Cultural differences affect how people make decisions because of differences in thinking, beliefs, and values (Hofsted, 2005). People argue that there is no permanent situation, and culture is not exceptional. Culture is subjected to change when people interact. Interactions constitute group formation, which is comprised of people who have a common goal. French (2010) argues that the effectiveness in performance of teams is dependent on their willingness to collaborate, regardless of cultural backgrounds. Such teams tend to come up with new policies that constitute new culture, be it within the organizational context or national context. In multicultural teams, effective communication is important because it ensures that every member understands what needs to be done and why it has to be done in a particular manner. In this light, this journal entry seeks to reflect on the important topics on cultural differences and people management. In this reflective diary, I will explore four important topics, namely: (1) cultural change; (2) leadership; (3) forest fire exercise; and (4), family influence on values.
Reflection One: Cultural Change
As my first diary entry, I have found the subject of cultural change to be very interesting because it has made me understand why people from different backgrounds behave differently. I have interacted with people from different backgrounds and thus, I can attest that this subject is very important because it encourages people to coexist peacefully regardless of these cultural changes. My intention here is to reflect on the facilitators of cultural change.
International trade is the main driver of cultural change. When people are exchanging goods and services with consumers who are beyond their national borders, they are very likely to borrow culture from each other (Hofstede, 2005). As traders move from one location to another while selling their merchandise, they observe the way other people do things and apply these new concepts upon returning to their homes. For instance, Arabian architecture was spread through international trade.
The above argument is evidenced by my latest visit to Nigeria, which is a West African country. Most of its ancient buildings portray the influence of Islamic culture on African culture. In addition, new forms of religion were spread through international trade (Mead, 2009). People needed to have a common culture to enhance their trade relations with traders and buyers who hail from other locations. I know of people who have had to learn a second language because the majority of their clients were from French-speaking countries. I am certain that this is how foreign languages are spread across the globe.
Increased Cultural Immigration
The increase in the human population has led to a shortage of livelihood opportunities. People have been forced to relocate to other countries in search of better livelihoods. When immigrants settle in a given country, they bring with them cultures from their mother countries. However, such cultures do not last for long because they are absorbed by the local cultures. Alternatively, the immigrants learn the traditions of their new environment for the sake of getting along with the locals (French, 2010).
Immigrant communities adopt new cultures because they do not want to be viewed as outcasts. Australian English is a good example of languages that are developed when foreigners interact with locals. The new variety of English was different from American and United Kingdom English. This is because it is a blend of foreign and local languages. When immigrants finally go back to their home countries, they spread the newly acquired culture to the people with whom they interact including their friends and relatives.
However, some immigrants manage to retain their culture. This is dependent on the number of immigrants who practice a given culture. Most people drop their culture when the environment in the foreign country does not favor their culture (Schein, 2004). For instance, immigrants from Bahrain might have to eat alternative foods when they relocate to the United States because seafood is hardly available in that continent. There are very few food joints that sell seafood and they are very expensive for an ordinary immigrant.
Tourists are people who visit other countries for adventure purposes. Tourists cannot be compared with immigrants because their presence in a foreign land is only for a limited period. They, therefore, do not need to adopt a new culture. Most tourist destinations have adjusted themselves to meet the needs of tourists. This is done to make these visitors feel at home while in real essence they are a thousand miles away (Schneider and Barsoux, 2003).
I feel uncomfortable when I am in a foreign country. What I miss the most is our local cuisine, which is unique. Hospitality has recognized this need by introducing foreign cuisines in their meals. They hire chefs from the origin of a given cuisine because the locals can only prepare ordinary delicacies. Alternatively, the hotels can sponsor local chefs to learn the concepts of foreign cuisines. That is why there are many Chinese and Japanese restaurants in African states. Similarly, you can still enjoy French cuisine while in Bahrain.
Moreover, the tourists purchase foreign merchandise and go with them to their mother countries. Back at home, a taste for foreign goods is developed and as demand continues to increase, the items have to be exported regularly to satisfy the needs of foreigners. I remember during my visit to China I came across adorable flowerpots. I bought them and upon returning home, I noticed that they were greatly envied by my regular guests. A few months later, everyone in my friend’s circle had bought one for himself. This is solid evidence that tourism promotes cultural change. Foreign cultures have been blamed for eroding local traditions because many social vices have been spread through tourism such as child prostitution.
Social media plays a significant role in reshaping culture. Social networking sites use the web platform to interconnect the users who are indifferent geographic location (Mead, 2009). These sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. People are kept aware of the events that are taking place in other countries through social media. For instance, social media-induced the recent revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Social media offers convenience and reliability considering that the protesters in Egypt did not have to hold any physical meetings. Social media is also being used as a platform for trade. Nowadays, you do not need to hawk your merchandise, you simply advertise them through social media and you can be sure to penetrate the global market. This means that the business world is shifting to virtual markets due to their reliability and convenience.
In conclusion, I believe the above factors facilitate cultural change to a greater extent. People from different backgrounds may argue differently, considering the effect of globalization and war among others. The future behavior on culture is therefore likely to change as people are becoming more educated on the current issues.
Reflection Two: Leadership
From the class discussions and the dynamics of managing people, I find it useful to streamline my second reflection on leadership, particularly the desirable traits of a leader. Leaders are crucial icons in organizations and the states in general. The outside world judges us by the qualities that are portrayed by our leaders: a leader guides his/her subjects and is thus viewed as their role model (Farrell, 2011). Some people were born to lead whereas some acquire leadership skills through learning. From our group discussions, it was evident that students from different cultural backgrounds have similarities and differences in deciding the common traits of a leader. In this regard, my intention here is to stress the common attributes of a leader.
To begin with, outstanding leaders know exactly why they were assigned the role of leading others. They, therefore, do not need to be told what is expected from them. Such leaders share the objectives of their mission with their subjects. This ensures that all the efforts will be directed towards achieving the initial mission (French, 2010 ). For instance, when George W Bush was selected for the second term, he knew that his major mission was to secure the territory of the United States from any instances of terror attacks. He, therefore, embarked on a war on Iraq to avert terrorism. I view this as an indication of good leadership, but my classmates from other cultural backgrounds such as the Arabic nations did not consider this example as a genuine leadership trait.
I believe a good leader should portray confidence while making decisions. This implies that a leader should have strong self-belief because this is what will make his/her subjects follow the leader (French, 2010). Barrack Obama believed he had what it takes to take the United States to the next level and he had a strong party slogan that he used to market his manifesto. From my observation and experience in interacting with people, I can confirm that people cannot accept to be led by a leader who is not certain about himself and the possibility of succeeding in his mission.
A leader should have a clear vision of future expectations. He should then be able to develop a strategic plan that will be used by the organization to achieve future goals (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson, 2001). Barrack Obama is a visionary leader because after being in office for only four years, he realized that the war on terror was not going to be won if Osama bin Laden continued to exist. He, therefore, embarked on a mission to bring him down successfully without suffering any setbacks. Obama is just among the many visionary leaders we have today. However, I feel that everybody has a vision in life, which depends on their determination: it is only when we believe in our capacity, and then we can become good leaders.
From our class discussions, I discovered that competence spans through the multicultural environment, as people from different cultures agree that competence or capability should be a major quality of a leader. For instance, Greece is in the realm of economic crisis and therefore the citizens need to elect a leader who portrays competence in handling financial matters. This is inappropriate, considering that Greece is one of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Besides, other emerging economies such as China are seen as a threat to other economies due to the competence of their leaders. Javitch (2009) affirms that a leader’s competence is measured by evaluating his prowess in academics.
A leader should have the drive to forge ahead even when there are many obstacles. If the leader gives up early, then his/her subjects will stray because they will not anyone to lead them to their destiny (Yukl, 2006). President Mandela had a strong drive to fight for the rights of his people and thus, the colonial government saw him as a threat to their sovereignty. He was imprisoned for 18 years and managed to stand on his ground. This is what encouraged his followers to continue fighting for South Africa’s liberation.
A leader should respect the wish of his/her subjects. I understand that if your subjects ask you to step down, you should gladly do so as a sign of respect. This year, the commissioner of police in the United Kingdom was blamed when people’s telephones were hacked by criminals. He was blamed for failing to protect the privacy of individuals. Similarly, President Muammar Gadaffi did not respect the pleas of his subjects and hence opted to fight them back and in the end, he was killed. I believe that through a leader has supreme authority, his/her subjects are more powerful than him/her because they are the ones who put him/her in office, and thus they can use their influence to throw him out of the same office.
In conclusion, the topic of leadership elicited many ideas both from class and group discussions. However, I found it necessary to focus on mission, vision, confidence, competence, drive, and respect as the major traits that good leaders should have. In addition, leadership traits depend on the cultural background of a specific leader. The major differences stem from the examples given, but the traits apply to any leader. In this regard, my future focus will be on other categories of leaders, including religious leaders and organizational leaders.
Reflection Three: Forest Fire Exercise
The forest fire service exercise deals with critical issues, personal principles, and prejudices as it aims to elicit decisions from group members about saving the people caught in the fire accident. I participated in a field exercise for demonstrating how culture influences decision-making processes. I had to make the most difficult decisions in my life regarding a fire incident. This is because human beings are involved in such cases and it is important to decide who dies and who is worth living.
The forest fire exercise was used to demonstrate the influence of culture on decision-making processes. My team was comprised of people who came from different cultural backgrounds. The variance in our culture meant that our decisions were going to be split along cultural lines (Apter, 1992). However, there were some instances when the views of our cultures merged. For instance, women and children would need to be rescued first because children represent the future of society. In addition, women would be rescued because they are the ones who take care of these children. On the contrary, some felt that women would be granted priority because without them human beings cannot multiply. Two members of the team who seemed to have hailed from a common background presented this opinion. Alternatively, some felt that the youngest persons should be accorded the opportunity reserved for children.
During the group discussion, some members argued that the craftiest should be given an opportunity because they have gone through a lot of suffering. This was expressed as an appreciation of their ambitions. Then, some objected to this opinion because they reckoned that crafty people have a way of winning their battles and thus, more attention should be diverted to the least able such as those who are in their sunset years.
The crafty were perceived to be very important to the society because they can empower the society to achieve collective goals. Besides that, the group members pointed out that the most successful people owe a lot to society because society contributed to the achievement of their individual goals (Ogarca, 2007). Rescuing such people would be a great idea because they would have an opportunity to give back to society.
Some members used the issue of dependants to advocate for the rescue of some victims. This is because they felt that ignoring parents would cause their children to be a burden to society. After all, they cannot take care of themselves. By analyzing the list of names included in the exercise, my team found that majority of them had children and thus, it would be better if priority was based on the number of dependants. Dependants here refer to a family that is comprised of a wife, husband, and children. This would mean that victims with the highest number of dependants would come out first followed by those with the lowest number of dependants.
There were team members who used social status as the criteria for allocating priority. They argued that people of high social status should be given priority because they have something to offer to society, and if they were not present, a vacuum would be created. However, some members argued that such people had already lived their dreams and thus, the opportunity should be granted to the least advantaged such as the unemployed. Members who supported this argument suggested that rich people have descendants to succeed them.
No one showed interest in supporting the people who were viewed as social misfits. This is because such people are immoral and a threat to society. This implied that no one would want to be associated with persons of questionable character. Similarly, the information we would have before the exercise would greatly influence our decisions. However, as usual, some would recommend them because they believe they can change their behavior. People would avoid being seen in the company of such criminals (Donnel, 2007).
Moreover, during the group discussion, some members argued that they would give the first opportunity to the people they had known previously. This implies that there are people who favor the people who are known to them when they have to make a choice. For instance, my group discovered that one of the rescuers had established a relationship with one of the would victims, and therefore he would rescue this lead due to the strong relations that may have existed between them.
In essence, the concept of globalization has led to the emergence of multicultural teams similar to the one mentioned above. In such teams, people view issues differently but then the different views should be used as a reservoir of options in decision-making processes (Hofstede, 2007). This means that our differences can either make us stronger or weak depending on the path that will be taken by the team. The strength part of it is obtained through the variance in individual perspectives, which might make us realize the faults in our thoughts. Alternatively, if team members decide to stereotype certain people due to their cultural orientation then the team will not achieve anything (French, 2010).
In conclusion, I would respect the decision made by each member because my team was comprised of people from different cultures. If all of us hailed from the same background, our decisions could not conflict because we would be sharing common values and beliefs. This exercise has unveiled the challenges that are encountered by organizations that exist in multicultural environments. It is therefore important to consider culture because it influences our compliance with the decisions we make. It is anticipated that the cultures of my group members would be blended in the future if the members continued to exist in the same environment. Some cultures would remain intact depending on the number of students affiliated with them.
Reflection Four: Family History and Life Perceptions
In this particular journal entry, I will focus on how my family history has influenced my perceptions and values in life, particularly power, work, and organizational life. The family is the basic unit of society and therefore it is needed for guaranteeing the continued existence of the society. In a family setting, parents dictate the values that will be adhered to by the family members. As time moves on, these family values are transmitted to successive generations. My family history depicts power distance and collectivism as the major cultural dimension. According to Hofstede, power distance is the extent of disparity that members of society both expect and accept. Collectivism is the interdependence within members of a culture to maintain harmony (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005).
I am a descendant of the Safars family who was a powerful merchant in the nineteenth century within and beyond the Gulf region. The Safari aligned themselves with the British colonial power because without their backing their business empire would not have survived (Onley, 2007). I am therefore certain that my ancestors owed their success to the British colonial government. The Safars passed this trait to their descendants and today they are ranked among the richest families in the Gulf. This shows how the family was able to adjust to cultural differences. The concept of cultural differences has taught me the value of working with people from different cultures to expand my knowledge.
Unlike other Arabian families, the Safars had to learn foreign languages including English because they acted as intermediaries between the locals and the foreigners from western countries (Bradberry, 2007). To the Safars, material things and power are more important than anything else is. The family history does not highlight any instances where family members indulged in love or entertainment for that matter. The Westerners were considered very powerful and indeed, they were because they managed to conquer Bahrain and the surrounding countries (Onley, 2007). I feel obliged to follow the footsteps of my ancestors and that is why I work very hard to establish my business empire. The Safars commanded respect because of their significance in stage-managing international relations. However, I also think the society accorded them respect owing to the volume of wealth they had accumulated.
I work hard to establish my name because society expects me to follow the legacy of my ancestors. Though my ancestors are dead, I feel that it would be an offense to them if I do not succeed in my endeavors. This is a feeling that I carry with me that shapes my thinking in life, thus defining the culture in me (Hofstede & Hofsted, 2005). However, my situation is different from that of the initial Safars because I do not have any affiliations with any political entity and therefore my success is fully dependent on my efforts.
My forefathers were able to analyze the environment and identify the threats and opportunities that lay ahead. They realized they could make a kill by linking Arabs and foreigners. As for me, I have gone a step further to pursue education from Britain. I decided because I understand knowledge is power. Since the Safars do not have the same influence they used to have, education is the only alternative for me. In addition, education has given me the capacity and an opportunity to interact with western countries. However, this does not mean that I have lost interest in my family values because, at the end of the day, I am still a Safar and will die as one.
My culture is therefore a blend of two cultures, that is, the Western and Arabian cultures. However, on the outside, I portray more Arabian culture than western culture, which is considered modern and dynamic. On the other hand, my intellectual knowledge is comprised of western values: this is where a conflict of culture comes in (Ryckman, 2004) because when I am making decisions I have to consider what the locals will think of my family name and me. The success of my ancestors serves as a beacon of hope to me because it makes me feel that I was born oriented for success. My father vied for the mayoral seat a few years ago and managed to garner many votes. Though he is now a retired mayor, I feel that I will also vie for a political office later in life. That is why I am investing in knowledge because I am certain it will give me a competitive advantage later in life.
Moreover, my father is fond of reminding me that I am a Safar, and I agree with him. He only refers to the Safars family when he feels I am not following the right path. He mentions that Safars can never lose and therefore are not expected to show any signs of weakness. There are times when I encounter challenges that wear me out. I have to conceal my experiences with that of my family because I will become the laughing stock. In some instances, I feel tempted to disregard my family values, but the second thought compels me to abide by them because they define who I am.
Sometimes I blame my family affiliation for denying me an opportunity to be myself. Duffy (n.d) argues that belonging to a popular family means you will always on the limelight and your privacy is always at stake. As a male member of the Safars, I am expected to defend the family’s values even when everyone else feels they are outdated. Soon I will be mature enough to be allowed to marry and my kinsmen expect me to pass on the values that have been instilled in me to my offspring. I understand that my attitude towards some key values in life may change in the future due to my continued interaction with the outside world. For instance, my ancestors were polygamous, but to me, the current economic situation does not favor polygamous men because there will be more mouths to feed. After all, is said and done, I still want to retain my sense of belonging because that is how the world will be able to identify me. In essence, my family history has instilled the value of power difference and collectivism in my thinking, and therefore, I believe I can become an icon in the family tree like my father and other members of the Safars family.
The general conclusion that can be drawn from the module is that cultural change is unavoidable because we have to mingle with the rest of the world. Besides, more chances are yet to be realized, thus it is only time that can tell whether they will occur. Challenges occur in multicultural teams and since these challenges are also present in ordinary teams, the members may not associate them with cultural issues because even people from the same background have different views. This implies that by the time an organization identifies cultural variance as an obstacle, the damage is usually at an advanced stage for any reconstruction to take place. Therefore, the overall learning on cultural differences has been challenging because understanding different cultures is requires people management skills. We, therefore, have to accept and carefully analyze the perspectives of people from different cultures.
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