Thanks to globalisation, and the advent of technology and the Internet, our world has broadened, spanning over numerous geographic locations and cultures worldwide. Our day-to-day interactions with people, be it for business or for pleasure, are no longer limited to ones who share the same background, ethnicity, and culture as us. While this is mostly a very good thing, there are certain drawbacks that are easy to overcome if you have a little patience and a willingness to learn. One of the drawbacks would be the clash of cultures, or more simply, little misunderstandings that may arise due to the difference in culture.
Culture is defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society”. Thus, culture governs how we perceive things around us and dictates the way we act and respond to things about us. One of the first steps people must take to solve this is to acknowledge that the conflict between two people of different cultures may arise, not due to any sinister reasons, but purely due to cross-cultural differences especially with regards to values, assumptions or beliefs.
Here are some of how cross-cultural differences may come into play.
Verbal communication may be one of the biggest challenges when dealing with people of a different culture, especially if the language used is not the first language of one party. When someone picks up a language having been a stranger to it all his life, he may not be able to quickly adapt to the intricacies of the language, and he might sound very “textbook” in his usage. This may be falsely misinterpreted as rudeness or being off-handed/cold. One way to counter this is to keep in mind that your partner might not be trying to be offensive or rude, it’s just that his language capabilities are limited and he may not know how to soften his words or make them sound more polite.
Non-verbal communication may also be an issue. Things like facial expressions, gestures, timing, and even personal distance, may lead to conflicts between people. For example, some Westerns tend to be louder and quick to invade personal space (by hugging, touching, etc.), which is normal in their culture but considered rude and aggressive by Asians.
People from different cultures view conflict differently. Some people view it as a good thing to air out your grievances and solve it on the spot, while others view it as a thing to be avoided at all costs – even if it means keeping your issues a secret and bearing it in silence. In Western culture, people are encouraged to handle conflicts and deal with them head on. However, in Asian culture, it may be better to suppress the desire to confront anyone head on.
This also applies to differences in disclosure. People from certain cultures may be more comfortable with letting their feelings known and thus more inclined to share the reasons behind conflicts. However, people from other cultures may be reluctant to share such private information about themselves.
Even things like decision-making are different depending on your culture. Some cultures may place the decision-making task onto the most powerful person present, and if your partner is one such person, he might make the decision taking it for granted that the rest will comply. Some cultures make decisions based on what the majority wants, perhaps something more democratic countries are used to. While other cultures may not reach an actual decision unless they convince the remaining doubters to see their point of view.
Ultimately, overcoming difficulties when it comes to cross-cultural interactions involve a lot of patience and acceptance. Purposely leaving behind things like prejudice, racism and stereotypes will help you inculcate into this new situation better.