Understand what is meant by culture.
Know that there are different kinds of culture.
Identify several different kinds of culture.
What exactly do we mean by culture? Culture is different from personality. For the purposes of this article, we define personality as an individual’s identity and unique physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics. Without a doubt, one of the biggest obstacles to cross-cultural understanding and effective relationships is our often inability to separate the influence of culture from the influence of personality. Once we are literate, we can more easily understand personal traits and how they affect our relationships.
So What Exactly Is Culture?
Culture in today’s context differs from traditional, more singular definitions, especially in Western languages, where the word often means refined. Culture is the beliefs, values, mindsets and practices of a group of people. It contains the group’s behavioral patterns and norms—the rules, assumptions, perceptions, logic, and reasoning specific to a group. Essentially, each of us grows up with a belief system that shapes our personal perspectives in such a way that we can’t always explain or even understand its influence. We’re just like other members of our culture – we have a shared understanding of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Culture is actually the collective programming in our heads from birth. It is this collective planning that distinguishes one group of people from another. Most of the problems with any intercultural interaction stem from our expectations. The challenge is that whenever we interact with someone from another culture—whether in our own country or around the world—we expect people to behave in the same way, and for the same reasons. Cultural awareness most commonly refers to understanding the values and perspectives of another culture. This doesn’t mean automatic acceptance; it just means understanding how another culture thinks, and how its history, economy, and society influence the way people think. Understanding so that you can correctly interpret someone’s words and actions means you can effectively interact with them.
When talking about culture, it’s important to understand that there really is no right or wrong. People’s value systems and reasoning are based on the teachings and experiences of their culture. Right and wrong really become concepts. Intercultural understanding requires us to readjust our thinking, and most importantly our expectations, to interpret the gestures, attitudes and statements of the people we meet. We readjust our mindset, but we don’t necessarily change it.
There are many things that make up a culture—manners, attitudes, rituals, laws, ideas, and language, to name a few. To truly understand culture, you need to go beyond the do’s and don’ts lists, although those are also important. They need to understand what excites people and how history, politics, and social issues affect them as a group over time. It is important to understand the “why” behind the culture.
When trying to understand how culture develops, we examine the factors that shape culture and its values. In general, value is defined as something we like more than something else, whether it’s a behavior or a physical object. Values are usually acquired early in life and are often irrational – although we may think our values are actually quite rational. Our values are the core cornerstone of our cultural alignment.
Chances are, each of us grew up with very different values than our peers and peers around the world. Being in a new culture can upend everything you know about what is good and bad, fair and unfair, beautiful and ugly.
Human nature is such that we see the world through our own cultural shadow. There is an unconscious bias among our cultural norms that prevents us from looking at other cultures objectively. Our judgments about people from other cultures will always be influenced by the frame of reference we are taught. When we examine our habits and perceptions, we need to reflect on experiences that blend together to shape our cultural frame of reference.
When dealing with cultural differences, we tend to generalize. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Generalizations can prevent us from delving into the esoteric, esoteric aspects of a culture. However, realize that culture and values are not static entities. They are constantly evolving – merging, interacting, separating and reforming. All over the world, values and culture are passed down from generation to generation as people are influenced by things outside of their culture. In the modern age, media and technology have perhaps single-handedly had the greatest impact on culture in the shortest amount of time — giving people around the world instant access to other cultures, for better or worse. When you recognize this fluidity, you can avoid falling into outdated generalizations. It will also enable you to understand local cues and customs and gain a better understanding of the local culture.
Understanding what culture means and what it is made of will help us better explain business impact at the macro and micro levels. Confucius said at the crossroads of culture: “Sex is similar, but customs are separated.”
What Kinds Of Culture Are There?
Politics, economics, and social philosophy all influence the way people’s values are shaped. Our cultural base of reference—formed by our education, religion, or social structure—also has a major impact on business interactions. When we study culture, it is very important to remember that all cultures are constantly evolving. When we say “culture”, we don’t always mean people from different countries. Each group has its own unique culture—that is, their own way of thinking, values, beliefs, and ways of thinking. For the purposes of this chapter, we will focus on national and national cultures, although subcultures exist within a country or nation.
The exact beginning and end of culture may not be clear. Some cultures fall within geographic boundaries; others overlap naturally. Cultures within one border can appear within other geographic borders and appear very different or identical. For example, Indians in India or Americans in the United States may communicate and interact with their fellow countrymen who have lived outside their respective home countries for many years.
For example, the countries of the Indian subcontinent have great similarities. Cultures within one political boundary can emerge within other political boundaries that look almost identical, such as Chinese culture in China and overseas Chinese culture in countries around the world. We often think of culture as being defined by a country or nation, but this can be misleading as there are different cultural groups (as shown in the image above). These groups include nationalities; subcultures (gender, race, religion, generation and even socioeconomic class); and organizations, including workplaces.
Country Of Citizenship
National cultures – as the name suggests – are defined by their geographic and political boundaries, and even include regional cultures within a country and between several neighboring countries. What matters about countries is that borders have changed throughout history.
In the last century alone we have seen a lot of change as the British and Dutch empires gradually disintegrated and new nations emerged at the turn of the 20th century. For example, the physical territories that make up the states of India and Indonesia today are very different from what they were a hundred years ago.
While it’s easy to forget that India was ruled by the British for 200 years and Indonesia by the Dutch for more than 150 years, the influence of the British and Dutch on their respective bureaucracies and business environments was more evident.
The British and Dutch were notorious for creating huge government bureaucracies in the countries they controlled. Unlike the British colonists in India, the Dutch did little to develop Indonesia’s infrastructure, public services or education system. The British, on the other hand, tended to hire locals for administrative positions, thus creating a strong and well-trained Indian bureaucracy.
Many groups are defined by race, gender, generation, religion, or other culturally distinct characteristics. For example, the Chinese business community has a unique culture, although it may include Chinese businessmen from multiple countries. This is especially evident across Asia, as many often view Chinese companies as a single business community. Whether from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore or other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, the overseas Chinese business community tends to support each other and build business relationships. This group is viewed differently than Chinese from mainland China or Taiwan. As a minority group with strong business interests, their shared experiences have given them a shared understanding of how to quietly run large businesses across countries.
Every organization has its own workplace culture, referred to as organizational culture. This defines simple aspects such as how people dress (casual or formal), how they view and rate employees, or how they make decisions (as a team or individually via managers). When we talk about a company’s entrepreneurial culture, it can mean that the company encourages people to think creatively and react relatively quickly to new ideas without lengthy internal approval processes. One of the issues that managers often have to consider when working with colleagues, employees or clients in another country is how that country’s culture blends with or contrasts with the company’s culture.
For example, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have different business cultures that are influenced by their respective industries, the types of tech-savvy people they hire, and the personalities of their founders. When doing business in a country, these companies need to assess how new hires fit into their culture, which often emphasizes creativity, innovation, teamwork balanced with individual achievement, and a strong sense of privacy. Your global workforce may look relaxed in casual work attire, but there’s often fierce competition lurking behind the scenes. So how do these companies recruit effectively in a country like Japan where teamwork and following the rules are more important than finding new ways of doing things? This is an ongoing challenge that HR departments are constantly grappling with.