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Getting to grips with cultural diversity in the global marketplace


To avoid culture clashes when working in global teams, we need to discover and understand the values of different cultures, according to speaker Dr Farid Elashmawi, President, Global Success, USA and co-author of Multicultural Management 2000. He adds, "When we are asked about our own culture, often we cannot answer. Our beliefs and values are so embedded that we sometimes fail to realise they are present. Those from different cultural backgrounds to us can often offend, it is important to be aware of this".

As organisations become increasingly global, their managers need 'culture competencies'. Money and technology enable us to join new ventures, but to succeed we need to be able to work harmoniously or to achieve 'cultural synergy'. These issues are addressed at HRD 2000 today in a session on Multi-cultural Management: new skills for global leadership.

Dr Elashmawi uses decision making as an example. Typically, Arabs would make a decision on gathering 50% information and also their sense of authority, seniority, family values and religion. Whereas the Japanese are more likely to make their decisions after gathering 120% information, whilst also using group consensus referring to past group achievements.

"Developing cultural competency is not a simple case of attending a lecture or reading a book, it is an evolutionary process, we have to, in a way, revert to being children by asking 'how' and 'why' questions. We need to do this by learning together over a period of time, by embarking on a new culture through a close friend or mentor. Only by doing this can we really achieve multi-cultural skills" he adds.

60% of our communication is also non-verbal, the space we leave between each other when conversing varies according to our nationality. Arabs tend to leave half an arm's length between each other whereas the Japanese would leave one and a half arm's length. If the latter were to edge away during a conversation with an Arab, they would risk causing great offence.

The session also looked at cultural conventions and how these can sometimes obstruct good relationships. Some countries like titles when communicating by writing whereas others like to use universal titles that apply to all. Congratulating colleagues on a job well done is also non-customary in certain cultures. "German business people tend to congratulate less, a well done project is expected as the norm. Arabs though, appreciate flattery and acknowledgement: provide these and you will gain respect" says Dr Elashmawi.


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