Cultural for international business today. Today’s workforce is

Cultural misunderstandings orconflict arises whenever there are cultural differences.

These differences,while it is difficult to observe and measure, are very important. Failure to appreciateand account for cultural misunderstandings may lead to embarrassing mistakes,strain relationships, and drag down business performance. This essay focuses onthe main causes and effects of cultural misunderstanding in the businessenvironment.First, we will look at thedefinition of culture. Culture is defined as a set of shared values,assumptions and beliefs that are learnt through membership in a group, and thatinfluence the attitudes and behaviors of group members1.

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Culture can be understood as a group phenomenon that distinguishespeople of one group from another. This definition implies that culture is not obtained by birth but ratheracquired through a process of socialisation. The learning of shared values, assumptionsand beliefs occurs through interactions with family, teachers, officials,experiences, and society-at-large. Culture is an important dimension of groupdiversity that influences communication. Cultural diversity is the variety ofhuman societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole.It is also referred to as multiculturalism within an organisation2. There are four categories ofculture according to Edgar Schein.

These are: macro-cultures, organisational cultures, sub-cultures and micro-cultures. Inside organisations, theremay be different sub-cultures. Schein identifies three of them and these are;operator’s (based on human interaction, high levels of communication, trust andteamwork), engineers (elegant solution, abstract solutions to problems,automation and systems) and executives (financial focus, lone hero, sense ofrightness and omniscience). In any business organisation, the alignment betweenthese three sub-cultures is critical. 3The increasing globalisation andinternationalisation has become of great importance recently. More and morecompanies are looking abroad to expand their businesses as the world becomesmore and more – increasingly interconnected. Managing of business operationsacross international boundaries has become one of the largest challenges forinternational business today.

Today’s workforce is a mixture of differentraces, ages, genders, ethnic groups, religions and lifestyles4.It is therefore the job of the management of the organisation to fit togetherdifferent pieces of mosaic in a harmonious, coordinated way and utilising theabilities and talents of each employee to its maximum. If skilfully managed,diversity can bring a competitive advantage to an organisation. If not,however, the bottom line can be negatively affected and the work environmentcan become unwelcoming. Businesses must be aware of the impact of culturaldiversity on important business factors especially communication and the degreeof the effect of cultural diversity on it. 5Some of the main causes and effectsof cultural misunderstanding in the business environments are as follows;The first cause is culturalignorance and insensitivity. A lack of cultural awareness in a businessenvironment can create a sense of division among workers. No matter howculturally evolved or aware a worker is, he/she might have some subtle culturalboundaries or ideas about people from other countries that may or may not beaccurate.

This may result in the generalisation of people of different cultures and forming a preconceivedstereotype. Harbouring unfair prejudices against people of different colours, cultures,ethnicity or religion than one’s own makes it hard to create a sense ofteamwork and unity in the workplace. The second cause has to do with miscommunication. Misunderstandings, inaccuracies, inefficiencies and slownessare typical communication problems experienced by diverse groups in a businessenvironment. Communication breakdowns occur when members often assume that theother party understands the message when in fact they do not. Language is a very complex thing andcommunication between people speaking different languages is difficult. Theeasiest and most obvious way to effectively communicate with an internationalclient or colleague is the ability to speak their language.

In themulticultural workplace typical of doing business in a global economy, culturalbarriers to communication abound. Besides the difficulty in understandingpeople whose language is different, there are other factors that challengepeople who are trying to work harmoniously with others of a differentbackground who have different frames of reference, and may display emotions andbehaviours differently. Even when no prejudice exits among workers, adiversified workplace can bring about certain communication issues thus creating misunderstandings resulting in reduced productivity by creating acommunication barrier among team members. Another cause is religion andlifestyle. A recent study shows that workers who feel religiously comfortablein the workplace have higher job satisfaction6. Religionis an integral part of culture which can become an issue in the workplace. Forinstance, if certain individuals are required by their religious faith to dressin a certain manner or wear a particular piece of cultural garb that othersmight find offensive, this can create cultural division within the workplace.

Differences in religious ideas can also cause division, especially if those ideasare discussed freely during times when workers are idle. Though one’s personallife should not affect his/her job performance, lifestyle acceptance issometimes also an issue in the workplace. When discrimination and a lack ofrespect for one’s religion and lifestyle choices creep into a work environment,conflict among employees becomes inevitable. This leads to an uncomfortableworking atmosphere and poor productivity. If not distinguished, such animosityin the workplace can turn explosive or even violent. Furthermore, differences in the approachto completing tasks may cause misunderstandings in the business environment. Peoplefrom different cultures tend to complete tasks differently.

Some may betask-orientated, whilst others are relationship-orientated. For example, theGhanaian culture tends to attach more value to developing relationships at thebeginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion towards theend, as compared with the Germans. Conversely, the latter tends to focusimmediately on the task at hand and let relationships develop as they work onthat task.  The Ghanaian attitude to completingtasks in the last minute may lead to insecurity and pressure from the otherwithin a group. However, the fact that one group chooses task over relationshipdoes not necessarily mean that they place different values on relationships orthat they are less committed. It is rather that they just pursue differentgoals during the process.

To conclude, although many companiesseek to have cultural diversity, cultural diversity itself can bring its ownset of problems for management professionals if they are inadequately preparedto deal with such diversity. It can hamper the sense of togetherness andbelonging that many companies seek to create when consciously developing acultural identity for workers. A company must educate its workerson cultural differences. This will heighten awareness and eliminate any fear orsuspicion that might arise from not knowing enough about another person’sdifferences. Companies that overcome diversity issues often achieve greaterproductivity, profit and company morale. The key component in achieving afavorably diversified workplace is establishing teamwork and mutual respectamong staff members.

The acceptance of individual differences is essential increating a fair and productive work environment. 1 Kluckhohn 1954; Hofstede 19802Konard, A. Prasad, P. and Pringle, J. (2006), Handbook of workplace diversity3Organisational Culture and Leadership (27 Aug 2010) by Edgar H.

Schein4Mor-Barak, M. (2005), Diversity: toward a globally inclusive workplace5Henderson, G. (2001), Cultural Diversity in the workplace: issues andstrategies6 by Kabrina Krebel Chang


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