Home Research PapersCultural internationalisation has become of great importance recently. More

Cultural internationalisation has become of great importance recently. More

Cultural misunderstandings or
conflict arises whenever there are cultural differences. These differences,
while it is difficult to observe and measure, are very important. Failure to appreciate
and account for cultural misunderstandings may lead to embarrassing mistakes,
strain relationships, and drag down business performance. This essay focuses on
the main causes and effects of cultural misunderstanding in the business
environment.First, we will look at the
definition of culture. Culture is defined as a set of shared values,
assumptions and beliefs that are learnt through membership in a group, and that
influence the attitudes and behaviors of group members1. Culture can be understood as a group phenomenon that distinguishes
people of one group from another. This definition implies that culture is not obtained by birth but rather
acquired through a process of socialisation. The learning of shared values, assumptions
and beliefs occurs through interactions with family, teachers, officials,
experiences, and society-at-large. Culture is an important dimension of group
diversity that influences communication. Cultural diversity is the variety of
human 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 of
culture according to Edgar Schein. These are: macro-cultures, organisational cultures, sub-cultures and micro-cultures. Inside organisations, there
may be different sub-cultures. Schein identifies three of them and these are;
operator’s (based on human interaction, high levels of communication, trust and
teamwork), engineers (elegant solution, abstract solutions to problems,
automation and systems) and executives (financial focus, lone hero, sense of
rightness and omniscience). In any business organisation, the alignment between
these three sub-cultures is critical. 3The increasing globalisation and
internationalisation has become of great importance recently. More and more
companies are looking abroad to expand their businesses as the world becomes
more and more – increasingly interconnected. Managing of business operations
across international boundaries has become one of the largest challenges for
international business today. Today’s workforce is a mixture of different
races, ages, genders, ethnic groups, religions and lifestyles4.
It is therefore the job of the management of the organisation to fit together
different pieces of mosaic in a harmonious, coordinated way and utilising the
abilities 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 environment
can become unwelcoming. Businesses must be aware of the impact of cultural
diversity on important business factors especially communication and the degree
of the effect of cultural diversity on it. 
5Some of the main causes and effects
of cultural misunderstanding in the business environments are as follows;The first cause is cultural
ignorance and insensitivity. A lack of cultural awareness in a business
environment can create a sense of division among workers. No matter how
culturally evolved or aware a worker is, he/she might have some subtle cultural
boundaries or ideas about people from other countries that may or may not be
accurate. This may result in the generalisation of people of different cultures and forming a preconceived
stereotype. Harbouring unfair prejudices against people of different colours, cultures,
ethnicity or religion than one’s own makes it hard to create a sense of
teamwork and unity in the workplace. The second cause has to do with miscommunication. Misunderstandings, inaccuracies, inefficiencies and slowness
are typical communication problems experienced by diverse groups in a business
environment. Communication breakdowns occur when members often assume that the
other party understands the message when in fact they do not. Language is a very complex thing and
communication between people speaking different languages is difficult. The
easiest and most obvious way to effectively communicate with an international
client or colleague is the ability to speak their language. In the
multicultural workplace typical of doing business in a global economy, cultural
barriers to communication abound. Besides the difficulty in understanding
people whose language is different, there are other factors that challenge
people who are trying to work harmoniously with others of a different
background who have different frames of reference, and may display emotions and
behaviours differently. Even when no prejudice exits among workers, a
diversified workplace can bring about certain communication issues thus creating misunderstandings resulting in reduced productivity by creating a
communication barrier among team members. Another cause is religion and
lifestyle. A recent study shows that workers who feel religiously comfortable
in the workplace have higher job satisfaction6. Religion
is an integral part of culture which can become an issue in the workplace. For
instance, if certain individuals are required by their religious faith to dress
in a certain manner or wear a particular piece of cultural garb that others
might find offensive, this can create cultural division within the workplace.
Differences in religious ideas can also cause division, especially if those ideas
are discussed freely during times when workers are idle. Though one’s personal
life should not affect his/her job performance, lifestyle acceptance is
sometimes also an issue in the workplace. When discrimination and a lack of
respect for one’s religion and lifestyle choices creep into a work environment,
conflict among employees becomes inevitable. This leads to an uncomfortable
working atmosphere and poor productivity. If not distinguished, such animosity
in the workplace can turn explosive or even violent. Furthermore, differences in the approach
to completing tasks may cause misunderstandings in the business environment. People
from different cultures tend to complete tasks differently. Some may be
task-orientated, whilst others are relationship-orientated. For example, the
Ghanaian culture tends to attach more value to developing relationships at the
beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion towards the
end, as compared with the Germans. Conversely, the latter tends to focus
immediately on the task at hand and let relationships develop as they work on
that task.  The Ghanaian attitude to completing
tasks in the last minute may lead to insecurity and pressure from the other
within a group. However, the fact that one group chooses task over relationship
does not necessarily mean that they place different values on relationships or
that they are less committed. It is rather that they just pursue different
goals during the process.To conclude, although many companies
seek to have cultural diversity, cultural diversity itself can bring its own
set of problems for management professionals if they are inadequately prepared
to deal with such diversity. It can hamper the sense of togetherness and
belonging that many companies seek to create when consciously developing a
cultural identity for workers. A company must educate its workers
on cultural differences. This will heighten awareness and eliminate any fear or
suspicion that might arise from not knowing enough about another person’s
differences. Companies that overcome diversity issues often achieve greater
productivity, profit and company morale. The key component in achieving a
favorably diversified workplace is establishing teamwork and mutual respect
among staff members. The acceptance of individual differences is essential in
creating a fair and productive work environment.

1 Kluckhohn 1954; Hofstede 1980

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2
Konard, A. Prasad, P. and Pringle, J. (2006), Handbook of workplace diversity

3
Organisational Culture and Leadership (27 Aug 2010) by Edgar H. Schein

4
Mor-Barak, M. (2005), Diversity: toward a globally inclusive workplace

5
Henderson, G. (2001), Cultural Diversity in the workplace: issues and
strategies

6
https://hbr.org/2016/03/what-companies-can-do-when-work-and-religion-conflict.
Article by Kabrina Krebel Chang

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