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February 5, 2019

Culture Clash – Respect and Conflict – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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"We find comfort among those who agree with us; growth among those who don’t."

- Dr Marty Nemko, U.S. career coach

About This Week's Chat

A characteristic that I love seeing in other people is self-honesty. However, that places a responsibility on me to be self-honest, too. Otherwise, I compromise my integrity.

So, let me start with a confession: when I was young, I was culturally blind, and I struggled to see other people's behavior from the perspective of their culture.

In my mind, many types of behavior that were drilled into me as a youngster – from table manners to how to address people – were right. And anything else was wrong. Just that. Wrong.

Working With People

In later years, a significant life event or two caused me to start looking at people differently.

At the same time, I started working with students and adult learners from a melting pot of cultures. If I had insisted on imposing my own ideas of right or wrong on them, I wouldn't have lasted a month.

Instead, I learned how to ask good questions, to listen intently, to observe behavior, and to think about what the driving force behind their behavior could be. Here's what I learned: more often than not, there's a link between people's behavior and their culture and history.

I also had to learn that different cultures define "respect" in different ways, especially where behavior is concerned. In my culture, it is bad manners not to make eye contact with someone. However, some ethnic groups in my country regard direct eye contact from a young person to an older person as rude.

Imagine this in a conflict situation: one person shows respect by avoiding eye contact, as their culture dictates; the other person interprets the lack of eye contact as a lack of respect. There's fuel for the fire!

An Important Lesson in Culture

The most important lesson I had to learn was that I had to know my own culture very well. If you know your own culture inside out, you know why certain (unconscious) values are important to you. You also understand why you expect others to behave in a certain way in specific situations.

If you don't know that your expectations and values are driven by your culture and its behaviors and norms, you might not think about why others do what they do. Instead, you're likely to judge them, or try to teach them "manners."

I now lecture and facilitate group events to help others to learn about culture, diversity, values, and respect. I've also become very accepting of others doing things differently, and I've even adopted practices from other cultures. I've sure come a long way, but it's been worth every step!

Culture Clash: Respect and Conflict

Our topic for this week's #MTtalk Twitter chat is "Culture Clash: Respect and Conflict."

During last Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, Dr Dorrie Cooper, @sittingpretty61, used a great example to explain hidden cultural values.

She said, "One's work ethic might be different from another's slower pace with different values. Americans value the individual and working at the expense of other things. Other cultures believe family first and bring their children to the work setting."

Here are the questions we asked during our session, and some of the responses:

Q1. How does culture shape behavior?

@YEPBusiness Culture is the learned, frowned upon, permitted, encouraged, agreed upon and accommodated behaviour. Sub- and micro-cultures develop to accommodate where there is value to do so.

@SaifuRizvi Culture is a framework which pushes an individual to behave according to dos and don'ts written in the framework.

Q2. How would you define respect, based on what you learned from your culture of origin?

Many participants responded with tweets about listening to others, accepting different opinions and tolerating differences. However, a number of people also said they were taught to have good manners and respect their elders.

@JKatzaman We grew up learning respect by minding our manners and being nice to others.

@TheCraigKaye Respect is also culturally dependent. Language, for instance, in one area might be unacceptable in another.

@harrisonia Based on how I was raised, we were expected to respect, trust, and believe senior citizens, relatives and leaders because they were older. So thankful I outgrew that! Older doesn't make you wiser and youth doesn't mean you're unlearned.

Q3. We often learn values and beliefs that we aren't conscious about, through culture. How did you become aware of some of your unconscious cultural values?

@MicheleDD_MT Lessons learned while working in a college that worked with marginalized groups. Quickly learned about privilege and the impact our assumptions have on how we think about and behave with others who are not the same as we are.

@aarum101 Analyzing everything you are told, fortunately, and, although in my country there were almost no schools that followed the democratic system (even less in my time), I was educated at home under the precepts of this, so I never accept anything without analyzing it.

Q4. How do your unconscious values influence how you deal with conflict? What expectations do you have of other people?

Unconscious values might motivate us to defend certain points of view, without us knowing exactly why we do it. With that comes the expectation that the other party should act or react in a specific way. It creates plenty of room for misunderstandings to occur!

@Ganesh_Sabari Unconscious values play a major role in our instinctive behaviour; which gains significance in times of conflict as, generally, it is when emotions overpower reasoning. I expect nothing from anyone and take life as it comes.

@LadderHR Well, that's just it. Your unconscious values determine how you process conflict. Conflict occurs when there is a difference in values. My expectation for others would be that we will have a respectful discussion and come to an understanding of each other's POV.

Q5. When cultural differences occur at work, what effect does it have on employees?

@GenePetrovLMC It depends on if the leaders recognize it and do something about it. If they don't, they can expect some certain outcomes: disharmony; decline in effectiveness and efficiency; not being on the same path toward the same goals and vision; lack of trust.

@Midgie_MT Working in multi-cultural teams and with individuals from different cultures can have far reaching effects. One being timekeeping and their approaches to meetings. Another, their view of deadlines.

@itstamaragt It depends on how each individual handles cultural differences. In a good instance, it can lead to educating those who want to better understand someone else's culture. In bad instances, it can lead to ignorance and isolation.

Q6. What effect can constant cultural clashes have on an organization?

@WonderPix Clashes can lead to us versus them thinking, less collaboration, and more separation. But, they could be used to learn and bridge divides, too. Acceptance of differences is key.

@BrainBlenderTec It can demoralize and debilitate, as no-one wants to work in a battlefield.

Q7. When working with people from other cultures, which of the following would you regard as more important: to be aware of your own culture, or to learn from interacting?

@Yolande_MT Knowing my own culture well has helped me realise that the expression "it's logical" begs the question, "logical to whom?" What's logical to me and my culture, isn't logical to someone from another culture.

@bentleyu Both. It's important to reflect on our own views, biases, values, assumptions, communication, cultural frameworks etc. At the same time, we have to be proactive about learning from others, engaging with others, celebrating difference, challenging our stances.

Q8. How can you mediate between colleagues who clash because of cultural differences?

@Mphete_Kwetli Let anyone know its good to accept that appreciating other cultures won't let them lose their values, but broaden their knowledge more. Accept and appreciate.

@s_narmadhaa We need to point out that it's the differences that make a society whole. People who agree with each other all the time don't innovate or learn to solve problems. When we realise that our differences power our strength, we can try and alleviate clashes.

Q9. When culture clashes occur at work, what can leaders do? What steps can they take?

@B2the7 Leaders are key. They need to be supportive, they need to provide education/solutions and they need to not take sides.

@BRAVOMedia1 We step back, reflect and evaluate the situation and how we can obtain the best outcome under the circumstances.

Q10. What's your most important tip/takeaway about respect in the context of culture?

@TwinkleTutoring (From experience!) However open-minded you think you are, you can never know everything about every culture! Always be open and prepared to listen and learn more!

@MarkC_Avgi It's kinda gotta be that "all for one, one for all" golden rule type of mentality. Team. Cooperation. Collaboration. Respect. Common goal.

Thank you to everyone who took part in our discussion. To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.

Coming Up

In some cultural contexts, people are taught that it's better to keep quiet if you aren't satisfied about something – especially if it's about an older person or someone with a more senior position. Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to discuss dissatisfaction and what people feel versus what they say. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know when you're most likely to keep quiet about dissatisfaction. Please vote in our Twitter poll, here.


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to culture:

Cultural Intelligence

Cross-Culture Communication

Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions

Managing Your Boundaries

The Seven Dimensions of Culture

Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas

Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas: Clothes

Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas: Body Language

Religious Observance in the Workplace

How to Be a Good Role Model

What Are Cultural Fit and Cultural Add?

Managing Mutual Acceptance in Your Team

Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace

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