Friday, February 8, 2008

Culture in the Workplace

Let's face it Boston, we live in a multi-cultural society. To succeed in today's workforce you need to know how important of a role culture plays and how to work well with other cultures. I have my Master's degree in Intercultural Relations and I would like to share with you some knowledge I have learned. One's own culture effects everything; from the rate of which you speak, the tone with which you speak, personal space, eye-contact, and of course the way you dress, to name a few examples. Although you may not think so, when you are having problems with a co-worker there is a good chance it could be related to a cultural misunderstanding. So learning about your co-worker's culture and the way their culture handles their interactions can make a more productive, and enjoyable workforce. Take an example from me who grew up in the Mid-West, adjusted to the East coast life-style, with a boss whom is Chinese, and my boss's supervisor is Jamaican.

Now I can go into the complexities of each culture and give you a few examples from which to derive a basic understanding of intercultural relations, or I can let this brand new website, http://www.culturecrossing.net/, do it for me. I really like that it tries to show you the basics of every countries way of interacting with people, whether it be for business or for pleasure. For example in America we tend to favor direct eye contact, while in Japan, indirect eye contact is preferred. If both people do not realize this subtle preference of eye contact then the other person would be perceived as unacceptable to work with and more than likely nothing would get accomplished.

A word of caution though, please take what it says on this website as a basic form of explaining cultural differences. This website explains intercultural relations in generalities, not taking into consideration the context of the situation, which can create varied differences from those listed on the website. If you would like to learn more in detail about specific cultures, please go check your local library or bookstore. There have been countless books written about perceived cultural differences.

I asked my Chinese boss on what she thought of what this website says about China, and she agreed with me that it works well as the basics of the culture but it does not go into the depth of explaining cultural differences. It also brought on a dialogue of what cultural distinctions she found difficult to adjust to when she moved here to America. I am glad I asked her about this website, because it gave us a chance to learn something new about each other. So at the very least, this website creates a chance to have an open dialogue with co-workers, which can only help alleviate cultural misunderstandings.

7 comments:

hannah said...

i totally agree. but i think even more than just going to read about different cultures, it's important to speak with real people about their real experiences because no book can convey the complexities and nuances of a culture.. and it's important to speak with multiple people because no one person can speak for a whole ethnic/cultural group.

that said, i often wonder, being a korean american woman, how culture affects involvement, or lack thereof, of individuals in volunteerism and community development. how do you think ofyp responds to cultural differences in both our target demographic and the community in general -- be it positively or negatively, if at all?

Krystle said...

I agree that people should do more than just read the books, I was hoping people would use it as a starting off point.

I think, culture is more than likely plays a big part of the decision of what you are going to volunteer for. For example someone from South Boston is more likely to volunteer for community development in South Boston. My heritage is German, and I always try and support German causes.

At OYFP what I hope to accomplish is to reach accross cultural lines and help out the community as a whole. But that's just my thoughts.

hannah said...

i agree that people tend to gravitate towards causes that address their own ethnic/cultural communities, but i was wondering more along the lines of whether or not a person's ethnic/cultural identity hinders or encourages involvement...

for example (and i'm going to generalize here for the sake of argument), east asian cultures are what we term "collectivistic," placing the good of the society over the self. the east asian cultures also stress a respectable work ethic, high achievement and financial success. in other words, i make what i do because i worked (and continue to work) hard for it. more often than not, however, i find a lack of asian AMERICANS involved in community service, volunteerism, and financial giving. and it makes me wonder why that is. speaking with my friends, i think sometimes the whole "achievement" complex takes over due to filial piety and wanting to make their parents proud, delaying the giving of their time and money. i don't know if other people see this as well, but often times i am encouraged to see such great diversity in OYFP - both in its board members and event attendees. i wonder, however, how we can target our demographic and community in general to increase involvement across cultural borders...

John R said...

I really liked this post Krystle. A few years ago while interacting with a Japanese businessman, in America, I had the opportunity to use a small piece of knowledge I learned about greetings. When we were introducing ourselves and exchanging business cards I knew to accept his card with both hands as a sign of respect. I was the only one of our group who did this and he definitely noticed. If this was a situation where I was making a deal or trying to build a long-term business relationship knowing such a small thing might give me (or anyone) the leg up against the competition. I’ll have to check out that website a bit more and like you mentioned, use it as a starting point. Thanks!

Casey said...

Hannah, you have some interesting points.. I never really thought about how to appeal to different ethnicities, instead just looking at the age group. I definitely think it's something we should take into consideration, though.

Perhaps our Salsa events are a step in that direction...? It appeals to different ethnicities and brings them together. Hm. Something to consider in the future for sure.

kerrie said...

Did you find your matsters in intercultural realtions to be useful for a job??

Krystle said...

In response to Kerrie's question. Yes I did find the material that was taught relevant in my job and am very happy I took it.

I occasionally read some of the books again and find new meaning to recent experiences I had.

I didn't like some of the required classes at the Institution and did not find it applicable to my job. I think this comes with every degree though, there are parts that you like and parts that you don't like. In this case I the good parts outweighed the bad parts.