Personal Adjustment for the business manager

Business managers are obliged to adjust themselves to the foreign environment. Multinationals will seek people who have worked previously in diverse cultural environments. Since their activities are based worldwide, they might always need business or country managers who can well adapt themselves to a foreign environment. A respectable manager who can adapt himself internationally must understand and accept acculturation, that is, the willingness to learn about other cultures and accept them as such. American and European managers are trained for such purposes. In their posting, they try to learn as much as possible the culture, values, social mores and perceptions of other cultures. International business goes beyond the concept of trade and seeks the desire to evolve in all confidence and harmony with various cultures. Avoidance of stereotypes and clichés is required.

Managers must accept the cultural differences in different countries. They must learn the local etiquette and get accustomed with the social mores. In Malaysia, for example, the tourist information office makes it clear the need to accept Islamic values in force in that country. Personal adjustment in an international context remains an important issue for the business manager. People who are unable to adjust themselves abroad feel homesick and develop negative attitudes and perceptions on a particular country. It is therefore essential for a manager to adjust himself with the norms and mores of a country. This is very typical of European and American managers who are posted to different countries in their international assignments. It is definitely imperative for them to understand the differences between the home and the host environment, to make the necessary adjustments and even to enjoy this as a new experience. Coupled with such differences is empathy; the ability to think and respond in a similar way to the foreigner, avoidance of clichés and stereotypes and also acculturation. This will make a manager feel more comfortable abroad and motivate him to work in the interest of his firm.

Emerging economies are important considerations for business managers. The fact that such countries are developing trade opportunities with the western nations make them interesting targets for international business managers. Nigeria is a current attraction for business managers prospecting sub-Saharan Africa, Kazakhstan might be interesting for managers in the oil business while Guyana might look interesting for sugar trade. These countries, hereby mentioned, offer a different setting from the industrialised western world making it imperative for managers to learn how each nation differs in various contexts. One aspect might be religious differences and cultural habits but others might be adjustments to time, climate and business practices.

Personal adjustment is tough when environments differ and contrast significantly. What is perceived as socially acceptable in one country might not be acceptable elsewhere. Sometimes, corruption might be a stereotype that might exist in an emerging economy but it might also be seen that there are regulations to combat unfair and unethical practices. Linguistic differences do matter although English language might be well understood in many communities. There is no immediate need to learn a foreign language but certain terms that are used locally might be a positive way of approaching a foreign citizen. This chapter also deals with the readjustment of managers once they are relieved from their foreign posting. Coming back to the homeland is generally viewed as simple and easy to accommodate. Nevertheless, this might also be considered for managers who might well see changes operating in their home country and see or accommodate certain differences that they have not be accustomed to for a long time.

Empathy

Empathy means to try to understand another person from that person’s point of view. When a person goes abroad, he must learn to empathise with his counterpart. Empathy starts from the point of view of accepting a person how he is or how he behaves. One cannot blindly say that an individual living in the Third World is a person having a low standard of cultural and educational devilment.

For example, let us consider the following situations in the following country and think about how to empathise with the different people.

India

Businesses start at 9 and end at 5 p.m.

  • Corruption exists at different levels of businesses.
  • Some businesses are very traditional and others can be modern.
  • Money may be accepted as a favour. (baksheesh)
  • Warm temperature and tropical climate.
  • Certain places have slums and very poor living conditions.

    Adjustment:

  • Climate-Air-con offices, table water
  • Resist pressure from national companies and consumer groups
  • Adjust to taxation standards and legislation
  • Consider the importance of cultural values and traditions that are deeply anchored.

These generalisations look rather as stereotypes, that is, we have tried to picture the different people in different ways. All these are subjective and cannot exactly describe one typical community.

Empathy, in this situation, means to try to understand such people and accept their particularities. In the case of the Africans, we must learn that they are people who come from a land where they have lived quite closely with the world’s most dangerous as well as magnificent species. They are definitely bold and courageous and have a fairly natural way of behaving. However, because they have little material possessions, they may be interested to have something from the foreigner which they can prize.

Empathy must be made in all the different situations. For example, we are of opinion that racism has taken a great pretension in Europe. The European may not be gentle towards the foreigner but can still show good behaviour. Perhaps as a result of racism and extremists action on their territory that they start having negative views of foreigners.

Avoidance of stereotyping

Stereotyping means to develop a generalised mindset because of descriptions given by other people or simply because we have studied about such people in the books. The problem is that when so much has been learnt either from the books and the media that stereotypes are removed with difficulty.

Some stereotypes are just the opposite of the reality. The perception has been described as such:

Literature

E.M.Foster’s book ‘A passage to India’ describes the country as infested with flies and mosquitoes. V.S.Naipaul, in his book, ‘The overcrowded barracoon’ portrayed Mauritius as an overcrowded island without a bright future. Salman Rushdie’s controversial book ‘The Satanic Verses’ could give negative perception of Islam.

Movies, films, documentaries

Movies may easily develop stereotypes. Portraying the Nazi as dominating and inconsiderate to the Jews may develop stereotypes against Germans. Documentaries can give a clearer picture if a situation but at times can distort the information as well.

Avoidance of clichés

Clichés like third wordlist, dirt poor, uncivilised, etc. must be avoided and the businessman must think in positive terms when he carries out a business activity abroad. It is true that certain information provided may be real but they must not influence the businessman too emotionally as they may create prejudice over other communities.

Case Study: Avoiding stereotypes in international business

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 a business manager 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 affectionate 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.

Overcoming cultural shock

In order to overcome cultural shock, information must be obtained by the international businessman prior to his visit abroad. He must know the outcomes and expectations in foreign countries. In France, for example, one may not have enough of fresh vegetables. The dish can be prepared with pork’s grease and food is accompanied with wine. Sex is something overtly discussed in the country and nudity does not really shock. Beaches and pools may be places where partly unclad people visit. ‘Le Moulin Rouge’ or other shows contain a degree of eroticism. Such a situation will never exist let us say in Iran where religion has a strong foothold and anything concerned with sex is declared immoral and leads to punishment. Adultery in Iran may lead to flogging.

Acculturation

Acculturation is a process through which a person or group from one culture comes to adopt the practices and values of another culture, while still retaining their own distinct culture. This process is most commonly discussed regarding a minority culture adopting elements of the majority culture, as is typically the case with immigrant groups that are culturally or ethnically distinct from the majority in the place to which they have immigrated.

Acculturation is a process of cultural contact and exchange through which a person or group comes to adopt certain values and practices of a culture that is not originally their own, to a greater or lesser extent. The result is that the original culture of the person or group remains, but it is changed by this process.

Adjustment to time

The effect of time zones has been a little-known but important issue for international business. Country time zones have been historically influenced by trading patterns and partners. Setting the same time zone to a partner makes it easier to conduct trading since business hours match. Different time zones force businesses to factor in time zone conversion when dealing with international business and can negatively impact worker productivity. When businesses expand across the globe and change time zones, a large communication gap instils. During the waking hours of one country, another across the globe experiences night-time. This presents an obstacle for companies with speed and customer service as core values since different time zones cause delays. Companies will experience a time gap where they have even less time in their working day to accomplish interdependent tasks.

Other forms of adjustment

Tips for overcoming cultural-shock and adjusting to new cultural surroundings

The following refer to tips for overcoming cultural shock:

  1. Get information that you feel is sensitive.
  2. Notify children or spouse about the differences among foreign people.
  3. Learn to accept difference.
  4. Learn to be open-minded.
  5. Avoid confronting situations where there can be culture-shock, e.g. hotels, casinos, beaches.
  6. View the things in a positive light.
  7. Avoid showing over concern for petty things.
  8. Be calm, considerate and fair-minded.

Perspective

Reassignment and readjustment problems on returning home.

When a businessman returns home, he is reassigned his post. In other words, he has to get along with his previous activity in the home country. If it is for a short time, reassignment will be done quite smoothly. If the person has been away for a long time, then reassignment might be difficult and the person will be filled with nostalgia at first instance. Nevertheless, after a period of adaptation, things can take place smoothly as before.

Returning home

Depending on the length of stay in a foreign environment, re-entry difficulties may arise for a sojourner upon the return home. Usually, it is because the process is expected to be any easy one, when it fact, it is not. The sojourner will likely have changed during the time away, possibly with regard to new customs, language, dress or worldview. The original culture may also have changed over that time period [4]. Both the individual and the corporation should expect and prepare for these changes, and be willing to work through the re-entry process.

Points to ponder

If the person has been away for a long time, reassignment might be difficult at first instance. Usually the process is expected to be any easy one, when it fact, it is not. Both the individual and the corporation should expect and prepare for these changes, and work through the re-entry process.

Readjustment problems

When the businessman comes back home after a long time, he may have to readjust himself. Let us consider the following readjustment problems.

  1. Social habits such as having breakfast, lunch and dinner may vary very much. In the host country, dinner could be taken in a restaurant.
  2. Dressing habits have to be changed. In the host country, the person could have put on western dress. In the home country, some more conservative dressing may be required.
  3. There might have been a cultural change. For instance, the person might have been used to speaking French or English. He might be listening to European songs and watching such movies.
  4. Work habits can also be very different. Abroad the pace of work might be hectic. In the local country, life may look cool, quieter and passive.
  5. Entertainment or night life may be missing in the home country especially at night.
  6. Children may have to be placed in schools in the home country.
  7. Car and housing facilities must again be looked out for. This might not have been a problem in the foreign country.