Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel
Why is intercultural understanding important?
For Volunteer Projects
A Case Study - Lisa, Volunteer in India
* Why did Madhavan brush aside her inputs?
* Why was Uma upset by Lisa's initiative?
* Why did the students refuse to cooperate with her?
For Internships and Jobs Abroad
Case study - Alvin, an American intern in Japan
Edo-Maru's marketing team consists of 3 people that Alvin will work with, who are all in their 30s, - one man named Hiroyuki and two women named Miki and Saori - that he should support to market the Green Tea Chocolate abroad.
On his first day at the office in Tokyo, Alvin is given a long and detailed hand-over report which was written by the previous foreign intern and he is told that before he leaves, he should also write such a long and detailed hand-over report to the intern that would follow him. Alvin is surprised and thinks that the effort put into such a report is somewhat exaggerated and that he will need at least two weeks just to write it, a time he believes could be better spent in doing something more directly related to his marketing task. He is not accustomed to writing down things in a very detailed manner, as at his friend's donut shop, many things were just decided and done ad hoc. If something is not clear to him he prefers to simply ask his colleagues and his idea is to simply have a phone conversation with the following intern to explain to him or her what he did. In any case, he thinks that 3 months are more than enough to accomplish his task to boost sales of Edo Maru's Green Tea Chocolate abroad. He has already proven at the donut shop that he is the best when it comes to the marketing of sweets!
Saori asks Alvin to write a proposal and to do a presentation about his ideas on how to market the Green Tea Chocolate abroad. For reference, Saori also gives him a proposal that she wrote for another product. It is written in Japanese, but she briefly translates to him the contents. Again, Alvin is flabbergasted by the level of detail of the proposal, which contains a very long feasibility study, detailed descriptions of worst case scenarios with suggestions of how to solve them, and required insurances. He thinks this is unnecessary and if he has to write such thing, he cannot complete the task within his 3 month internship! Saori tells him that the deadline for his proposal is in 1 month, but before he starts writing it, he should outline his ideas to the 3 in his team so that Hiroyuki can discuss it with the Head of Marketing, who would then present it to the Sales Director. Alvin thinks that if so many people are involved in the concept, it can only get worse, but anyway, he is convinced that everyone will love his concept, because his ideas are always great and he has a proven track record!
At around 6pm Alvin thinks it's time to leave the office, as he wants to work out at the gym, but everyone else seems fully occupied with their work. He asks Hiroyuki when they will finish and Hiroyuki answers that he just got another email that he needs to sort out for the day. He can join them to have a beer and dinner when they finish today's tasks. Alvin never says no to a beer, so he decides to skip gym for a day. At 9pm Hiroyuki, Miki and Saori meet with 5 people from the company's other departments, including the sales director. They go to an Izakaya, a Japanese pub and order beer and a lot of food.
The bar has a very informal atmosphere and groups of "salarymen" ("Sararīman" - Japanese term for employed businessman) are loudly laughing. The sales director, who is 53 years old, is telling stories about how the company was when he started working there 30 years ago. The beer is brought and Alvin wants to serve himself, but Miki tells him she will serve him. Alvin realizes that nobody is serving himself or herself, but that others always do it for the people around them. He tells everyone that in America it is not like that. The group asks him whether he likes Japan and he answers that he likes some things about Japan such as Sushi, but that he doesn't like other things, particularly Japanese music, that he believes is not good. People seem not very happy about his comment. Miki tells the group that she has started participating in Yoga lessons at her Gym and that she really enjoys them. Alvin comments that he thinks that it is “nonsense to do Yoga at a gym where there is loud background noise and a lot of movement, because Yoga needs a tranquil and spiritual location”, and Miki seems personally attacked by his comment for a moment. Alvin doesn't understand this, because he thinks he was just talking about the best location for doing Yoga and not about Miki in particular. Anyway, everyone is still friendly to him and smiling. He also does not want to miss the opportunity and tells the sales director and everyone else proudly about the great success of the donuts shop in the US that he did the marketing for, and that everyone thought he did a great job! The sales director says that he is looking forward to seeing his contribution to the marketing task.
The sales director offers to pay the total bill for the whole group (around 20,000 Yen) but everyone else also offers to pay the total bill. In the end, the sales director agrees that everyone can contribute 1000 Yen, but Alvin doesn't have to, as he is only an intern.
During the following weeks, whenever something is not clear to him, Alvin asks Hiroyuki, Miki or Saori, even though the information might be found in the handover report. The three are always very patient with him and don't seem to bother, so he thinks it is no problem to ask them, and also to tell them how things are done in America in comparison to Japan. He has explained the outline of his concept to Hiroyuki, Miki and Saori, who, after some days, ask him to apply some changes. Alvin doesn't really like the requested changes and only includes some of them into the report. Also, he decides to reduce the feasibility study to one page to be able to finish the report on time. To enjoy Tokyo and do his gym workout, he usually leaves the office earlier than his colleagues, as they told him it is ok to do so.
A few days later, the internship agency that has arranged Alvin's internship wants to meet him and tells him that Edo-Maru are not happy with him and have asked them to find a solution.
What went wrong? (Please also refer to Hofstede's Dimensions on the bottom of this page).
The long, detailed handover report and what is expected in the concept proposal is a result of the extremely high “Uncertainty Avoidance” and “Pragmatism” that is characteristic of the Japanese culture.
Japan is also one of the most Pragmatism oriented societies. Japanese see their life as a very short moment in a long history of mankind. Notion of the one and only almighty God is not familiar to Japanese, but people live their lives guided by virtues and practical good examples.
Another dimension that comes into play here is the high “Masculinity” of Japanese culture. There is a great need to achieve and succeed, emphasis is on living to work.
Scoring high on these three dimensions makes the Japanese culture extremely unique and fascinating. It makes them high achievers, efficient and long term oriented. The United States scores significantly lower on two of these dimensions and considerably lower in Masculinity, and hence, Alvin’s inability to adjust.
Japan is also extremely “Collectivistic” when compared to the United States, which is the most “Individualistic” society in the world. Group harmony is more important than individual opinion in Japan, particularly in the bar atmosphere, which is aimed at bonding with the group, and when the topic is not "important". Two Japanese terms come into play here: "Honne" (True feelings and wishes) and "Tatemae" (Facade). “Honne” may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one's position and circumstances, and is often kept hidden, except with one's closest friends. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one's position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one's honne. These terms are equivalent to the common concept of public and private face which is a part of all Collectivistic cultures.
In Collectivistic cultures, “speaking one’s mind” is not appropriate. One’s communication style is adjusted in a way that does not offend the other. This is opposite in Individualistic cultures, where it is common to express one’s opinion openly – which is what Alvin did with criticising Japanese music and the fact that his colleague did Yoga in a gym.
Being a Masculine culture, staff stay long hours at the office to show everyone "that they have done their best" for the interest of the team. If someone does not deliver the work as expected AND seems to not have "done his/her best", it is considered very negatively. Alvin leaving early made his team feel like he was not part of their “group”. It is a Collectivistic trait that colleagues stay to show solidarity with everyone working hard. Japanese strongly identify with their team (Collectivism) and if someone fails within the group while having tried his/her best, he/she can still count on support from the group. In Japan, there is traditionally little competition within the team, but the competition is against other teams (Masculinity). Even at school, there are group competitions like “Red team vs. White team“. A comparatively higher “Power Distance” culture than the United States, the sales director is like a father to the team, and as he has a higher income, it is normal that he pays a higher share of the bill.
Japanese people don't like people who have "a big mouth" ("Ookuchi tataku"), overselling their skills. Japanese rather "undersell" their skills and experiences. “Big mouth“ is commonly attributed by Japanese to Westerners, particularly Americans. Applicants for internships in Japan should be advised not to exaggerate their skills in their CV. It is more appreciated if they can do a better work than what is expected from them than the other way round. This is because of Japan's high Uncertainty Avoidance – in such cultures, the admiration goes to the expert, not the talker. There is also the factor of Masculinity (achievement and being the best – not just saying you are) and Collectivism (team player) here.
The Japanese team members will not directly criticize the intern (direct criticism does not exist in Japan – that is why they do not like TV programs such as “American Idol“). This is a Collectivistic trait. The signs of criticism are very subtle, so that Alvin doesn’t notice them.
What does World Unite! offer in the field of intercultural training?
1. Hofstede Culture Compass
2. Intercultural Training Module for Groups
- Beijing (China) - Living in China, Working with Chinese, Doing Business in China
- Bangalore (India) - Living in India, Working with Indians, Doing Business in India
- Cochabamba (Bolivia) - Living in Bolivia/Latin America, Working with Bolivians/Latin Americans, Doing Business in Bolivia/Latin America
3. Individual Coaching over Skype
Hofstede's 6D-Model of Culture
"Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally." Individuals in a society that exhibits a high degree of power distance accept hierarchies in which everyone has a place without the need for justification. Societies with low power distance seek to have equal distribution of power. Cultures that endorse low power distance expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic.
"The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups". In individualistic societies, the stress is put on personal achievements and individual rights. People are expected to stand up for themselves and their immediate family, and to choose their own affiliations. In contrast, in collectivist societies, individuals act predominantly as members of a lifelong and cohesive group which is used as a protection in exchange for unquestioning loyalty (note: "The word collectivism in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state").
"The distribution of emotional roles between the genders". Masculine cultures' values are competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life. In masculine cultures, the differences between gender roles are more dramatic and less fluid than in feminine cultures where men and women have the same values emphasizing modesty and caring.
"A society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity". It reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional. They try to minimize the occurrence of unknown and unusual circumstances and to proceed with careful changes step by step planning and by implementing rules, laws and regulations. In contrast, low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible. People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic, they are more tolerant of change.
This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.