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Cross-Cultural Interaction in Workplace

Enhance your Cross-Cultural Cometence

Cross-Cultural Interaction in Workplace

Enhance your Cross-Cultural Cometence

The rate and intensity of cross-cultural interaction in the world are rising exponentially, mostly due to the explosive growth in Internet-based connectivity as well as the ease and increasing frequency of international travel. Therefore, all interaction in today’s world has become cross-cultural and the workplace is not an exception. With more cultural diversity in workplace interaction due to globalization, it is important for companies to understand more about ways to handle cross-cultural differences.

Cross-Cultural Interaction

Cross-Cultural Differences

Every person is a mosaic of multiple cultural characteristics, in which the specific cultural archetype can be activated or deactivated according to the situation. Some examples of cultural differences include values, norms, beliefs, religion, profession, socioeconomic class, and linguistic group.

The scope and depth of cross-cultural differences across and within national boundaries make it impossible to offer a definitive framework of salient cultural characteristics for managing any particular interaction. Cross-cultural interactions therefore need to be guided more by continually asking the right questions rather than solely following definitions. Examples of critical questions to be asked in any cross-cultural interaction include the following:

Prior to engagement:

  • How do I remain open-minded, including maintaining a willingness to modify my stereotypes about culturally different “others”?

When stereotypical or counter-stereotypical behaviour occurs during interaction:

  • Does mutual learning happen in a way that both supports the relationship and fosters a successful outcome?

After the interaction:

  • How can the insights and knowledge gained from this interaction be appropriately generalized to other cross-cultural situations, both now and in the future?

When stepping back and considering my overall goal:

  • How can my new insights appropriately become a permanent part of my cognitive and behavioural repertoire so as to foster sustainability and prosperity in my current project(s), my current organization, and in the broader, globally connected society?

Culturally intelligent individuals are able to switch between cultural frameworks or systems in response to environmental demands by changing their interpretive lens. Besides, bicultural individuals have been found to engage in cultural frame shifting more easily than monocultural individuals, especially when their dual cultural identities are compatible with one another.

Expatriation and Effective Cross-Cultural Interaction

Together with globalization, the number of multinational corporations also increases drastically. Thus, expatriation has become a hot trend around the world. Companies send employees from headquarters to branches located in other countries for the exchange of knowledge and techniques. The expatriates might have to experience large changes in the cultural environment. Thus the aid from host country nationals (HCNs) and local hosts will provide great help to the expatriates by helping them to develop a social network with locals better and faster.

Expatriate benefits from interaction with locals

Effective cross-cultural interaction among HCNs and expatriates has become essential for multinational organizations. HCNs can provide important support for expatriates in numerous ways that ultimately determine not only the effectiveness of individual expatriates, but also the overall success of the operation. Some additional benefits of cross-cultural interaction among expatriates and local managers have recently been discovered, including:

HCNs can…

  • alleviate expatriate stress
  • act as a gateway to the critical work-related networks that expatriates need to penetrate
  • act as socializing agents, mentors, and on-the-job coaches to expatriates
  • frequently become reliable sources for the performance appraisal of expatriates

Local hosts can…

  • improve expatriates’ adjustment
  • help expatriates to remain open-minded
  • assist expatriates to engage in the social life of the host country

Factors affecting the effectiveness of cross-cultural interaction

As mentioned, HCNs play a critical role in assisting cross-cultural interaction. However, it is not the only factor affecting the effectiveness of cross-cultural interaction. Among various research, the effectiveness of cross-cultural interaction was found to be associated with:

  • HCNs’ positive attitudes toward expatriates
  • HCNs’ willingness to provide support
  • Organizational policies and incentives: designed to motivate HCNs to support expatriates, such as incentives for helping, supportive organizational culture, and distributive justice in compensation
  • All-too-pervasive two-tier compensation scheme: expatriate compensation packages being dramatically above the compensation offered to locals, may strain relationships and fosters resentment between the two groups
  • Personality traits: extraversion and openness to new experiences
  • Diversity-related attitudes: low ethnocentrism
  • Core self-evaluation: generalized self-efficacy, internal locus of control and emotional control

Cross-Cultural Interaction Within Multicultural Teams (MCTs)

Depending on the extent of diversity, teams can be classified as token teams (with only one member from a different culture), bicultural teams (with members from two cultures) or MCTs (with members from three or more cultures). The more diverse the team, the more cultural differences can be found within the team. Cultural differences in a team may manifest themselves visibly (e.g. skin colour) or operate at deeper and initially less visible levels (e.g. values).

Potential advantages of MCTs

  • Increased creativity: leverage MCTs’ wider range of perspectives, enhanced capacity for generating more and better ideas
  • Enhanced attention and concentration: fostered by the need to understand the ideas and perspectives of members from different cultures
  • Increased effectiveness: better problem-solving skills resulted from solving task conflicts

Potential disadvantages of MCTs

  • Decreased cohesion: due to mistrust, miscommunication, tension and stress
  • Decreased effectiveness: take more time to validate ideas, arrive at a consensus and take action

To date, conceptualizations attempting to enhance MCTs’ performance have focused primarily on the extent and impact of team diversity, rather than on the way diversity is best managed. Although research has continued to focus on the problems caused by diversity within a team, it is important to understand that MCTs have a high potential to generate various benefits and synergies.

Cross-Cultural Negotiation

Besides cross-cultural interaction within teams, cross-cultural interaction with other parties, such as clients, are also essential. Negotiation is an important technique for cross-cultural interactions. Cross-cultural negotiation schemas, including assumptions about the normative behaviours of culturally diverse participants, are commonly found in cross-cultural negotiations. These schemas will reduce the possibility of reaching desired gains through negotiation. Besides schemas, the following factors also affect cross-cultural negotiation:

  • Language and communication style differences
  • Historically hostile relationships among the groups
  • Perceived power differentials among partners
  • Ethnocentric attitudes

By using softer approaches (treating participants as friends, acting in a nonconfrontational way, extending offers, and showing a willingness to concede), rather than harder tactics (treating participants as adversaries, using threats, acting in a confrontational way, showing unwillingness to concede) will make cross-cultural negotiation more effective and smoother.

The dynamic nature of negotiations requires that not only cross-cultural differences, but also situational constraints, demands, and opportunities should be taken into account in formulating appropriate negotiation strategies and tactics. Each case is unique and therefore negotiation strategies and tactics for each cross-cultural negotiation should be designed according to the situation.


Diversity within a team or a company is found to be possibly both beneficial and harmful. Among the multiple factors that affect the outcome of cross-cultural interaction, company policies and employees’ attitudes are the most influential. The situation for each company is different as the level of diversity may vary a lot. Therefore, it is important for companies to develop policies according to their own employees and thus can help to foster effective cross-cultural interaction.

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