Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How Culture Creates Confusion in the Workplace

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 @ 08:43 AM

culture and confusion in the workplace resized 600"Culture" is a word that can be defined in so many different ways. So when we talk about how culture causes confusion and challenges between professionals in the workplace, it is sometimes hard to know what that really means. Well, it can mean a lot of different things! In today's article, we will talk about some of the areas where you might run into challenges when you work with colleagues from different parts of the world. By the way, culture is not just about countries! Culture can also vary by region, gender and age! To avoid stereotyping and generalizing, try to think about  where you, as an individual, fall on these dimensions and how that might be different from your colleagues and team members at work.


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6 Places to Find Culture:


  • Decision making: Who makes decisions at work? How are decisions made? Do people take a vote? Does the president or CEO of your company decide? Who has the authority to voice their opinion when decisions are being made? All of these factors might vary based on culture!


  • Levels of Formality: How do you address your colleagues at work? Is it ok to use someone's first name? Does it depend on their age or their status in the organization? In many companies in the United States, calling someone by their first name is a way of building rapport. Is this true in your culture?


  • Status and Hierarchy: Views toward status can vary not just between cultures but also between companies within the same culture. However, some cultures (like the United States) do tend to use a more egalitarian structure while others value a hierarchical structure. Do you sometimes change the way that you speak to people based on their age? This can be common in some cultures like Korea and Japan. 


  • Time Orientation: Do you tend to believe that hard work should produce results right away (short term) or do you believe that long term dedication is better to see results in the long term? Is time flexible or fixed? Do you schedule your day based on the clock or based on events? What do you think might happen if you are working with someone who has a different orientation toward time?


  • Ambiguity: How comfortable are you with uncertainty? Do you explore what is different with curiosity or do you tend to avoid what is different?


  • Conflict: When you encounter conflict, what is the best way to deal with it? Do you approach the problem with direct communication and say what's on your mind? Do you avoid bringing up the problem altogether or do you bring it up in private in order to "save face" or avoid embarrassing the person in front of his or her colleagues? Conflict styles can be very different across cultures.


Have you noticed any cultural differences in your workplace? Please tell us about your experience! Leave a comment below!



 Practical Tips for your Life in the U.S.



Source: Vantage Partners (2010) " Managing Offshoring Relationships: Governance in Global Deals."

Topics: Cultural Competence, Intercultural Communication

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