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New! Career tips to appear here October 31, 2008

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

I write a career tip each month that I send out to an email mailing list. Now I will also publish them here, too. The first follows.

Cultural issues


In these times of diverse workforces and multinational projects and project teams, interactions between people involve more than the individual personalities. Interactions based on cultural values and perceptions can help or hurt cooperation and understanding.


In a work context, cultural issues define working relationships. The role of supervisor or project leader is viewed differently in some cultures. A hierarchal society values status much more than US or European norms. Deference to authority is ingrained and initiative is less self-generated.


Ignoring these status-based roles can be taken as bad behavior, rude, or insubordinate. A supervisor must recognize this so that team members know that they can think and act as appropriate for the work goals. If there appears to be discomfort with this autonomy, the leader must work to ease the tension. Advising regular communication or brief meetings is one option.


In the case where a supervisor comes from a hierarchal society, a person has to realize that the management style will seem to be less trusting, more intrusive, and more top-down. In some cases this can create more work, but often the tasks just need to be done in a way where the “boss” seems involved and informed.


Between coworkers, this kind of mindset creates more tension and competition as people aim to curry favor with a supervisor. This can even seem sycophantic to Americans and Europeans, raising resentments.


The opposite end of the pole is a totally egalitarian, democratic approach. This makes many people uncomfortable because they are used to some authority and leadership. The need for constant meeting to get everyone’s input and consensus can be irritating and frustrating. This can be exacerbated when the meetings are not mandatory. People opt out of “useless” meeting even when their involvement might be key or foster new ideas.


In the social or interpersonal context, cultural issues can create friction in the workplace. A person may seem standoffish or unfriendly when the reality is that a cultural value prevents a person from intruding on others’ conversations.


If you work within a diverse group, you must think about the differences in people’s backgrounds and how that affects work.




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