Human Relations MGMT611
IMPROVING CROSS-CULTURAL COMPETENCE
Barriers to cross-cultural relations:
There are several factors that create problems in developing smooth cross-cultural relations, including
communication problems. In this lesson we will focus on those barriers or handicaps which become
hindrance in the way of developing better interpersonal cross-cultural relationships.
Intergroup Rather than Interpersonal Relationships
Stereotypes in Intergroup Relations
Different Norms and Codes of Conduct
Unintentional Micro-Inequities (use of thumb for OK)
A. Perceptual Expectations:
Different people perceive differently the same phenomenon or concept. It is said that perceptions are more
important than reality. Perception is the way of explaining things. We should realize the importance of
acceptance of varied perceptions in improving cross cultural relations. It does not mean that we try to
change the perceptions of others rather we should develop the skill of accepting their perceptions.
Achieving good cross-cultural relations is hampered by people's predisposition to discriminate. They do so
as a perceptual shortcut, much like stereotyping. Yet we have to overcome this form of discrimination to
enhance cross-cultural relations.
It is quite natural that every individual perceive that his/her values, beliefs, culture, and norms are superior
to that of others. This is called ethnocentrism. It is a key barrier to good cross-cultural relations. The
assumption that the ways of one's culture are the best ways of doing things can be called ethnocentrism.
Many cultures consider themselves to be at the center of the world. One consequence of ethnocentrism is
that people from one culture prefer people from cultures similar to themselves (with several key
C. Intergroup Rather than Interpersonal Relationships:
Giving preference to intergroup relations over interpersonal relations is also a hindrance in good cross-
cultural relations. In intergroup relations, we pay attention only to the group membership of the person. In
interpersonal relations, we pay attention to a person's individual characteristics. We should remember that
every individual is different from others. Therefore we should focus on characteristics of individuals in the
group rather than a group as a whole.
D. Stereotypes in Intergroup Relations:
We should avoid preconceived ideas or notions about a particular group that work as a barrier in generating
positive feelings about a group. As a result of stereotypes, people overestimate the probability that a given
member of a group will have an attribute of his/her category. People tend to select information that fits the
stereotype and reject inconsistent information.
E. Different Norms and Codes of Conduct:
We should learn to appreciate the diversity and learn to give acceptance to others' way of doing things.
Various cultural groups have norms of their own, such as in some countries men walk ahead of women.
Also, what is permissible conduct in one group may be frowned upon and even punished in another group.
At times, we may make the mistake that others are similar to us and then become confused when they act
differently than our expectations.
F. Unintentional Micro-Inequities:
A micro-inequity is a small semi-conscious message we send with a powerful impact on the receiver.
Understanding micro-inequities can lead to changes in one-on-one relationships that may profoundly irritate
Human Relations MGMT611
others. For example, you may not have recognized that you were slighting a racial or ethnic group. For
example, showing of thumb give different message in different cultures.
Strategies to improve cross-cultural relations:
Here we take a systematic look at approaches people can use on their own along with training programs
designed to improve cross-cultural relations.
Develop Cultural Sensitivity
Focus on Individuals Rather than Groups
Respect all Workers and Cultures
Value Cultural Differences
Minimize Cultural Bloopers/embarrassments
Participate in Cultural Training
Foreign language training
A. Develop Cultural Sensitivity:
To relate well to someone from a foreign country, a person must be alert to possible cultural differences.
Cultural sensitivity is an awareness of and a willingness to investigate the reasons why people of another
culture act as they do. A person with cultural sensitivity will recognize certain nuances in customs that will
help build better relationships from cultural backgrounds other than his or her own. Raise your antenna and
observe carefully what others are doing.
B. Focus on Individuals Rather than Groups:
Get to know the individual rather than relying exclusively on an understanding of his/her cultural group.
Instead of generalizing about the other person's characteristics and values, get to know his or her personal
C. Respect all Workers and Cultures:
An effective strategy for achieving cross-cultural understanding is to simply respect all others in the
workplace, including their cultures. An important component of respect is to believe that although another
person's culture is different than yours, it is equally good. Respect can translate into specific attitudes, such
as respecting a co-worker for wearing an African costume to celebrate Kwanza. Also, respect the rights of
D. Value Cultural Differences:
Recognizing cultural differences is an excellent starting point in becoming a multicultural worker, one
who can work effectively with people of different cultures.
If you place a high value on cultural differences, you will perceive people from other cultures to be different
but equally good. You cannot motivate someone of another culture until that person first accepts you. A
multilingual sales representative has the ability to explain the advantages of a product in another language.
In contrast, a multicultural sales rep can motivate foreigners to make the purchase.
E. Minimize Cultural Bloopers/mistakes/embarrassments:
An effective way of being culturally sensitive is to minimize actions that are likely to offend people from
another culture based on their values.
Cultural bloopers are most likely to take place when visiting another country, yet can also take place in one's
E-commerce has created new opportunities for creating cultural bloopers. Bloopers must be avoided
because being able to communicate your message directly in your customer's mother tongue provides a
F. Participate in Cultural Training:
A method chosen frequently for preparing overseas workers is cultural training, a set of learning
experiences designed to help employees understand the customs, traditions, and beliefs of another culture.
Human Relations MGMT611
Many industries train employees in cross-cultural relations. An example is that cross-cultural training is
taken seriously in the real-estate business.
1. A Cross-Cultural Training Program
A cross-cultural training is considered necessary for developing skill in the international workers. Some
organizations train their employees to behave according to the culture in which they are sent for
2. Foreign Language Training
Learning a foreign language is often part of cultural training, yet can also be a separate activity. Knowledge
of a second language is important because it builds better connections with people from other cultures than
does relying on a translator. We can take here the example of a former coach of Pakistan cricket team, who
started learning Urdu language to bridge the communication gap between the boys and the coach, as he was
G. Participate in Diversity Training:
One should be capable of working in diverse environment. Cultural training is mostly about understanding
people from other cultures. Diversity training has a slightly different purpose. It attempts to bring about
workplace harmony by teaching people how to get along with diverse work associates. Such training centers
on increasing awareness of and empathy for people different in some noticeable way from oneself. A
starting point in diversity training is to emphasize that everybody is different in some way, and that all these
differences should be appreciated. To help training participants develop empathy, representatives of various
groups explain their feelings related to workplace issues.
Overcoming cross-cultural communication barriers:
A key part of developing good cross-cultural relations is to overcome, or prevent, communication barriers
stemming from cultural differences. Personal life, too, is often more culturally diverse today than previously.
Avoiding cultural bloopers can help prevent communication barriers. Here are some more tips or
More steps to improve Cultural Relations:
. Be alert to cultural differences in customs and behavior.
. Use straightforward language and speak slowly and clearly.
. When the situation is appropriate, speak in the language of the people from another culture. If you speak a
few words in the language of others it will leave a good impression on him/her
. Observe cultural differences in manners/customs.
. Be sensitive to differences in nonverbal communication. (The American thumb and finger symbol for
"OK" is particularly hazardous.)
. Do not be diverted by style, accent, grammar, or personal appearance.
. Listen for understanding, not for agreement or disagreement.
. Be attentive to individual differences in appearance.
Cultural Mistakes to Avoid with Selected Cultural Groups:
Asking personal questions. The British protect their privacy.
Thinking that a business person from England is unenthusiastic when he or she says, "Not bad at
all." English people understate positive emotion.
Gossiping about royalty.
Expecting to complete work during the French two-hour lunch.
Attempting to conduct significant business during August-les vacances (vacation time)
Greeting a French person for the first time and not using s title such as "sir" or "madam" (or
monsieur, madame, or mademoiselle).
Human Relations MGMT611
Eating too much pasta, as it is not the main course.
Handing out business cards freely. Italian use them infrequently.
Expecting punctuality. Your appointments will usually arrive 20 to 30 minutes late.
Make the American sign for "okay" with your thumb and forefinger. In Spain (and many other
countries) this is vulgar.
(Denmark, Sweden, Norway)
ˇ Being overly rank conscious in these countries.
ˇ Scandinavians pay relatively little attention to a persons place in hierarchy.
ˇ Introducing conflict among Swedish work associates. Swedes go out of their way to avoid conflict.
All Asian countries
Pressuring an Asian job applicant or employee to brag about his or her accomplishments, Asians
feel self-conscious when boasting about individual accomplishments and prefer to let the records
speak for it. In addition, they prefer to talk about group rather than individual accomplishments.
Shaking hands or hugging Japanese (as well as other Asians) in public. Japanese consider the
practices to be offensive.
Not interpreting "We'll consider it" as a no when spoken by a Japanese businessperson. Japanese
negotiators mean no when they say, "We'll consider it."
Not giving small gifts to Japanese when conducting business. Japanese are offended by not
receiving these gifts.
Giving your business to a Japanese businessperson more than once. Japanese prefer to give and
receive business cards only once.
Using black boarders on stationary and business cards because black is associated with death.
Giving small gifts to Chinese when conducting business. Chinese are offended by these gifts.
Making cold calls on Chinese business executives. An appropriate introduction is required for a
first time meeting with a Chinese official.
Saying no. Koreans feel it is important to have visitors leave with good feelings.
Telling Indians you prefer not to eat with your hands. If the Indians are not using cutlery when
eating, they expect you to do likewise.
Mexico and Latin America
Flying into a Mexican city in the morning and expecting to close the deal by lunch. Mexicans build
business relationships slowly.
Attempting to impress Brazilians by speaking a few words of Spanish. Portuguese is the official
language of Brazil.
Human Relations MGMT611
Most Latin American countries
Wearing elegant and expensive jewelry during a business meeting Most Latin Americans think
people should appear more conservative during a business meeting.
Dubrin, A.J. (2005). Human Relations: Career and Personal Success. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey,
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