Communication Problems in Multicultural Companies

Diploma Thesis, 2002

84 Pages, Grade: very good



Part One: Definitions And Basic Concepts
1) Introduction
2) Towards A Clear Definition Of The Terms “Intercultural“ And “Multicultural“
3) Intercultural Encounters – Not A New Phenomenon
4) What Is Culture?
5) From Language To Intercultural Communication
6) Hofstede’s Dimensions Of Cultural Variability
7) The Relationship Between Culture And Language
8) Summary And Outlook On Part Two

Part Two: Practical Concepts In Use
9) Applying Hofstede’s Dimensions
10) Other Cultural Dimensions
11) Nonverbal Communication
12) Values, Norms And Rules
13) Generalizations And Stereotypes
14) Summary And Outlook On Part Three

Part Three: Intercultural Difficulties At Work
15) Mexico And The USA
16) A Comparative Study
17) Two More Letters
18) Denmark And Germany
19) Summary And Outlook On Part Four

Part Four: Prevention Of Intercultural Problems At Work
20) The Need For A Functioning Communication In MNOs
21) The Development Of Intercultural Competence
22) The Selection Of Suitable Employees
23) The Selection Of Employees At The Example Of Siemens
24) The Preparation Of Selected Candidates
25) The Preparation Of Employees At The Example Of Henkel
26) Preparation In Switzerland – ITES
27) Conclusion
28) References

Part One: Definitions And Basic Concepts

Greetings. I am pleased to see that we are different.

May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.

Vulcan Greeting (Star Trek)

1) Introduction

Although I have never been a regular viewer of ‘Star Trek’ and thus would not con­sider myself a “Trekkie”, I have chosen this quotation as a starting point as it very well ex­presses the problem I will deal with in the following paper: being different in terms of culture, language, education, or social status.

I have also chosen the above quotation because of its second line as it suggests a produc­tive way of dealing with the difficulty of being different. Be it in a thousand years or in the present time, we have to find solutions to the problems that arise when people coming from totally different cultural or social backgrounds meet and have to live together.

In the course of my studies at the University of Salzburg, I have come across a broad variety of topics related to the field of Linguistics. Among others, I dealt with the linguistic terminology at the beginning of our studies, some varieties of English, their main features, with Psycholinguistics, or with language acquisition but to name a few. However, one main topic of Linguistics that has always had a special attraction to me was the field of Sociolin­guistics. It has been interesting to hear how speakers’ cultural or social background, age, gen­der, or education, have an influence on their register. Furthermore, it is also important that language always represents a certain status or the membership to a certain ethnic group and/or minority. Normally, people who speak a certain dialect are proud of that and it means more to them than just speaking it. It represents heritage, tradition, and sometimes nationalism for them. They simply want to be different in order to dissociate themselves from other ethnic groups with different dialects.

In the last decades, this phenomenon has not seldom been the reason for verbal dis­putes, fights or even wars. Unfortunately, there are many people nowadays who do not accept, out of some inexplicable reason, other peoples’ languages or varieties, religion or their life­style in general. Thousands of people are forced to flee their native countries, many of them leave their families at home and have to find work in other countries all over the world. One example one could mention in this respect was the situation in Afghanistan after September 11th, where thou­sands of people who were not willing to be ruled by the Taliban regime and did not want to fight in the war against the United States and its allies had to leave their country to lead a better life.

More than anytime before in human history, the present workforce is extremely multi­cultural in many countries. Both in higher and lower positions there are people working to­gether from all over the world, many of them with a different sociocultural background. Inevi­tably, this leads to many problems regarding their cooperation and their working climate. There are people who do not want to work with others just because there are difficulties in their communication or because they come from foreign countries and have other habits, lan­guages or religions.

In my paper, I will discuss those problems and give some sociolinguistic explana­tions for them. Furthermore, I will give some suggestions for improvement at the end of the paper. I will not focus on any specific size or location of company because I think that it does not matter if it is small or large or where it is situated. Problems of this kind can emerge every­where, independent from company size.

The aim of my paper will be twofold: on the one hand, it should be helpful for the mana­gerial positions of companies in case they have problems with their employees. They can look up where the problems may have their roots from a sociolinguistic or cultural point of view and then act accordingly to improve the situation and thus the working climate. On the other hand, my paper should be helpful not only for the management but also for the employ­ees themselves in case they encounter some problems in their cooperation and would like to know where the current problems may originate.

2) Towards A Clear Definition Of The Terms “Intercultural“ And “Multicultural“

In order to prevent confusion or misunderstandings on the reader’s part, it seems use­ful to make a clear distinction between the two terms “intercultural” and “multicultural” as they will occur on many occasions in this paper. It is also important to mention that they should not be used synonymously.

We get a more detailed idea about the meanings of the terms if we take a look at the English meanings of the Latin words “inter” (between) and “multi” (many). Thus, one can say that the term “intercultural” refers to the vertical dimension of culture and the relationship between cultures, whereas “multicultural” refers to its horizontal dimension and its variety. Maletzke (1996: 37) states:

“Als interkulturell werden alle Beziehungen verstanden, in denen die Beteiligten nicht ausschließlich auf ihre eigenen Kodes, Konventionen, Einstellungen und Verhaltensformen zurückgreifen, sondern in denen andere Kodes, Konventionen , Einstellungen und Alltagsverhaltens­weisen erfahren werden. Dabei werden diese als fremd erlebt und/oder definiert”.

As we can see from this quotation, the term “intercultural” has a strong contrastive connotation. In an intercultural encounter, people coming from one culture get in contact with people coming from a different culture. They realize their cultural differences and should be able to deal with them in a positive and productive way.

As previously mentioned, the term “multicultural” does not refer to the relationship between cultures but deals with their varieties. We speak of a multicultural society if people coming from different parts of the world with different cultures live and work together in one country. Inevitably, the result of a multicultural society is a multitude of intercultural en­counters.

3) Intercultural Encounters – Not A New Phenomenon

Intercultural encounters are anything but a new phenomenon. Over hundreds of years, people from one culture have met ‘strangers’ with a totally different cultural back­ground. However, especially the rapid development concerning means of traffic and new de­velopments in the field of communication over the last 200 years have had a big influence on the frequency of such encounters.

In 1962, M. McLuhan described the world as a “global vil­lage”, an expression that has more significance in the 21st century than any time before. Due to a faster lifestyle, business­men and tourists are able to travel faster and it is possible to be in London in the morning and in Vienna for lunch. Nowadays, multicultural communica­tion takes place in various fields of our everyday lives. First, I would like to mention politics, where Foreign Ministers have to negotiate and make themselves understandable on their trips abroad to countries with a different cultural background. Second, at University, where scientists from all over the world meet at a symposium or when students from many different countries participate at intercul­tural exchange programmes. Third, and for this paper of ut­most importance, in the world of economy.

As has been mentioned in the introductory part of this paper, many companies have an extreme multicultural workforce with branches all over the world. In this field it is not un­common that language problems and/or different cul­tural backgrounds of the workers are the reason for misunderstandings, aggression, or coun­terpro­ductive labour. Gudykunst/Kim state: “For work to be accomplished effectively in the multi­cultural organization, people of different racial and ethnic groups need to understand one an­other’s cultures and patterns of communi­cation” (Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 4).

At the very beginning of this paper, I will focus on basic concepts relating to the topic of language demands in multicultural enterprises. First, I will discuss the concept of culture. In this respect, it has a special importance as no human being has grown up without a specific cultural background, be it in a highly industrialized world or on the contrary in the deepest jungles, which of course may have an influence on his/her attitude towards work.

4) What Is Culture?

The answer to this question might be given in one short sentence: one does not know exactly. In scientific literature, there is no explicit consensus or definition on culture. Over centuries, many people have dealt with the concept of culture, among them being Leibniz, Voltaire, Herder, Kant, Freud, Jung, Adorno, Marcuse or Luhmann (cf. Maletzke 1996: 15). In 1952, Kroeber/Kluckhohn collected over 300 possible definitions of the term. However, as one can easily guess, there were and will be numerous definitions added in the last fifty years and in the future.

One of the main reasons for the problematic discussion of the term ‘culture’ certainly is the numerous meanings and connotations it has, especially in the English language. Deriv­ing from Latin ‘colere’, by culture we also mean the cultivation of soil or the training and refining of the mind, manners and taste (cf. Hofstede 1984: 21). In order to avoid confu­sion, I will define ‘culture’ in the way Kluckhohn does by giving an an­thropological defini­tion:

“Culture consists in patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinc­tive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. his­torically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached val­ues” (Kluckhohn 1951 in Hofstede 1984: 21).

As one can see from this quotation, culture is omnipresent in our everyday lives as thinking, feeling and reacting are parts of it. Furthermore, culture is described as quite a com­plex phenomenon as symbols and values play an important role as well. Nevertheless, there are some distinctive features that are typical of every culture.

4.1) Features Of Culture

Maletzke (1996: cf. 42 ff) lists ten characteristics which in his opinion are basic con­cepts underlying culture. Each of them gives culture the possibility to distinguish itself from others, but all of them give culture its specific identity as a whole. I will not focus on all ten of them but only on the five most important and most useful ones. Maletzke writes in German and I suggest that a translation of the terms would make no sense as the German terms describe their meanings quite well.

- National Character (Nationalcharakter/Basispersönlichkeit):

Without any doubt, Germans, Indians or Chinese are different in their character. How­ever, it is difficult to say exactly where these differences are. It is here where prejudices, most of the time with negative connotations, come in. It is easier just to say that Germans are indus­trious, Italians lazy and Scottish tight-fisted than not to make those generalizations. The ques­tion is if it is permissible to speak of the Germans, the Italians or the Chinese. For example, it could also be the case that some Germans are much lazier than many Italians. The concept of “Basispersönlichkeit” was coined by the anthropologist Kardiner who stated that psychological similarities within cultures are perceived in the peoples’ childhood. One most important factor is how children are brought up by their parents.

- Perception (Wahrnehmung):

A basic concept underlying this basic feature of culture is that perception is an active and subjective process. Out of all influences one perceives during one’s lifetime, one has to decide what of that is important or unimportant for the individual. The way how one makes these decisions is highly culturally influenced. “Wahrnehmen ist […] in hohem Maße sozial und kulturell überformt. Das bedeutet: Menschen verschiedener Kulturen nehmen die Welt auf je eigene Weise wahr. Wahrnehmung erweist sich als kulturelles Strukturmerkmal“ (Maletzke 1996: 48).

- Use of time (Umgang mit Zeit):

Generally speaking, there are some cultures for which the concept of time is more impor­tant than for others. Hand in hand with that, there are some variations on how people coming from different cultures handle time, which at a high level is dependent on how indus­trialized the culture is. One example of the different handling of time in different cultures is what people see as being punctual. In Central Europe, punctuality means being at an appoint­ment on time or even over-punctually. In Latin America however, being 45 minutes late is still punctual in their point of view. One can easily see the difficulties concerning punctuality if people from those two countries have to cooperate at their jobs. According to Hall (1976), time con­ceptions may vary across cultures and he differentiates monochronic versus polychronic time (M-time vs. P-time). In cultures with the concept of M-time, everything is done according to a strict schedule, whereas in P-time cultures, time is not that important, which of course has influ­ences on being punctual in business negotiations.

- Language (Sprache):

Another basic characteristic of culture which is very important relating to this topic is language. “Ohne Sprache keine Kultur” (Maletzke 1996: 72). Similar to culture, language is not easy to define as various scientific disciplines (linguistics, psychology or philosophy) use the term differently. Nowadays, there is the common view that language does not only reflect reality but creates reality for people, which of course is also culture-specific. In­evitably, this leads to another assumption namely that language highly depends on how people from a cer­tain culture see the world they live in and vice versa. This view is not new as Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt dealt with this in the past. In the 20th century, Sapir and Whorf, his pupil, occupied themselves with the same problem. This paper will focus on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in more detail later on in Chapter 7.

What is important in this context is that if people from different cultural and thus linguis­tic backgrounds work together, there is always the possibility that problems emerge out of this reason.

- Nonverbal communication (Nichtverbale Kommunikation):

Along with verbal difficulties at work, nonverbal communication can also be the reason for misunderstandings and disputes. Paralinguistics, body language, mimics, the way one sits, stands, or moves, are highly important factors in face-to-face communication. However, most of our nonverbal communication is made without our knowledge and subconsciously. Similar to language, nonverbal communication is highly shaped by culture. Problems may arise be­cause one nonverbal gesture has a certain meaning in one culture but a totally different in an­other. “Nonverbal behaviours reflect many of the cultural patterns we acquire throughout the socialization process […]. Our nonverbal behaviours are spontaneous, ambiguous, often fleeting and often beyond our conscious awareness and control” (Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 172).

As M. Hölzl mentions in her thesis, one can distinguish between high contact and low contact cultures in terms of space usage and touching (cf. Hölzl 2001: 22). Whereas Latin American countries, Italy or Spain prefer intense body contact while speaking, countries such as China or Japan do not have such a high amount of contact. The knowledge and respect of such cultural characteristic features avoids insults and misunderstandings at work or in nego­tiations.

4.2) The Stabilizing of Culture Patterns

As mentioned previously, cultural characteristics of nations are not phenomena that suddenly occur from one day to the other. They have been learned by the people and inherited from generation to generation over centuries. Geert Hofstede claims that there have to be some mechanisms that ensure the stability of cultural patterns over many decades. He suggests that these operate as follows:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig.1: Stabilization of cultural patterns (in Hofstede 1984: 22).

Central to this model is a system of societal norms in the middle which is shared by major groups of the population. Their origins (the column on the left) are a variety of ecologi­cal factors such as geographic or economic reasons which can be influenced by the outside (the box on the top of the model). The societal norms, together with their origins have led to conse­quences in culture, which are indicated on the right hand side of the model. These conse­quences are a maintenance of institutions in society with a particular structure and way of functioning. After these institutions have become an important part of the culture’s everyday life, they reinforce the societal norms and ecological conditions that have led to them. Furthermore, Hofstede states that in a relatively closed society, such a system will hardly change at all: “History has shown cases of peoples that through such a system have maintained an identity over hundreds and thousands of years, even in the face of such sweeping changes as loss of independence, deportation, or loss of language” (Hofstede 1984: 23).

5) From Language To Intercultural Communication

After this deliberately thorough discussion on culture, the focus of this paper will now be on other most important concepts that need to be dealt with in detail before we can move on to a more practical discussion of the topic in Parts Three and Four. I will start off with a short description of language and what it is. After that, the paper will deal with communication and its affinity to culture, and finally with intercultural communication as all of these are central aspects related to linguistic misunderstandings at work.

5.1) What Is Language?

Generally speaking, language can be seen as a code which two or more people use when they communicate with each other in speech (cf. Wardaugh 1994: 1ff). The system or in other words the grammar they use is well known to the speakers. Relating to a culture with the same language it is important to state that language is both something that every individual who speaks the language possesses and also knowledge shared by all those who speak a certain language. Nowadays, there is the common view among linguists that the knowledge people have about the language they speak is a knowledge of rules and principles, the ways of doing and saying things with sounds, words and sentences, not just only the simple knowledge of them. A shared common code within a language society is needed as a basis in order to be able to communicate.

Furthermore, it is important to mention that in the last decades, there has been a linguis­tic discussion about what language really is: does a language community only have one possi­ble way of expressing things or not? There are two opposing views (cf. Wieden 2000: 1ff). One assumption states that language is a heterogeneous system of signs and codes. This means that one idea can be expressed in many different ways (à heterogeneity assumption). As a contrast, there is the view that a society only has one common code and thus there is only one way of saying things (à homogeneity assumption).

There is a tendency that language is seen as a heterogeneous system, which can be made obvious in the following examples:

- The pronunciation of the same linguistic code can be very different if many cul­tures use the same language. An example for that is the English spoken in South England or in Ireland respectively which varies in many details, e.g. the pronunciation of “th” as “t” in Irish English.
- What is even more interesting concerning the topic of the paper is that the heteroge­neity of a language is determined by the origin, social status, and ethnic identity of the speaker. As indicated in the introduction of the paper, to many people speaking a language does not only mean speaking it but there is much more to it such as belonging to a certain ethnic group and representing their specific cultural and linguistic identity.

Language is not only a heterogeneous code used by speakers, it has also functions. Although Karl Bühler was not a sociolinguist but a psychologist, his “Organonmodell”, as he called it in German, is still very important and gives a good summary of the functions of lan­guage.

First, speakers are able to express their thoughts and feelings by means of language. “Das Verhältnis Sprache-Sender konstituiert die “Ausdrucksfunktion” (Meßing 1981: 35). In communication, there is always a recipient of the message. By means of language, the sender of the message can tell the recipient to do or not to do certain things. This is what he calls “Appellfunktion”, the second function of language according to Bühler. Third, language can describe processes and things in great detail and in many different ways, which he sees as “Darstellungsfunktion”.

As we have seen in the last paragraphs, language is necessary for a successful communica­tion between two or more people. The next part of this paper will focus on the con­cepts of communication and after that of intercultural communication in detail as they are the core reasons for verbal misunderstandings at work.

5.2) What Is Communication?

If we want to have a definition of the term communication, we have the same difficul­ties as if we want to define culture: there are simply too many different ones. However, for our purposes, it is important to state that the classic and more technically oriented communication-model by Shannon/Weaver from the year 1949 is not as important as more modern models where the recipients of messages have the possibility to give feedback. Shannon/Weaver saw communication as a linear, one-sided process. As N. Warthun states: “Hervorzuheben ist, daß bei diesem Modell mit ‚Information’ nicht der semantische oder pragmatische Gehalt der ge­sendeten Signale gemeint ist. […] Unter anderem aus diesem Grund ist das Modell zur Beschreibung menschlicher Kommunikationsprozesse ungeeignet” (Warthun 1997: 11/12).

Nowadays, there is the common view that interpersonal communication is always a two-sided process where the concepts of communicator and recipient are basically the same, i.e. they shift according to their function in communication. The en-, and decoding of messages is determined by cultural, sociocultural and psychocultural influences of the speaker or the recipient. I will focus more on these influences in the next chapter of this paper.

5.3) What Is Intercultural Communication?

We will now move on from interpersonal communication to intercultural communica­tion in more detail as this is more important for this paper’s purposes. If we analyze the term linguistically, it is very clear what inter-cultural communication is: it is communication be­tween people of different cultures. As we have seen, definitions of the terms culture and com­munication are very hard to give, similarly it is the case with intercultural communication. However, Gudykunst/Kim give a very good and short definition: “Intercultural communication is a transactional, symbolic process involving the attribution of meaning between people from different cultures” (Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 14). In addition to that they claim that at least one of the people communicating does not speak his mother language.

Furthermore, it is important to state that as soon as one finds oneself in a different cul­ture with different behavioural patterns, values and ways of thinking, one is uncertain and anxious, which is a completely normal psychological process: “[…] when people are con­fronted with cultural differences […], they tend to view people from the group that is different as strangers” (1992: 19). We use the term stranger not with the connotations of aliens, or in­truders, rather is a stranger an unfamiliar or unknown person.

5.4) Gudykunst/Kim: A Model About The Communication With Strangers

In the year 1984, the two scientists Gudykunst and Kim developed a model which deals with the communication process with people from different cultures or strangers as they called them. Their main claim is that the encoding and decoding of messages is deeply affected by the “four conceptual filters” (1992: 32) as they call it: cultural, sociocultural, psychocul­tural, and environmental influences. These filters help us delimiting the alternatives of mean­ings we can choose from when we encode and decode messages.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig 2: Communication with strangers (in Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 33).

5.4.1) Encoding Of Messages

In order to be able to communicate, messages have to be put into codes to be transmitta­ble. For our purposes, we distinguish between verbal codes (language) and nonverbal codes (body-language, gestures). Normally, we encode by means of language which may differ from culture to culture and thus is closely related to it.

“Our language is a product of our culture, and our culture is a product of our language. The language we speak influences what we see and think, and what we see and think, in part, influences our culture” (Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 34).

There will be a more detailed discussion of this quotation in Chapter 7.

5.4.2) Cultural Influences

According to Hölzl (2001: 12), there are three important cultural factors that influence our communication behaviour: values, norms and rules. Gudykunst/Kim define val­ues as “shared conceptions of the desired ends of social life and the means to reach these goals” (1992: 35). They express what is good and bad or what is important and what is not in a society. In contrast to values, norms and rules focus on the communication with other people, they “specify the acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in our interactions with others” (Ibid.).

As already indicated, culture and language are closely intertwined phenomena. Most of the time, we do not even notice the cultural influences on our behaviour when we communicate with other people. Consequently, without our knowledge, it is easy for us to violate certain rules or norms of other cultures, which should be avoided for example in business negotiations.

5.4.3) Sociocultural Influences

Gudykunst and Kim claim that there are four factors that influ­ence our verbal behaviour with strangers: 1) our membership in social groups, 2) our self-con­ceptions, 3) our role expectations, and 4) our definition of interpersonal relationships (cf. 1992: 35/36).

Ad 1) Without any doubt, we are all members of social groups out of two reasons: either we are born into them or we join them later on in our lives. A social group is defined as “two or more individuals who share a common social identification of themselves or perceive themselves to be members of the same social category” (Turner 1982 in Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 63). We all have a certain social status and a certain age, and we can join brass bands or politi­cal parties later on. This of course has an influence on how we communicate with strangers.

Ad 2) The membership in these groups influences the way we see ourselves and shapes our social and personal identity. That and to which degree we identify ourselves with our social groups also has an influence on our communication with others.

Ad 3) When we talk to somebody and we know what position in society the partner has, we have a certain communicational behaviour towards him/her. They are expected to perform a certain role. Role expectations can differ from culture to culture. Therefore, it is important (e.g. for businessmen on trips abroad) to have as much knowledge as possible about cultures and their specific expectations.

Ad 4) When we communicate, we automatically put people in categories. We also expect a certain behaviour from people in the same category. However, this behaviour varies across cultures. We cannot automatically put an Eastern business partner in the category ‘busi­ness partner’ and expect a certain behaviour of him. If we do so, it may lead to misunder­stand­ings and embarrassing situations.

5.4.4) Psychocultural Influences

Psychocultural factors influencing the communication with strangers include stereo­types and other attitudes such as ethnocentrism and prejudices. Stereotypes are “Kategorien bzw. Schemata, mit deren Hilfe bei der Informationsverarbeitung die Umweltkomplexität reduziert wird und den Eindrücken Sinn verliehen wird” (Schulz 1989 in Warthun 1997: 56). Typical stereotypes are: Japanese people smile all the time, Americans have no culture or Italians are lazy.

Another factor is ethnocentrism, i.e. the tendency to view one’s culture to be superior to all others. If we are highly ethnocentric, we expect strangers to behave the same way we do. This of course leads to misinterpretations of their messages. Judgements based on previous decisions and experiences, which we call prejudices, are also made when we communicate with others. “Effective communication, therefore, presupposes a reduction of ethnocentristic attitudes and a thorough revision of stereotypes and prejudices” (Hölzl 2001: 14).

5.4.5) Environmental Influences

The environment we live in influences the encoding and decoding of messages, in other words our communication, in two ways: physically and psychologically (cf. Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 37). Physical influences include geographical location, climate and architectural setting.

Psychologically, our communication is influenced by the way we perceive our environ­ment. These two factors are important in respect to communication with strangers as they contribute to a person’s communicative behaviour.

6) Hofstede’s Dimensions Of Cultural Variability

As indicated in chapter 4.1 of this paper, Maletzke lists ten basic characteristics underly­ing culture, each of them giving a specific culture the possibility do differentiate itself from others. In addition to that, Hofstede claims that there are other “dimensions of cultural vari­ability”, as he calls it that are used to explain communication across cultures. He argues that people carry “mental programs” (Hofstede 1984: 14) which are value systems shared by the major part of the population. He distinguishes four dimensions of cultural variability: indi­vidualism-collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity-femininity.

6.1) Individualism-Collectivism

This dimension is the major one to explain cross-cultural differences in behaviour. “In individualistic cultures, people are supposed to look after themselves and their immediate families only, while in collectivistic cultures, people belong to ingroups or collectivities which are supposed to look after them in exchange for loyalty” (Hofstede & Bond 1984 in Gudykunst/Kim 1992: 43). As can be seen from this quotation, in individualistic cultures, the “I” identity is very important, whereas in collectivistic cultures the “we” identity prevails. Generally speaking, individualistic cultures focus on individuals’ initiative and achievement and they are proud of their democratic values. Examples for this kind of culture are most Euro­pean countries and the USA.

In collectivistic cultures, on the contrary, the focus is on collectivity, harmony and cooperation within the group. It is important to mention that interests relating to the group rather to the individual does not mean that the individual’s interests are negated. Typical col­lectivistic cultures include Japan, China, and some African countries. For these cultures, group interests are more important than individual ones. Individualism and collectivism may occur within the same culture, however, one always tends to dominate.

Consequently, a worker’s cultural background, be it individualistic or collectivistic, has a strong influence on his attitude towards work (cf. Hofstede 1984: 152). In multicultural com­panies, on whom the focus of this paper is, conflicts could arise if workers come from either culture and act accordingly.


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Communication Problems in Multicultural Companies
University of Salzburg  (Anglistics-American Studies)
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Multicultural Communications in the Problem Area: Workplace
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Herbert Reichl (Author), 2002, Communication Problems in Multicultural Companies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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