Levels of Culture
We have been discussing the difficult task of achieving an agreement across different cultures. This is not because people from different countries have different personalities; you can also find these differences in your own fellow citizens. Personality is a mixture of inherited and learned behavior. The difficulty of international negotiations lies in the fact that we are dealing with business partners who have a different learned perspective than our own. These different perspectives are simply societal experiences acquired in early childhood that accompany us our entire lives. When I talk about culture, I like to quote Regna Darnell, “Culture is something that belongs to people. It is about personal identity in a community membership” (Darnell R, 1997, pp 53). This community membership is what we call society and each one of us belongs to a particular one.
In general, when we talk about different cultures, people immediately think about different food, different dress codes, customary greetings, or the side of the car’s wheel. Indeed, these are part of a culture, but not the elements that really matter at the negotiation table. Professor Geert Hofstede depicts culture as the layers of the onion (see picture). On the surface, there is the visible and tangible part of a culture: symbols, heroes, rituals; all those things are easily perceived by us and can be assimilated. It is not difficult for anyone visiting China to drink tea during meetings and learn how to give your business card with both hands in a soft bow. But what is really important is the core of the representation model of culture, “the values”. This is something hidden, intangible, and what really matters in cross-cultural negotiation.
Hofstede defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind in which one group distinguishes itself from another”. If it is a program, we can learn it! I invite you to follow us in the coming issues to learn more about culture and cross-cultural negotiation.
The ethic corner
If ethical behavior is the north star for modern corporations and it is implicit in a code of conduct understandable to all, why is it difficult for some people to follow it? Some scholars say it is caused by individuals exercising their free will as human beings who choose to follow moral principles or not. This reinforces my conviction that ethical attitudes and behavior are assets for corporations who want to lead their businesses in ethical ways. Extract from editor’s work, not published yet.