If you’re wondering just what the phrase “cross cultural issues” means, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. The truth is, the meaning of the words is just as straight-forward as they sound. Researchers in the social sciences have been using the term “cross cultural” to describe how people from different cultures interact with one another since the 1930’s and since that time the words have been adopted to explore more deeply how cultural variances can have an impact on everything from communication to workplace issues. Let’s take a closer look at some of the fundamental cross cultural issues that are front-and-center in today’s globally-connected world.
Cross Cultural Studies
Cross cultural studies is a broad term that can be used to describe the interaction of people from different cultures or the examination of how one’s culture can influence not only their perception of the world, but their relationship with it as well. This might refer to anything from how a person dresses or speaks to how they raise their children or what they choose to do for a living. In the modern age, cross cultural studies often look at the many aspects of daily interactions that might cause frustration, confusion or even anger between two people or groups from differing cultures. This type of analysis also considers how both negative and positive stereotypes are often formed based on nothing more than a misunderstanding of cultural traditions or habits.
Cross Cultural Communication Issues
Communication issues are very often some of the first problems to arise when two cultures are brought together. While a pair of completely different languages will present some obvious barriers to effective communication, the examination of cross cultural communication issues actually runs far deeper than that. There is a well-known saying that Great Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language, and this is an excellent example of a cross cultural concern. Since communication relies heavily on idioms, tone, gestures and more, it can be difficult for people to understand the true meaning of someone from another culture, even if they do speak the same language.
Translators are often faced with this type of conundrum in their work, when a speaker that they are interpreting for uses a turn of phrase that makes perfect sense in their own tongue, but which will likely confound the person or group that they are speaking to. For example, if an American declared in a speech that someone else had “jumped down their throat,” and their translator provided a literal conversion of the phrase to a German audience, most of them would likely wonder what on earth the speaker meant by his or her words.
Another way that communication issues can arise due to cross cultural concerns is through a misunderstanding of a social subtlety that may come across as rude or inappropriate. In France, interrupting the person that you are speaking with and becoming fairly animated during a discussion is generally viewed as a means to finding some common ground on a given subject, whereas to a person from Japan, this sort of behavior would more likely be seen as impolite and disrespectful.
Even physical communication can lead to this kind of confusion, perhaps as when one culture is more commonly tactile than another and a well-meaning slap on the back or a hand on the shoulder is misconstrued as an aggressive or suggestive gesture. A recent very public illustration of this was when Russian leader Vladamir Putin politely draped a shawl over the shoulders of the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was obviously cold at the outdoor event that they were both attending. Many Chinese people were horrified that any man would behave in a such a gallant manner toward a woman he wasn’t related to, while Russians were quick to defend him as a gentleman, highlighting the very different views of these two cultures on interpersonal relationships.
Cross Cultural Management
With a dramatic rise in global interactions since the development of the internet, there has been a push for a better understanding of cross cultural issues in many facets of daily life, particularly in the workplace. Whether it’s in place to ensure that a prospective client isn’t offended by a staff member’s offhand remark or that every employee’s fullest potential is being accessed, effective cross cultural management is an imperative for many of today’s leading businesses.
Cross cultural issues in the workplace may stem from a different way of thinking about a particular subject or they could come up due to a difference in religious beliefs, but with proper management, employees can be trained to respect the cultural differences of others and to try to better understand the basis and intentions of a comment or gesture instead of introducing their own cultural sensibilities to the matter at hand.
There’s no question that it can be tricky trying to navigate nearly any cross cultural encounter, but simply being aware that there are differences in how societies around the world operate is unquestionably the best place to start.