Diversity and Inclusion Strategies: Intercultural Communication – Part II
A case study analysis of a NYC workforce center system and their aptly named Center Challenges Committee (a quality circle comprised of the system’s leadership and managerial employees) serves as the means of observation for Hureco Maverick’s intercultural communications model. Our model aims at building culturally competent leadership and creating diversity and inclusion programs.
In part one of this article, we defined culture and explored Bennett’s six stages to intercultural sensitivity and unearthed solutions to the workforce centers’ committee’s challenges with communicating effectively. We now take a look at the practical applications of Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture, as awareness is the gateway to understanding and acting.*
The topic of culture and power is one that many employers would rather not have; however, HR professionals must encourage these dialogues so that their diversity and inclusion programs include an analysis, diagnosis and creation of impactful interventions. Organizational success is predicated on successful human interactions and to not unearth and address what is, is to not address what should and ought be for organizational optimization and growth.
Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture help to shed some light on the nature of conflict amongst its committee members as a microcosm of the career centers, and the career centers as a microcosm of the macro of the world’s societal norms and values.
Hofstede’s six dimensions are:
1. Power distance
2. Uncertainty avoidance
3. Individualism or collectivism
4. Masculinity or femininity
5. High and low context
6. Monochronic/polychronic time
Power distance indicates the extent to which a society accepts the fact that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. It is reflected in the views of the most and least powerful in our societies. The power distance, simply put, is a look at national origin and what countries are considered to be aligned in power and which are aligned with less power. It is a very similar construct to first, second and third worlds or the newfangled most, moderate and least industrialized terms used to describe countries and world demographics. The power distance compares societies as being closely related in high power or low power.
For example, committee members who are from G7 nations will typically experience power distance differentials in their interactions with committee members who are from Central or South America, Africa and Asia. G7 nations have high power distance; the others have low power distance. Economic differences between these two groups are largely based on class structure that place the G7 nations further away on the power distance spectrum from the countries in Central and South America, Africa, and, to a decreasing extent, Asia. The greater the distance between high and low power among committee members, the greater the gap may be in successful communication between them.
This was observable in the committee meetings with concern to strategic use of space – native-born Americans would sit at the head of the table even if there was already a purse in the seat that they removed and placed elsewhere or a notepad and pen placed directly in front of the chair. This nonverbal communication conveyed a high power distance to those who are not American native-born.
Uncertainty avoidance refers to the degree to which a society feels threatened by uncertainty and by ambiguity, hence people from these cultures tend to either avoid uncertainty and ambiguous situations – high uncertainty avoidance versus those from cultures that embrace more risk and challenge the status quo – low uncertainty avoidance. This concept is applicable in committee’s member’s reactions to trying novel solutions to the center’s challenges. Those with national origins from countries that had very high health risk factors or an uncertain economy or even those whose origins were here in America, but grew up poor or experienced in their lifetime a major and impactful lack tended to be very risk-adverse. If the ideal is to reach consensus and there are members of the committee that are very frightened by ideas that are not the status quo, it makes decision making and resolution of problems very difficult to achieve. It is important to be mindful of the high/low uncertainty avoidance to be able to negotiate with those who may be adverse to risk and with those who might make unwise decisions due to their desire to take on as much risk as possible.
Individualism or collectivism
The Eurocentric world-view is individualistic, with the emphasis placed on uniqueness, materialism, and competition – a “survival of the fittest” attitude is common. In Asian, African and Latin cultures the world-view is communally-oriented with an emphasis on collectivism, interpersonal skills, wisdom and cooperation – “survival of the group.” Thus, it is important to be aware in a workplace communication setting that this dimension of cultural difference may dictate the difference in the value that a committee member (or work colleague) places on autonomy versus group work. An example of this can be found in the perception that the Latino/Latina committee members have formed cliques that are impenetrable. Perhaps their grouping is more a case of being culturally focused on collectivism.
Masculinity or Femininity
The dimension of masculinity or femininity expresses the extent to which the dominant values of a society are “masculine.” According to Hofstede this masculinity includes assertiveness, the acquisition of money and things, and not caring about the quality of life. In the United States men are judged in large part according to their earning and not by how much time they spend with their children. The committee experienced an executive level member take time off in anticipation of his adopted son’s arrival and transition into his home. This was perceived by the committee members as something wholly undesirable and his decision raised questions about this executive’s masculinity. Perceptions like these can have deleterious effects not just on the committee, but also on jobseekers. The centers’ jobseekers rely on the each center’s employees to help them without prejudices concerning what their roles should and should not be as men and women. It brings into question whether there are discriminatory acts occurring if we deem certain jobs to be gender-specific.
High and Low Context
Hofstede’s proposed fifth dimension of cultural difference is high and low context. In high context cultures information is internalized and people look for meaning in the unspoken, indirect communication of body language, in the eloquence of silence, facial expression and gestures. In low context cultures the opposite is true; people are a lot more direct in their communication, articulating with words, with emphasis on sending and receiving accurate messages. It is easy to imagine how these two positions on the communication spectrum can cause miscommunication and perhaps even frustration to the senders and receivers of messages using vastly different mediums. Culturally, Western countries are low context and Eastern countries are high context in their communication styles.
The answer to several of the committee’s issues in effectuating better communication is as simple as having the knowledge and information. Awareness often results in actions taken to ensure that one is understanding and understood.
Monochronic versus Polychronic
The sixth dimension of cultural difference is monochronic versus polychronic time. Monochronic cultures measure time by the clock, long-term is defined as three to five years into the future, and time is a concept that is saved, spent, wasted, made and clocked oftentimes in nanoseconds. Polychronic cultures measure time by events, not the clock. Long-term is defined as several generations and sometimes as centuries. Time is a concept not understood as linear. A moment in time therefore takes on a different meaning and haste may not be as important for people from polychronic cultures.
Americans measure time monochronically, while Spain, Latin American and Asian Countries are polychronic; these differences were witnessed frequently while working with the committee. Those from Latin American countries did not prefer the haste and hurried fashion of the meetings. They often expressed their desires to slow the meetings down a bit to focus on resolving a problem no matter how long that resolution may take. However, the American-born committee members were reluctant to slow down and very carefully monitored the time to ensure that the meetings did go over the specified time. In instances where meetings lasted over the allotted time, both those from monochronic and polychronic cultures mentally checked-out and became distracted either by the clock or by those who were complaining about the time being up.
In sharing with the committee that this nuance was cultural, they decided to come to a compromise and extended the meetings going forward to include an additional half-hour. Tightly constructed and implemented agendas were used to ensure that meetings did not go beyond this allotted time and to likewise ensure that topics were effectively discussed to reach resolution or other near-future solutions proposed.
Developing Culturally Competent Communicators
Developing great cultural communicators is dependent on avoiding ethnocentrism’s denial, defense and minimizations and moving toward cultural relativism’s acceptance, adaptation and integration. Culturally competent communicators should abide by the principles of cultural relativism and not absolutism, displaying a recognition that what we as Americans deem culturally “right” or “wrong,” our norms, mores, values and worldview not bleed over into becoming the standard of what is “right” or “wrong” for all cultures in how to perform in the workplace and how we conduct business at home and abroad. Additionally a concrete understanding of the ways we differ is important in helping to guide us away from assumptions and stereotyping.
Contact us today to learn how we can help your company or agency with creating better communicators across cultures, and cultural competency models as a part of your diversity and inclusion programs.
*Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication, developed by Geert Hofstede. Hofstede, Geert, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.