Sometimes, when people from different cultures work together, misunderstandings develop. People do not realize how incomprehension impacts business outcomes.
Below I demonstrate a few ways culture impacts business:
Communication & Its Various Ways: The way people communicate varies widely. Words have different meanings in different cultures. Even in cultures that share the same language the meaning of a word could be different. The word yes, in come cultures does not exist. In other cultures, it could be interpreted as “maybe,” “I’ll consider it,” to “of course,” and “definitely,” these are a few of the subtle ways in which people use words when communicating.
Let us not forget non-verbal communication, it is not only about facial expressions and gestures; it also accounts for seating arrangements at meetings, personal standing distances, sense of time, and other norms.
Lastly, the raising and lowering of the voice when speaking impacts how people react to your message. For example, many Americans typically consider raised voices to indicate that a fight has begun, while some cultures will perceive a raised voice to indicate excitement in conversation.
Tasks – Initiating & Completing: Completing tasks varies from culture-to-culture. For example, some Asian, European, and Latin cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a project and less emphasis on completing the task. This doesn’t mean that tasks don’t get completed, they do, but only after relationships have been built and trust has been established.
Decision Making: Decision-making is different from culture-to-culture. For example, in the United States, decisions are oftentimes delegated. In many Southern European and Latin American countries, top leadership holds decision-making responsibilities. In other cultures, decisions are made by groups where the majority rule. In Japan consensus is the preferred mode. These differences have a huge impact on the outcome of things.
Conflict & Its Resolution: In some countries, conflict is viewed as a positive thing while in others it is viewed as something to be avoided. In the United States, conflict is not desirable, but when it arises, Americans often will handle it directly.
In the United States face-to-face meetings are one of the ways in which individuals work through conflict, whereas in some cultures, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing, demeaning and internalized as a loss of face. In these cultures, differences are worked out privately.
Disclosure: In some cultures, emotions may not be openly expressed. Individuals may hold back when misunderstandings develop. They may hold personal information, or knowledge from others. Be aware when you speak with someone that they may be uncomfortable discussing or revealing some things. What may be normal to you, may be intrusive to them.
Learning & Understanding: Significant differences exist among how people learn and use knowledge. For example, Some European cultures tend to consider information acquired through cognitive means, such as counting and measuring, more valid than other ways of learning. Compare that to African cultures who prefer affective ways of learning, including symbolic imagery. Asian cultures tend to emphasize the knowledge gained through personal striving, mastery and transcendence. In the United States experiential learning is widely accepted.
These different approaches to learning are not bad or wrong, they are merely different. How people learn and how they apply what they learn, has an impact on business results.