Working in a multicultural setting with people of different cultures and backgrounds can lead to communication barriers. Lack of communication in the workplace can lead to confusion, conflicts and lack of teamwork. Cultural, internal and environmental aspects can determine the way a person communicates. The more diverse a company is the more their clientele and profits can increase. Poor communication has a negative impact on personal relationships, school, and work. There is no overnight fix for cultural stereotyping, racism, and language barriers. The most efficient way to improve communication is to start young. Education plays an important role when it comes to communicating. Learning to speak fluently, read, write and listen, are all significant skills to improve confidence and communication skills (Ruzzene, 1998). With training companies can create cultural awareness and decrease communication barriers.
The face of a cross-cultural organization: An interview
Mrs. Socorro Lupisan is currently a project implementation manager in the construction industry and has participated in various projects, mostly with Japanese architects. According to her, project collaborators are often just equal given that they are all professionals and have their own expertise. However, the way foreign co-workers are dealt with may also vary depending on one’s position. Colleagues are treated equally. If the Filipinos are the ones in authority, on the other hand, keep a façade, reminding the Japanese that the Filipinos are the ones in charge. When interacting with younger Japanese architects, they are treated like students with the Filipinos acting as supervisors.
Japanese experts, on the other hand, are treated with high regard, the same way Filipino experts are looked up to. Communication barrier, as Mrs. Lupisan further shared her experiences, have not much been a problem. During meetings, for example, Filipinos do not speak in Filipino and the Japanese try their best to not use their native language as well. If there are instances wherein, they have to speak in Japanese, they excuse themselves first.
Moreover, they see the Japanese as very professional, honorable and punctual. Even in the project designing, the Japanese are always on time, if not ahead of time. When a meeting is set at nine in the morning, they would usually arrive at half past eight. Also, they prefer sticking to the agenda and not adjourn the meeting without having discussed everything they have to. Filipinos, on other hand, try very hard to be on time but always make excuses for being late.
Furthermore, Mrs. Lupisan added that when the Japanese come to the Philippines to undertake projects, they adhere to the rules and regulations even if they do not value ethics review as much as Filipinos do. Despite many of them being sanseis in Japan with students constantly bowing before them, they are treated very casually when they work here as well as when their Filipino colleagues visit them in Japan. Lastly, the Japanese are very generous with their technologies, ideas and methods.
According to the interview with Mrs. Lupisan, there are some challenges that will arise in a globalized company which will make cross-cultural management the necessary type of management. One of this is the lack of proper communication. Having different languages in the company is tricky. If not, all can speak English then certain misunderstandings may occur (Swierczek, 1994). Differences in communication style is also a factor. A simple direct translation of the words is not helpful since language is a dynamic medium—one saying in another culture might mean an entirely different thing in another. In cross-cultural companies it is essential to be cautious in sending messages across—some meaning may be lost in translation or interpretation.
Another problem encountered could be the different working styles accustomed to each culture. It is inevitable that individuals have the tendency to have different quality of work. Matching these individuals will be a challenge especially if not all of them are from similar cultures. Linked to this is a certain mismatch in the working times of the people (i.e., if applicable, due to the differences in time zones). Misaligned work due to lack of proper coordination may lead to this undesired event.
Mrs. Lupisan points out that the biggest challenge faced by managers of a cross-cultural company is when the cultural differences are openly taking priority in the workplace. When differences are taking priorities in the workplace, the quality of work is in danger of being compromised or even neglected. The company might turn into some political powerhouse that will inevitably spin the company (and the business) down the drain. Immediate intervention is necessary should a situation of the like occurs. Also, if the majority of the people in the company are from one culture and only a small fraction is of other cultures, problems will definitely arise.
Given the many problems that come with cross-cultural companies, many managers tackle the problems using a four-point strategy—the first point being adaptation (Triandis, 2001). Acknowledging the gaps of different cultures will make working around it much easier than when it is denied: a problem must be present first before a solution can be found. From there, actions to familiarize and adjust to the cultures is made possible.
The second point is physical intervention. This point involves altering the shape of the team. If for some reason the project is crucial and the need is urgent, the management can opt to make a physical intervention or to change the construction of the team. This could either be manifested as a change in project leaders or number of members, a change in the grouping system, or a change in the composition of the individuals that make up the team.
Administrative involvement is the third point. When projects that will require people from different cultures to work together, it is important to have the administrators to be hands-on and clear with the set of rules that is necessary for the team to be able to perform optimally. The administrators and managers of course should be able to readily address the problems even before they surface.
The fourth point must be the last case scenario because it involves the exiting of a team member/s. This means that the team member/s will be asked to leave the group or transferred to another group because the problem could not be solved. This point of course should be the last resort or when the other points of strategy fail to solve the problem.
In addition to the previous four-point strategy mentioned, there are also other methods for dealing with cross-cultural teams and companies. First: Goals and objectives are (as much as possible) communicated clearly and objectively. Second: There must be an effort to identify conflicting areas (i.e. in cultures) so that creating solutions will be fit for the problem. Third: Cross-cultural training sessions can be coordinated. These is important because the members of the team should be attuned to the cultures of their co-workers, and so that they will be able to adjust accordingly based on the working style of the culture. Fourth: It is important to remember that motivation and trust is crucial. Even more crucial is giving the same levels to each culture.
Fifth: Rewarding proper overt and oral behavior regarding the adaptation to a communication style of a culture will promote the usage of this adaptation (which is a benefit). Recognition of progress is also worth rewarding. Sixth: Always give people a chance to participate in discussions and debate. If some individuals are soft-spoken, it is the job of the manager to encourage them. Seventh: Individuals are individuals, so they should be treated the way they should be treated—and that is, in a proper manner (Rodrigues, 1998). In line with this is that the manager should be sensitive in the placement of the members in groups. For example, a woman must not be teamed with a man who comes from a culture who does not treat women equally.
In contrast to the Mrs. Lupisan ‘s perspective, it is essential also to look at the positive things that come with working in a cross-cultural management. First of all, working with people from a different culture can elicit creativity and innovative thinking brought about the diverse knowledge each one has. A sharing of experiences can be a cause for a new and brilliant idea to come up. Second, having different places to work can offer different perspectives for the team member/s. This may enable insights and a development of useful concepts. Most importantly, the understanding of humanity is made possible because of the way team members try to incorporate themselves to other cultures and vice-versa. There is a greater tendency to learn and there is also a better development of communication skills and practices when working in a cross-cultural company.
Significance of Cross-Cultural Management
The interview with Mrs. Lupisan has shown that cross-cultural management in organization or workplace provides significant cross-cultural adjustment to foreign workers towards their work performance, interaction with other workers, and general quality of life. The active participation of the host company in fostering environment enhances adjustment amongst expatriate workers (Black, 1990). Culturally adjusted workers will tend to perform better in their work as compared with the maladjusted ones. They also tend to have increased interactions and less conflict with local workers. Adjusted workers tend to respond more favorably in their general quality of life as contrast with the maladjusted ones.
Academic research in cross-culture management has also provided an avenue in selecting the best suited expatriates for cross-cultural adjustment. Below is a model which provides an integrative model of cross-cultural adjustment.
Integrated Model of Cross-Cultural Adjustment (Palthe, 2003)
As can be seen, individual, job, and non-work variables are also contributing factors in cross-cultural adjustment. From the level of individual variable, the study also supports that high self-efficacy (belief in one’s own ability) correlates much high with their adjustment with the new culture. Clarification about the expatriate work role will decrease their uncertainty upon the arrival in the new host organization (Chen & Wang, 2018). Role clarity and role conflict are also significantly correlated with culture adjustment. According to the study, the adjustment of expatriate workers is largely affected by the adjustment of their family members towards the host country.
Based from this, cross-cultural managing organizations could also strategically focus on these other factors so that culture-adjustment could be fostered much effectively. A culturally-adjusted expatriate tends to costs significantly lower on the expenses of the organization than the maladjusted ones.
Cross-cultural Management in the Philippines
As elaborated by Mrs. Lupisan, for a foreigner trying to work in the Philippines, he/she will have to deal with understanding and the culture of the society. Soon after, it is essential for the foreign worker to also adapt this learning to his/her working style. According to one web article, “Challenges of doing business in the Philippines” (Communicaid, 2010), there are five key cultural differences that is unique to the working environment of the Filipino people. The first deals with the dependence of the subordinates to the leader. As they have noticed, Filipinos tend to be overly dependent on someone in a higher position or a leader. It is rare for Filipinos to actually challenge the person in authority. The Filipinos really value the hierarchical settings of work.
Secondly, Filipinos have a need to reach consensus before making a crucial decision. It is important to talk about it, as well as voice out each other’s opinion first. Thirdly, Filipinos take importance in building personal relationships. For some reason, some of the business matters are to be talked about during small talk between colleagues, meaning they should build a relationship with their business partner. Fourth, Filipinos have this reputation of avoiding conflict. In terms of answering back, Filipinos usually stay calm and not retaliate at the moment they’re being confronted. “Maintaining self-control is of utmost importance.”
Lastly, time is a factor that becomes a challenge for the Filipino people. In this cultural setting, it should be understood that Filipinos are more relaxed when dealing with time pressure. Sometimes, deadlines and appointments are forgone because Filipinos treat time more flexibly than other dimensions of work (e.g. relationship with co-workers).
In a study conducted Chen, Tsai, and Liu (2011), they found out that Filipinos are regarded as kind-hearted. A possible reason for this might be because of their religious background. The Philippines was also regarded as country filled with respect for others, one of the more unique cultures contrary to the other ASEAN countries. Another advantage of the Philippines is that they are one of the few countries in this particular region, probably even the whole world that speak English well. Since English-speaking has become secondary and being one of the wide-spread in this country, dealing with Filipinos are easier and language is no longer a significant barrier. Working in the Philippine environment is attractive to the Taiwanese companies because of these particular reasons.
In order to keep up with all the culture differences of the Philippines, which is far more than what has been discussed earlier, some international companies have conducted Cross-culture awareness training programs and the like. The foreigners are usually eased into the culture of a Filipino working environment, so that they can adjust their working style accordingly (PASCO Philippines, 2012). In general, foreigners face different challenges when dealing with Filipino workmates, as well as dealing with Filipino clients. Since they are trying to work in the Philippines, they must try to understand at least the country’s culture and how they should act around these issues. They should adapt accordingly to maintain a healthy and effective working environment.
Hundreds of companies in the Philippines are multinational corporations, and thus have a large amount of exposure to working with other cultures. Globalization has long allowed foreigners to enter the local organizations. Aside from having to adjust to the organizational culture, as most other employees, foreigners will need to break into the local culture (Shieh, Wang, & Wang, 2009). This immersion into an unfamiliar culture can be a disorienting experience for them. It may cause conflicts with how they interact with their coworkers and discomfort with how their colleagues communicate with them.
There are various reasons for cultural conflicts. While language is one of the primary barriers, it is not much of a problem in countries comfortable with the global language English. Other culture elements include customs, traditions and religion (Chan, 2020). Most importantly, conflict can stem from the differences in the values each culture prioritizes. Like most Asian cultures, the Philippines is a collectivist society that has high regards for group harmony, consensus, hierarchy, and conflict avoidance. These would contrast greatly with Western cultures who value independence, openness and directness. The organization and foreign employees will generally have a faster rate of accommodating each other if they are of relatively similar cultures.
Even with the barriers to cross-cultural harmony, organizations that are proactive in meeting the needs of both parties can speed up the integration. Many corporations have taken to cross-culture awareness training programs to aid the locals in interacting with their foreign coworkers. Cross-cultural training for expatriate managers also help them get accustomed to their current working environment. Furthermore, some corporations have implemented localization operations to lessen the differences with the host-country management personnel.
Adjusting to the local culture is vital not just for harmonious relationships with their workmates but also for job performance. However, the adjustment must not be one-sided. The management of the organization itself has to provide accommodations for foreign cultures. For multinational groups, easing the psychological effects of culture disorientation leads to enhancement of performance and therefore success.
Effectively communicating in the business world is significant and valuable for most organizations. Effective communication skills can reduce barriers in the workplace and help build well-organized teams. Most problems at work usually start from lack of communication. When a company lacks effective communication skills, it can lead to unnecessary conflicts and issues such as, poor performance. Employers spend money training employees to improve their communication skills to reduce communication barriers. Cultural differences contribute to how an individual communicates. Eye contact, for example, is essential in the United States in other countries it can be a form of disrespect (Welsh, 1994). Technology now plays a prominent role in communication and is currently the fastest way to communicate whether, it is via email, video call, etc.
Having excellent communication skills are essential for everyone. While working in a multicultural setting individual may experience communication barriers. Communication is an interaction or passing of information, ideas or feelings between two or more individuals (Hummels, 1994). Whether, it is verbal or nonverbal. Oral communication can consist of spoken conversations in-person, mobile or written. Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, eye contact, and posture (Jackson, 2014). Verbal and nonverbal communication are equally important. A strong leader understands that communicating verbally or nonverbally are essential everyday skills. It is essential to understand and practice practical speaking skills. Without strong communication skills, information is exchanged improperly. Excellent communication is saying what needs to be said, with an appropriate tone, to get the message across. Think before you speak, try to avoid talking too much or not talking enough. Communication skills are vital not only for employment purposes but, for academic and everyday use also. Without the ability to write, speak, listen, learn and understand the student would not be able to complete the requirements needed for school (Fontaine, 2007). Outside of work, excellent communication skills can build relationships. Effective communication sets the standard for trust between individuals and can improve relations. Communication is more than having a conversation. Understanding communication skills such as; listening, verbal and non-verbal communication can help better the relationships one has with others.
Given the expansion of business and the market, and the globalization of the world’s top companies, it is inevitable to have persons from various cultures to engage and perform in the same workplace. The outcomes are a multitude—there are many positive and negative possibilities. To address the negative outcomes, cross-cultural management is an essential process that must be undertaken in order for companies to prosper and be functional. With training and development of appropriate cross-cultural knowledge and practices, regulation of the relationships of the team members/company workers and their adaptation with each other’s cultures will become the key factor necessary for success. Through the mediation of employee engagement, cross-cultural management will lead to the employees’ quality performance and in turn, leading to the company’s excellent production and outstanding reputation.
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