If only she'd be clearer I could get my work done more efficiently.'). All of us at some time or another have thought something similar. The reality is: the only person you can change is you.
When you are the 'interloper' you can't afford to wait for the other person to change and see things your way. If you are in trouble and it feels as though people won't meet you halfway, unless you change and do something different, communication will continue to disintegrate. Even if you aren't the interloper but are working at 'home' with someone from another culture, waiting for the other person to change could mean a long wait.
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