There are two categories when it comes to cultures: 1) high-context culture, e.g., most Asian countries and some Eastern European countries; 2) low-context culture, e.g., most western countries. Therefore, I’d like to talk about my observation during my international trips.
- International travel observation:
In a high-context culture personal relations and goodwill are highly valued, whilst in a low-context culture performance and expertise are highly valued. International travel experts and workplace coaches contend that employees and managers from a high-context culture might focus more on building relationships with each other and maintaining a good reputation in the workplace. That is exactly why most senior managers in organizations in a high-context culture are ‘happily married’ – being divorced makes them lose face and look less reliable. Therefore, the divorce rate in a high-context culture is significantly lower, even though domestic violence is possibly more common in that culture (people just do not talk about it in the workplace so as to look good). Further, if a woman is always single, it is harder for her to be promoted in a high-context culture. Nonetheless, managers and employees from a low-context culture are evaluated and promoted according to their actual expertise and performance at work. Therefore, no matter what happens in an employee or a manager’s home, their work is not affected and they can still be trusted and promoted in the workplace as long as their expertise and performance are solid and real.
Apart from that, business professionals in a high-context culture reach an agreement by general trust, while business professionals in a low-context culture reach an agreement by a legalistic and specific contract. Basically, doing business in a high-context culture may not even require signing a contract, so long as sufficient trust has been built in a genuine relationship. Nevertheless, doing business in a low-context culture surely requires signing a contract, even if a positive relationship has already been built. When an international hotel enters a new market overseas, it is very important to identify this key difference and use the right approach accordingly. For instance, if the standard practice is to always sign a contract, then it would be better to use the same practice even in a high-context culture, as legally, a contract is probably required in a high-context culture as well, though culturally, signing a contract is not really expected every time.
- International travel: a multi-dimensional journey:
In addition, dimensions such as power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity and uncertainty avoidance must be considered in the workplace as well. It is reported that people from western countries are generally less comfortable with inequalities of wealth and power, as evidenced by the fact that most western countries are best characterized by a smaller gap between the rich and the poor.
Yet those who are from developing countries tend to be more comfortable with inequalities of power and wealth, for the gap between the wealthy and the needy is huge in their countries. This difference may result in different expectations in the workplace. As to individualism versus collectivism, usually western culture values individualism, whereas some developing countries value collectivism. That means in a country like the United States, individuality and creativity are highly encouraged and recommended. By contrast, in a country like China, following what most people are doing is probably more important. As a consequence, someone who values collectivism may wonder why another co-worker behaves so differently from others at work. This can cause some tensions and conflicts in the workplace as well. As for masculinity and femininity, it is basically about the differences between male staff members and female staff members as well as their specific roles at work.
Usually, a position which requires more analytical thinking and transactional approaches is given to a male staff member, whereas a position which requires more emotive power and transformational approaches is given to a female staff member. In an international hotel, the Chief Executive Officer is oftentimes a man, while the HR manager is more likely to be a woman – statistically, that is often the case, yet it is not always true as men and women are becoming more equal in modern-day society. Lastly, when it comes to uncertainty avoidance, it is reported that those who cannot tolerate high levels of uncertainty and those who are able to accept very ambiguous situations may have tensions and conflicts in the workplace. Yet if an international hotel introduces specific policies in this regard, these conflicts and tensions can be addressed effectively and efficiently.
“International travel is true enlightenment.”