How to Master Intercultural Communication

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Interacting with people from other cultures can be fascinating.  Whether you are abroad or on home turf, you are often exposed to new and fascinating ways of doing things.  If you are about to take a trip to another country, it is a good idea to brush up on the culture and traditions in advance of your departure.  This can be instrumental in avoiding potential miscommunication.  If you are dealing with people from many cultures on a routine basis, some fundamental  information about value systems and how people relate in certain parts of the world can be invaluable. It will help you know how to interact in an appropriate way. Concentrating on five basic categories will give you a running start when interacting with individuals from other cultures.

INDIVIDUALISTIC and COLLECTIVISTIC CULTURES

Individualistic Cultures foster individualism and focus on individual goals.
There is a preference for ‘equal’ relationships, and behavior cannot be predicted from group memberships.  Representative Cultures: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States.

Collectivistic Cultures focus on group goals. There is strong emphasis on traditions and conformity. Representative Cultures:  Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

MASCULINE and FEMININE CULTURES

Masculine Cultures have differentiated gender roles and are characterized by power, assertiveness and performance. Representative Cultures: Arab cultures, Austria, Germany, Italy,Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland and Venezuela.

Feminine Cultures value quality of life and service. Sex roles are androgynous. Feminine cultures have overlapping gender roles. Representative Cultures: Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, East African cultures, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Thailand.

LOW and HIGH POWER DISTANCE CULTURES

With Low Power Distance Cultures, individuals are viewed as equals. Emphasis is placed on legitimate power. Superiors and subordinates are interdependent. Representative Cultures: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States.

With High Power Distance Cultures, individuals are seen as unequal. Subordinates are dependent on those above them. Representative Cultures: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Panama, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

LOW and HIGH UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE CULTURES

Low Uncertainty Avoidance Cultures are characterized by low stress and anxiety. Dissent is acceptable. There is a high level of risk taking. Uncertainty is OK. Representative Cultures: Canada, Denmark, England, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Sweden and the United States.

High Uncertainty Avoidance Cultures are characterized by high stress and anxiety. There is a strong desire for agreement. People do not like to take risks. Representative Cultures: Egypt, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Greece, Japan and Mexico.

LOW CONTEXT and HIGH CONTEXT COMMUNICATION

High Content/Low Context Messages are direct and clear with most of the message explicit in the code. This form predominates in individualistic cultures.

High Context/Low Content Messages are indirect and ambiguous. Most of the information is internalized in the person or his surroundings. This form is found more typically in collectivistic cultures.

Be  aware of cultural differences and how they should impact your communication.  When you’re not sure how to proceed, be respectful.  That goes a long way in successfully establishing relationships.
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Article Author: Carol Dunitz, Ph.D.

Carol Dunitz, Ph.D. is president of The Last Word LLC, a communication and creative services company.  She is a professional speaker and author of ‘Louder Than Thunder,’ a parable about listening and interpersonal communication.  Dunitz is the playwright, lyricist and composer of ‘Bernhardt on Broadway,’ a musical about Sarah Bernhardt.  She can be reached at 312.523.4774, cdunitz@lastword.com or www.DrCarolDunitz.com.

Article Source: http://www.articlealley.com/article_1175282_15.html

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Challenges Indian Offshore Teams Face in Working with Americans

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As the foremost “hot spot” for America’s offshoring and offshore outsourcing of technology and business services functions today, India presents an important case study of differences in business culture. In the course of years of giving seminars to both American and Indian teams working together, I have found recurring themes and incidents that point to underlying cross-cultural differences in mindset, values and approach to business interactions.

Once you get past the more obvious mutual adjustment issues of time zones, logistics, work and holiday schedules, accents, names and language (American vs. Indian English), there are five elements of American business culture that pose special challenges for Indian teams interacting with their American counterparts – whether in the ITO, BPO or call center environment.

1. Mindset about Management Hierarchy

In American business culture, rank and title aren’t as important as they are in India. Hierarchical forms of behavior are frowned upon. The expectation is that subordinates will speak up, offer suggestions, push back and take initiative rather than just do what they’re told. Decisions tend to be less top-down, authority is more delegated, and managers expect team members to take responsibility and assume ownership of results.

2. Attitudes Towards Appointments and Deadlines

For Americans, strict adherence to time commitments is seen as a basic principle of professionalism and courteous behavior. Because everything tends to be strictly scheduled, delays in one appointment or deadline can have a serious ripple effect on a colleague or customer’s other work commitments. The more flexible and open-ended approach to time of Indian business culture can create tensions and unfavorable impressions on American counterparts.

3. Meaning of Agreements and Commitments

Americans have a preference for clear, detailed agreements and are uneasy with vague expressions of general commitment. In business interactions, commitments are taken literally and seriously. Failure to follow through on them precisely is viewed as a sign that a person isn’t trustworthy. Indian business culture tends to view agreements more flexibly as intentions and guidelines for future action.

4. Results vs. Process Orientation

In Indian business culture, following the rules and implementing correct processes is highly valued, but in American business culture, it’s all about results. There is impatience with individuals who come across as more concerned with following established processes correctly than with achieving the desired goal. Americans don’t like to be told all the procedural reasons why something can’t be or hasn’t been done.

5. Directness … Especially in Addressing Disagreements

The American style of communication is characteristically direct, candid and relatively unconcerned with face-saving or the avoidance of conflict. The expectation is that questions will get answered with a clear “yes” or “no,” and that disagreements will be dealt with openly and straightforwardly, in a “tell it like it is” manner. Indians and people from other cultures that tend to avoid conflict and loss of face often find it hard to say “no” or raise problematic issues effectively with their American counterparts.

Cultural awareness and the ability to adapt effectively to another culture’s way of doing things are complex skills – whether you’re a programmer in Bangalore or a project leader in Sunnyvale. Everyone tends to take their own cultural ways of doing things for granted and to assume they are self-evident to others.

In recent years, American companies offshoring or outsourcing to India have shown growing awareness of the hidden costs of cross-cultural mismatches in work-related behaviors. They have been willing to invest in general and region-specific cross-cultural training for their onshore employees and those who are asked to travel to India. They have also learned to devise process accommodations to circumvent the negative effects of certain cultural tendencies in their offshore teams.

What these companies seldom undertake to address directly is the need to seriously educate their offshore teams in the fundamentals of American business culture – the attitudes, thought patterns and behavior norms that Americans expect. They’re missing a golden opportunity to improve the productivity and experience of their onshore-offshore teams.

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Article Author:  Karine Schomer
© 2006 Karine Schomer. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Karine Schomer is President of Change Management Consulting & Training, LLC, and leads the http://www.cmct.net/india_practice.html CMCT India Practice, specializing in cross-cultural training and management consulting for doing business with India. For more learning resources check the CMCT Articles Archive http://www.cmct.net/india_articles.html.

Article Source: http://www.articlealley.com/article_96747_15.html

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Why Observing Foreign Culture Can Lead To Business Success

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In the world of business, English is widely acknowledged as the universal language.  However, despite using a common language, it is not uncommon for misunderstandings to occur.  Differences in cultural and business practices mean that business travelers should be aware of varying customs, etiquette and cultural differences when conducting business abroad.

When conducting international business, it is extremely important for business representatives to be aware of different cultural beliefs and behaviour.  After all, behaviour which might be considered normal in a UK boardroom could be radically different to behaviour expected in Saudi Arabia or China.  As a result, failure to understand foreign business practices and customs can create insurmountable barriers to successful business relations.  Conversely, taking a little time to learn these cultural differences can reap rewards and help build strong business relationships.

The age-old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is sometimes a wise adage to bear in mind when conducting business with foreign clients.  In the UK, for example, meetings are often business-like and tend to follow a rigid time-based structure where points are debated at given times.  However, in Japan and other Asian countries, there is great importance attached to courtesy and hospitality which can cause delays and prevent keeping to a strict schedule.

Certainly, in many parts of Asia, forming a personal relationship in your business dealings is very important.  Although it can take time to build, once a relationship has been developed, it tends to last for a very long time and can be advantageous over the more ‘shallow’ relationships found in Europe and the United States.  In some business cultures, establishing friendships can be a potent business tool, so it is important to take the time to establish such relationships with prospective clients.

Another important cultural difference to observe is the difference in greeting business counterparts.  In the UK, a firm hand-shake is considered polite as is making brief eye-contact.  In China, bowing or nodding is the common greeting, and although shaking hands is becoming a popular form of greeting, this should be initiated by the host.

Personal space should also be observed according to the dominant culture.  In the UK and Europe, personal space is valued and an acceptable distance should be kept.  However, in some southern European countries and Asia, personal space is much decreased so that what could be perceived as intimate in the north is akin to normal conversational distance in the south.

Regardless of the location of business meetings, whether in the boardroom of a London Company or the restaurant of a business hotel in Dubai, it is important to be aware of the many cultural differences that exist between east and west, north and south.  While some traits are worldwide, such as ensuring punctuality at the start of a meeting, other traits are much more subtle.  Taking the time to understand those traits and the differences in cultural and business etiquette can mean the difference between business success and an unsigned contract.
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Article Author: Adam Singleton

Adam Singleton is an online, freelance journalist and keen amateur photographer.  His portfolio, called Capquest Photography is available to view online.

Article Source: http://www.articlealley.com/article_178324_15.html

About the Author:  http://netpressarticles.com/

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