The consequences of this when dealing in an organisational context is ambiguous, imprecise and widely different interpretations can be taken away from meetings and thus developing relationships could become a very time-consuming, frustrating process. How does culture influence people’s actions? Through the use of discourse analysis, it can be seen exactly how culture influences the way in which people act. There are many different definitions of discourse and how it can be used for analytical purposes (Keenoy et al, 1997; Cohen and Musson, 2000), however for the purpose of this paper Watson’s (1995) definition of discourse is most relevant.
Discourse is therefore understood as “a connected set of statements, concepts, terms and expressions which constitute a way of talking or writing about a particular issue, thus framing the way people understand and act with respect to that issue”. Thus essentially discourse has three main aspects; how language use influences beliefs and interaction or vice versa; how aspects of interaction influence how people speak; how beliefs control language use and interaction (De Beugrande, 1997). The main aspect, which I am concerned with, is how cultural texts influence how people act and understanding why these differences occur.
The culture discourse therefore frames the way in which members of that society talk about topics and act. This emphasises the need to understand a company’s culture because it will determine “how things are done around here” (Mullins, 1999). In intercultural encounters especially, understanding why people act the way they do according to their beliefs will contribute significantly to developing strong relationships. The example of Japanese culture being very polite manifests itself in their unwillingness to say “no”. If foreign managers were able to recognise the “no” signals, then less time would be wasted during negotiations.
Also, Mwaura et al (1998) research into the transferability of corporate culture in the hospitality industry found in the American owned Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, the training processes were not directly transferable because of the significant differences in approach to classroom environments. As in the USA, training was done through manuals but the collectivist Chinese culture requires trainees to place relationships before achievement and as a result no one person wanted to appear superior to another in the classroom/training situation.
This resulted in continual inefficiencies in service delivery due to the lack of “Sheraton standards”. As this demonstrates, the influence of culture manifests itself clearly through the employees’ reluctance to contribute or respond verbally during the training process. How to act in this setting is significantly different and therefore organisations cannot just transfer exactly the same business practices to different countries because they may hold certain things that are less important to other nations, to be more significant.
The Chinese, for example, often do not want to accept responsibility and make a decision (Child and Markoczy, 1993), whereas the Germans can be seen as very direct and to the point (Cohen, 2002). Therefore in negotiations, both parties will bring their own cultural nuances to the table and relationships may well break down because of the directness of the Germans and the inability of the Chinese to conclude anything. The theory of Linguistic relativity sees language as a comfortable room and it can highlight the social realities in different cultural contexts (Cohen, 2002).
The Confucian influence on China emphasises the importance of education, a desire for accomplishment and an obligation to the family (Jones, 1993). Within Chinese families, children are not called by their name, but by their corresponding position within the family. Therefore the oldest son is called “Big Brother”, the next is “Second Big Brother” and so on. The younger siblings are expected to listen to and obey the elders to preserve order in the family; refusal to do so represents disrespect and can lead to a loss of “face” for the family.
As a result of these social hierarchies, significant problems can arise within a business context. In the West, individual thinking is very much encouraged therefore junior employees would not have any qualms in questioning the decision of a manager. However in the East, the Confucian understanding stifles creativity, critical thinking and intellectual curiosity (Mah, 2001), therefore junior employees respect the seniority and thus would not consider questioning those who are higher in the hierarchy.
This may well lead to a very bias relationship being developed with potentially the Western managers overpowering the Eastern managers, but if the situation continued like that it would not make business sense to maintain it and thus the relationship would break down. Also from the opposite point of view, youth in a manager is seen as unacceptable as it is against the tradition of wisdom and experience coming from age.
As Chinese culture defines that only elder members of society can talk knowingly about subjects in both organisational and social contexts, employees therefore do not respect or listen to young managers thus conflict arises and poor performance results (Mwaura et al, 1998). The concept of “giving face” manifests the Confucian aspect of Chinese culture as this can often lead to many problems arising both in a social context and business. Bond and Kwang (1986) argue that the significance of the “face” concept severely affects the ability of a Chinese manager to make decisions.
As they tend to attach great importance to the views others hold about them more than in western cultures, Chinese managers therefore avoid actions that for them are high risk, or about which there is some uncertainty regarding the correctness of the outcome. This can lead to a breakdown in communication because if no employee is willing to take the responsibility for making a decision, effectively the decision just gets passed around until someone forgets about it and then the blame is passed on too.
This would cause significant problems during negotiations or when trying to develop relationships with western companies because nothing would get agreed and eventually a lot of tension and frustration would be caused. However, this concept of giving face can be misunderstood and lead to conflict arising as other cultures do not understand its significance and find it fairly rude. For example, Mah (2001) recounts one occasion when a close friend thought she was “giving face” to the British mother of her future son in law by complimenting on her beautiful gems and asking, “How much they cost?
” In Mrs. Wang’s eyes, she was giving her close relative a big dose of mian zi (face). But to Lady Sutherland, her bold question was merely a vulgar invasion of her privacy. The significance of this is it highlights how the culture discourse influences people’s actions and how they can be misinterpreted. But an understanding of why people may act differently to what you may be used to will help explain certain behaviours and also highlight what is required in terms of establishing and maintaining strong business relationships.
For example, the business practice of exchanging business cards carries more significant symbolic value in Japan than in other countries; it is a sign of respect and social etiquette (Cohen, 2002). By not following this process, conflict will arise within the relationship, as not following traditional formal greetings will immediately cause bad impressions. Conclusion As businesses become more international and far reaching, this paper has highlighted the importance of understanding cultural differences when attempting to create relationships, specifically between eastern and western companies.
As demonstrated, communication between different cultures is often very difficult because of the differences in meaning making defined by language, and also due to the underlying beliefs and values that influence what is the cultural norm. Therefore to rectify this situation, and thus develop and maintain relationships, organisations must acknowledge the importance of culture and at least make some effort to appreciate that differences are present, and try to gain a degree of “cultural literacy” (Schirato and Yell, 2000), to be able to understand better the intricacies involved in retaining a strong cross-cultural relationship.
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