One of the many things that makes working in Singapore a uniquely enriching experience is the number of different cultures that one finds working together, particularly in the large MNC’s. There are many cities that are more cosmopolitan than Singapore – London for instance apparently has over 250 languages spoken on a daily basis. In terms of people working closely together however it is not, in my opinion, as multi cultured as Singapore. When one has so many different people from different countries communicating and work together it is important to understand how the different cultures may see each other and to be aware of the “cultural minefield” that may exist within a large organization.
Different Communication Styles
The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of "yes" varies from "maybe, I'll consider it" to "definitely so," with many shades in between.
Different Attitudes Toward Conflict
Some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. In the U.S., conflict is not usually desirable; but people often are encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. In contrast, in many Eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly
Different Approaches to Completing Tasks
From culture to culture, there are different ways that people move toward completing tasks.
Asian and Hispanic cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion toward the end as compared with European-Americans. European-Americans tend to focus immediately on the task at hand, and let relationships develop as they work on the task.
Different Decision-Making Styles
The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. For example, in the U.S., decisions are frequently delegated -- that is, an official assigns responsibility for a particular matter to a subordinate. In many Southern European and Latin American countries, there is a strong value placed on holding decision-making responsibilities oneself.
Different Attitudes Toward Disclosure
In some cultures, it is not appropriate to be frank about emotions, about the reasons behind a conflict or a misunderstanding, or about personal information. Keep this in mind when you are working with others.
Though cultural differences and boundaries do exist, with good will and tolerance from both parties involved it is possible to bridge the culture divide. It is sometimes a startling realization that, on reflection, another different view point from a different cultural perspective actually makes as much sense as our own.
Chris Fenney, Co-founder and Director of Training Edge International and has more than 30 years experience in training and management development, gained in demanding yet sophiscated commercial organizations both in Europe and the U.S.A., where a high premium has always been placed on optimizing human resources and improving performance.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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