Impact of Stereotypes on International Business: Cross Cultural Awareness is Key

Matthew MacLachlan

3 Feb 2011

Globalisation and the emergence of cross cultural business have tremendously reshaped our working environment over the last fifteen years.  People around the world are increasingly finding themselves working with colleagues and counterparts from another culture.  Dealing with such diversity is complex and requires a high level of cross cultural competence that you can develop through cross cultural awareness training.

To make sense of all these differences we tend to classify people into specific categories such as the company they work for or their own culture. This classification provides us with references about certain groups of people and helps us begin to understand their attitudes. You could say for example that Spanish people tend to speak more loudly than British do and Brazilians tend to be more affective than Finnish. While there are some relative truths to these statements, such stereotypical representations are often over-simplified and could lead to false assumptions.

Stereotypes, taken-for-granted beliefs about our counterparts’ habits and behaviour, can affect our own attitudes and expectations when communicating with other cultures. The main purpose of stereotypes is to help us when we are dealing with a culture we do not know and to give us the illusion of a predictable pattern we could learn and thus know how to react to any given cross cultural situation.

For instance, when doing business in Italy we might expect our Italian counterparts to be late for a meeting whereas a Swiss would always be punctual and well organised. However it would be inappropriate to assume that no Italian would ever be on time and no Swiss would ever be late. Hence, cross cultural stereotypes need to be treated carefully as they might have a negative impact on our thinking and our capacity to perceive things with discernment.

Whether stereotypes are commonly shared among society or progressively developed through our direct experience in cross cultural relations, it is crucial to keep questioning their relevance. By doing so, we would certainly prevent ourselves from judging our international counterparts on the basis of wrong assumptions leading to inappropriate cross cultural behaviour and critical incidents.

Stereotypes can however be perceived as the first stage of acknowledging the existence of cross cultural differences which is an initial step towards the development of a higher level of cross cultural awareness and competence. However stereotypes need to be questioned, mitigated and never taken for granted if they are to help us to work more effectively in a cross cultural context.

Cross cultural awareness training courses such as Developing Global Competence or Building International Teams can help you to identify and deal with cross cultural differences which will improve your capacity to develop and maintain successful cross cultural relations. By providing you with a foundation of cross cultural understanding, Communicaid’s Cross cultural awareness training courses can ensure you understand your counterparts’ behaviour without having to rely on stereotypes that could lead to cross cultural misunderstandings and negative impressions.

 



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