Globalization and Understanding Diversity
Posted: 12/6/2012

The term “globalization” has been making its way into our business conversations more often these days. What does globalization mean to us personally in our work environment? How is it impacting our jobs and how we do business?

This industry is leading the charge in globalization. In fact, you might say we are a key instrument for it since aviation is all about travel and reaching other destinations. Executives are traveling to distant lands more frequently to conduct business, and business people from other cultures are entering our business realms on a more regular basis. Misunderstandings because of cultural diversity and individual perceptions have long been a source of conflict and miscommunication. Therefore, they also become a business challenge. Can you think of an example in your own jobs, where a misunderstanding has occurred? It is challenging enough working with people from our own neighborhood, town, country and culture. But what happens when we start dealing with business colleagues from cultures that are very different from our own culture?

In 2012, the U.S. demand for business jet sales is “less than half of the business jet market by value” according to Flight International (May 2012 Edition). As other countries are buying and utilizing more business and personal jets, the service providers for those products/services will have to understand the needs and expectations of the new customers in those varied cultures. This impact on communication and service delivery is already being felt by business and general aviation companies. ServiceElements has been conducting workshops addressing business and general aviation issues with organizations who have a marked increase in international customers and interactions.

Some of the cultural comparisons are worth looking at and thinking about prior to engaging in business with important customers. Culture is something that we have grown up with since birth. Many of the dynamics in our culture we take for granted because we are so used to them. It is the lessons we have learned from birth that make up the norms, values, attitudes, role expectations, taboos, symbols, heroes, beliefs, morals, customs and rituals of our society. These expected behaviors become our “norm” on how we will respond to others. Since these “norms” are so deeply ingrained in our self-conscious mind, we are many times unaware of our assumptions. This also applies to people of other cultures. Common knowledge in our own society may be entirely different elsewhere. It is essential to recognize and value differences as you build relationships with customers from other cultures. We will discuss some of the cultural nuances that could vary from country to country.

Individualism vs. Collectivism
An example of individualism vs. collectivism is a distinction between “me” and “we” cultures. Individualistic cultures focus primarily on individual rights, roles, and achievements. The U.S. is an individualistic culture. Collectivist cultures rank duty and loyalty to family, friends, organization and country above self-interest. Group goals and shared achievements paramount to collectivists; personal goals and desires are suppressed. Brazil, China and India are collectivist societies. The word “self” in Chinese actually has a negative connotation.

Monochronic time: the perception that time is a line divided into standard units. U.S. culture is monochromic, everyone is assumed to be on the same clock and time is treated as money. Some important meanings we draw from this:

  • Be on time
  • Use time efficiently
  • Do not waste time

Polychronic time: the perception that time is flexible, elastic, and multi-dimensional. India and Brazil are polychromic. Some important meanings we can draw from this:

  • Loosely scheduled meetings
  • Overlapping meeting times
  • Appointments missed or late

Interpersonal Space
Asian cultures prefer to stand close when conversing. American culture prefers a two foot distance.

  • Language
  • Foreign language skills are the gateway to cross-cultural understanding.

Awareness of a business colleague’s religious traditions is essential for building a lasting relationship. For scheduling purposes, it’s helpful to know their traditions.

These topics listed above are but a few of the many nuances that make up different cultures. “Keqi” is a Chinese word made up of two words: “ke” meaning “guest” and “qi” signifying “behavior”. Together, this cultural concept advocates thoughtful, courteous and refined behavior. In business terms, it is important to demonstrate humility and modesty as exaggerated claims of ability are viewed with suspicion and are likely to be looked into. If your organization is doing more business with Chinese executives, it might be important to you to understand that there are differences in culture like this concept. Being open to new cultures is the first step in making globalization work to your benefit.

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