The result of businesses expanding all around the world is Globalization. Decentralisation and a divided labour force have led to a global economy. A divided labour force in a global economy forces people to deal with others across cultural boundaries. Interacting on a global scale means that everyone must learn to treat each other with integrity, respect and caring during cross-cultural interactions.
In business and personal contexts, we always interact with others who hold different worldviews and frames of reference. This means the way they observe and interpret events may be different to how we observe and interpret the exact same event. Having integrity, respect and caring during intercultural communication allows businesses and individuals to be more tolerant of differences and open to learning about those whom they interact with.
Practising integrity, respect and caring during intercultural business encounters
To practice tolerance, you need to familiarise yourself with the intercultural differences at play in business encounters. They are:
People with power and privilege in business are sometimes unaware of how much power their positions and relations afford them. Political, structural and economic factors determine the climate of power relations and privileges. They may not be obvious, but effective leaders can address power issues with integrity, respect and caring by sharing power and increasing tolerance and understanding of how other cultures handle and appreciate power distances.
Power distance refers to how clear power differences are. In cultures and organisations with a high-power distance, there are obvious differences. There is no confusion between superiors and their staff. Cultures that believe in low power distances aim to decrease differences in power as much as possible.
Have you ever found it hard to act with integrity, respect and caring while dealing with a client or partner because there seem to be blurred lines of responsibility and no sense of urgency?
Some cultures prefer to work from a collectivist work-related value. Here, responsibilities are shared and there are no boundaries between tasks. In South Africa, we are used to working in an environment where each staff member has a specific role and responsibility – traits of an individualistic culture. It may be frustrating and difficult to work with others that have less rigid lines between tasks and roles.
Another difference is how cultures view work. It is important to understand the attitudes held toward work to motivate others. There are 2 different types of workers. The first type of worker finds achievement in the work itself and feels a sense of accomplishment after completing tasks. The second worker sees work as instrumental. It is a means to achieve other goals outside of work (holidays, cars, experiences etc.).
Being consciously aware of how people from different cultures prefer to communicate allows you to understand them better and communicate accordingly in intercultural settings. This enables you to always communicate with integrity, respect and caring.
Communication styles vary according to their directness and context. In business settings, transactional communication is important to solve problems. Those with a direct communication style will ‘cut to the chase’ while others with an indirect communication style prefer to ‘beat around the bush’. You may find it hard
to act with integrity, respect and caring when people are either too blunt or too vague. By realising that this is simply their preferred way of communicating and being aware of these styles allows you to adapt.
The same applies to high-context or low-context communication. Those who prefer high-context communication prefer to give lots of details and information when communicating. (Think of your teenage daughter explaining the fight she had with a friend.) Those with a low-context communication style prefer a ‘nett’ conversation. They want the facts and most important details at once.
Working in a global economy requires you to interact with many world views. Broadening your knowledge and bringing this knowledge to intercultural encounters enables you to act with integrity, respect and caring in all situations. Being aware of differences enables you to prepare to accommodate different cultures and practice tolerance.
If everyone learns a little more about each other every day we can appreciate cultural differences – treating one another with integrity, respect and care, all the time and hopefully, interaction by interaction, make the world a better place.
This is just one of five values we live by, others include: