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TCPI News Vol. 3, No. 10

October 20, 2004

In this issue:

  1. Intercultural Decision Making
  2. Individual VS Collective Societies
  3. What Can a Manager Do?

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1. Intercultural Decision Making

All group decisions are the result of the input of different individuals, and this input varies depending on the biases and values each person brings to the table. When we add cultural factors into the equation, new decision making models need to be examined.

Decision making in Western countries typically follows a rational procedure based on formal logic. Steps of this process are:

This process, if applied to a group decision would seem very democratic in that all members of the group are involved in choosing the best solution. Any decision that comes out of this process could be justified with logic and reasoning. What would happen if a new employee were hired based on one of the following reasons?

Some of these reasons may seem not only illogical but also illegal. But in many parts of the world these reasons would seem commonplace. In the last newsletter the idea of being on “cultural cruise control” was discussed. Our current cultural cruise control sets the tone for how we view these reasons. In today’s multi-cultural teams, there are many cultural cruise controls operating simultaneously that may even be conflicting. How can one be sure that their way of thinking which society, education and their company have indoctrinated them was the best basis for decision making? Can Western models be applicable in non-Western societies? Can they be modified, or should we adopt new models?  

When we think rationally, we base our assumptions and decisions on our research and experience. Experience differs across cultures and cannot be generalized. How can we take in everyone’s individual cultural baggage that they bring to the table? Some cultures may base their decisions on tradition, consensus, family advantage or custom. What kind of guidelines can managers use when they need to make decisions so that all members of the organization are taken into consideration?

According to David Thomas, managers tend to use the following decision making strategy.

Thomas, D. Cultural Intelligence.2004, Barrett Kohler, San Francisco, CA. pp.86-87

Thomas found that many managers used these strategies cross culturally. In the heuristic strategy, the rules of thumb are based on truths, but these can differ greatly for members of different cultures. Within an organization, the manager may make a decision that is to be implemented by employees who are from different cultures. What is acceptable and rational to the manager is going to differ from the employees and they may not feel the need to carry out the decision successfully.

The rational model cannot be the only basis when making a decision that involves members from different cultures. The most important is to turn off his/her cultural cruise control. Think about aspects of the culture being dealt with and how to adapt behavior to be more accommodating. There is no preset model that managers can apply to different cultures, they need to look at several aspects of a culture and create their own model. Following, we will examine the most important aspect in creating a decision making model that can be applicable to intercultural decision-making.

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2. Individual VS Collective Societies

The first aspect to consider when engaging in intercultural decision-making is whether or not a society is Individualistic or Collective. According to Geert Hoefstede, collectivists have fewer groups with which they identify, but these are wide, diverse groups such as organizations, and the bonds of loyalty are strong. Individualists often identify with many different groups, but the bonds are more superficial

Individualism is more common in developed Western countries, whereas collectivism is more common in Eastern societies. The way in which one approaches decisions and negotiates is deeply affected by whether or not they fit into an individualistic or collective society. With this perspective, it is possible to understand areas of possible agreement or disagreement. This is an important element in becoming culturally intelligent. 

Self-identification is also an important element in how a society is regarded. Americans identify as an American, but more than likely, will add cultural make-up or religion to the description. It is a very individualized statement. On the other hand, in a collective society, individuals will describe themselves as members of a larger group, and not attach any descriptive cultural adjectives. For example, Japanese will identify with their company and being Japanese. 

The type of society will shape the way in which a group engages in decision-making. Individualistic societies like the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada are:

Collectivist societies like, Japan, China, India and many South American countries are:

The countries listed are not an either-or situation; there are elements of individualism and collectivism in each society. However, when dealing with intercultural decision making, there needs to be as awareness of the predominant society because the motivations behind decisions are dependent on their orientation. An American will assert their rights and ideas, and tend to resist group pressure. Whereas a Japanese will be influenced by the context and the ideas of others involved. Americans may also overstate their abilities and chances of success in making decisions. This will not be understood in the same way by a Japanese or Brazilian, who typically does not assert any individualistic attitudes and believes the group shares their judgments.

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3. What Can a Manager Do?

A manager needs to be culturally informed about the differences that exist between his or her culture and those involved in the decision process. There are several steps that a manager can go through to help be better culturally informed.

Toomey, S. Translating Conflict: Face-Negotiation Theory Into Practice, in Landis, D. Bennett, J, Handbook of Intercultural Training, 2004, Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

By going through these steps, awareness of cultural differences in relation to one’s own culture become apparent. Approaching decisions with this mindset can create the atmosphere that is more accepting and open to different values. Having the self-chosen ethical principles allows a manager to view the effects of any decision through an ethical lens that can cross cultures.

There is no pre-fabricated model that can be applied across cultures, but by developing cultural skills, one is better equipped to handle intercultural decision-making. The next newsletter will discuss the topic of negotiating styles across cultures.

What Would You Do?

Consider this: You are an American manager for a manufacturing company with factories in a country where it is typical to employ children under sixteen years old. What will you do? How will you reconcile your actions with your ethical beliefs?

Send your responses to: We will publish some of these in the next newsletter.

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