as good or bad,
or wrong based on
such as dress,
language, food and
be different from our own.
Indu Kohli recently conducted a one-day
workshop on “Working Cross-Culturally?nbsp; for the National Institute
of Professional Secretaries (now called the Indian Association of
Secretaries and Administrative Professionals) at Le Royal Meridien,
With a background in Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Kohli has
worked with various companies on different aspects of behavioural and
attitude training. Her client profile ranges from five-star hotels to
software companies and service industries. She has also worked with our
very own Pragati Kendra of Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. Kohli designs
and conducts workshops to suit the client’s needs.
In the inaugural (November-December 2001) issue of CHANGE, Takao
Kasahara, Consultant, Streamline Strategy Japan Inc., had stressed the
importance for Godrej employees to gain experience and greater exposure
to the outside world. “Working Cross-Culturally?by Indu Kohli provides
new insights into Kasahara’s views.
“Know thyself and you will win all battles.?/font>
?Sun Tzu (Chinese philosopher)
How often have we looked around us and noticed
people who are different from us culturally? In the world of business, which
has evolved at breakneck speed in the last eight years, people may sometimes
find these differences hard to cope with.
India, a country that was closed in many ways to the rest of the world, is
now inviting joint ventures, exposing its citizens to a worldwide energy of
growth at a pace that is hard to match. Whether it is information
technology, automobiles, television, mobile phones or washing machines, the
international business arena is now looking in our direction to market and cash in on the intelligence and
opportunities that one-sixth of the world population can provide.
This brings new opportunities for us as Indians to expand our vision of
people, to open new windows of wonder, and to recognise that there are
differences in cultural practices. And, as we begin to work
cross-culturally, the key to success is to understand ourselves better, and
to respect other cultures.
I have often asked friends and colleagues their opinion of cultures
influenced by the West. The responses are shocking. Opinions range from
“they do not care about their families?to “they are selfish and only care
for themselves? The “they?are most often people one has very little
information about, and the source of information is seldom from direct
contact, but most of the time from movies or television (The Bold and the
Beautiful or Santa Barbara). Similarly, their snap judgement of us is that
we “dance around trees and sing songs on the street”…
It is time to move away from stereotyping and act and behave more
All cultures are ethnocentric, which means that each thinks its own
solutions are superior, and that they would be so recognised by any
thinking, intelligent, logical person. Each culture has its own perceptions
and worldview of culture, and what it means to them.
Most people equate culture with the arts, literature, theatre, or as
referring to socially or intellectually cultured persons, with refined
manners. Culture is much more than that. Culture refers to the total way of
life of particular groups of people.
How then do we find easy ways to communicate with and understand people more
deeply than we do? We judge others as good or bad, right or wrong based on
superficial details such as dress, language, food and behaviour, which may
be different from our own. But what we see on the surface stems from a
The four steps to building bridges between different cultures are:
1. To understand your own deeper culture and connect it to the person you
are, and what you stand for and believe in, your practices and values.
2. To understand your counterpart’s culture, ask questions and get to know
more than is available on the surface.
3. To respect the differences.
4. To make efforts not to stereotype, but to recognise that all human beings
are made differently and accept people as individuals and respect their
The Hofstede Model
Dr. Geert Hofstede, a social scientist and Director (Emeritus) of the
Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation (IRIC) at the University
of Limburger in the Netherlands, created a model to measure cultural
differences based on deep-rooted behavioural practices. Dr. Hofstede’s
pioneering study of IBM affiliates in 50 countries, elaborated in his book
Culture’s Consequences, helped to form the foundation of the field of
Using these pointers, it becomes easy to understand social differences and
behaviour, and learn to work and deal with them on an everyday basis.
This is the extent to which people in society accept that power is unequally
divided amongst them. In societies where the power distance is narrow,
individuals respect themselves, and are able to confront powerful authority
figures with more ease. Money, education, political power, position in
business organisations, etc. symbolise power. The first thing a person does
is present his visiting card to ensure that he is treated better. This shows
that he is power conscious.
The power distance in India is very wide compared to, say, the USA or the
Netherlands. This is because each and every person is taken well care of in
developed countries. As a result, they find it easier to communicate with
Power distances can also exist between parent and child or between husband
and wife. Where do you see yourself vis-?vis your family? Your work? And
society at large?
Individualism vs Collectivism
This is defined as the extent to which people in a society feel the need
to belong to groups (family, friends), and to make decisions dependent on
other members of the group. Both collective and individual societies have
their pros and cons.
Collective societies take decisions through a group process. They can become
extremely dependent on each other to the extent that they cannot even take
minor decisions on their own. They are loyal to the group and receive
support in return. India is a highly collective society.
In contrast, there are people who do not feel
such a need to be dependent on others. They enjoy their independence, look
after themselves and their immediate families, and do not concern themselves
with others in personal matters. These are individual societies.
Individual societies think and speak up for themselves. The new generation
is now tending to move towards individual societies as it has the strength
and advantage of good education, more jobs, more money and more
independence. Individual societies are more responsible and accountable.
Masculine vs Feminine
A society in which people value material things, position, power, money and
success is considered masculine. We are a highly masculine society,
People who place a higher value on less tangible measures of success and
emphasize quality of life are considered effeminate. Societies which pay
attention to softer skills such as the arts, theatre, music, perfume-making
and so on, are feminine societies. The French are considered the most
feminine among societies.
Uncertainty vs Avoidance
This is defined as the extent to which people in a society feel
threatened by unfamiliar situations, and how they deal with these
In developing nations (that includes India), citizens are not protected by
government and society. For example, if a self-employed or freelance worker
cannot work for some reason, nobody is going to take care of him/her. So
he/she is always saving money in different forms such as gold, mutual funds,
etc. in the hope that some day he/she will be able to enjoy his/her money.
But that day never comes. Such a citizen is living in a very uncertain
In an uncertain society, a citizen is always living in fear and is
constantly worried about the future.
Compare this with societies that take care of their citizens through methods
that are built into the social system, government and civil processes. First
World countries provide a social safety net to citizens to protect them
against catastrophic events in their personal.
Different societies have different views of time. Some are future
oriented, some focus on the present and some on the past. This affects the
concept of punctuality and how quickly things are done.
The Hofstede Model is excellent, but how does one practise it in day-to-day
Check out your work situations. See what you would like to change. Observe
the people you interact with. Try to understand why the other person is
behaving in a certain way. The ability to be aware of differences and making
efforts to bridge gaps will help us learn and evolve into citizens of the
Build up your skills. Look at change as if it is the need of the country
today. Remember, you have to stand up for yourself. Believe in yourself.
That you can do it.
There was a small boy who went to the seashore every day at dawn. He would
pick up something and throw it into the sea. A man who observed him doing
this every day, asked him what he was doing. The boy replied: “I am picking
up these starfish and throwing them into the sea so that at least some of
them revive.?The man said: “It hardly makes a difference.?Throwing another
starfish into the sea, the boy replied: “At least it will make a difference
to that starfish.?If you make a difference even to one person, it is a big