Globalization and Technological Advancements

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What are types of operational conflicts that occur in an international context because of different cultural attitudes?

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Cultural clashes, misunderstandings, and outright oppressive behaviors can often occur as a result of a globalized economy, particularly one in which the the businesses of the Global North dominates and oppresses the Global South. There are numerous ways in which people from different cultures can misunderstand or inadvertently offend one...

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Cultural clashes, misunderstandings, and outright oppressive behaviors can often occur as a result of a globalized economy, particularly one in which the the businesses of the Global North dominates and oppresses the Global South. There are numerous ways in which people from different cultures can misunderstand or inadvertently offend one another. Someone from a culture where people talk very close to each other, touching often and casually asking personal questions, may accidentally offend someone from a culture where professional interactions are often more conservative and reserved. Conversely, someone who is used to operating in a reserved manner when speaking with an unfamiliar person may come off as cold or rude to a person from a more relaxed culture. Kissing on the cheek as part of a greeting can be totally normal for someone of France, while an American may view the custom as crossing personal boundaries unless direct consent is given. Conflicts can arise from these types of cultural clashes that can result in poor outcomes for the business.

Cultural understandings and expressions of time and communication can also affect a business deal. "Being on time" can be an incredibly subjective concept and is not always the priority for some cultures, while others hold punctuality as immensely important. Building trust and affinity through eating together and bonding may be an important part of building a business relationship for someone of one culture, while another person may be accustomed to speaking strictly of the terms of the deal.

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Globalization has allowed for businesses to expand operations all over the world; however, there have been some cultural clashes when this has happened. One such cultural difference is how people view friendliness. When McDonalds expanded into Russia after the Cold War, the Russian employees had to be told to smile more. Russian people are quite friendly, but they will not smile for no reason, and small talk is perceived differently than it is in the United States. McDonalds used American training techniques in order to demonstrate to the new employees how the West perceived customer service.

Another example of cultural clashes is that bribes have long been ingrained into political dealings in some cultures. In many circumstances, these are not viewed as corruption; rather, it is only a part of the business relationship. A Western businessman may be offended when he is offered something extra or asked for something extra in a business deal with an Eastern European company; however, this is part of the deal.

Another example of a cultural clash is how women are perceived in some cultures. Some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures do not expect women to be in charge of major companies, since the women from these cultures are not as prominent in business. This has led to some conflicts when getting deals done in these regions. Some business executives would rather deal with an American man rather than an American woman.

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Different cultures have different acceptable norms in business, so that can be a difficult arena to navigate in terms of operations. For example, in many developing countries, bribery is an accepted part of business (whether it is technically legal in those countries or not). While countries like the US, England, and other Western countries have strict anti-corruption laws, multinational corporations wishing to do business in certain countries will find themselves in a moral and legal quandary if bribery is an accepted, and even expected, part of business. According to one study, 85% of managers have resorted to bribery when doing business with developing countries like Somalia, which was listed as the most corrupt country in 2019 by Transparency International.

These kind of differences can cause many operational difficulties, as it would be awkward for a manager to, for example, develop a new construction project and efficiently accomplish the task if his contractors are accustomed to receiving bribes. It would be easy to accidentally offend a potential business partner if that partner is used to being offered a bribe, but bribery is against the rules of the organization. In these cases, legal teams must be used, and deals have to be reached that can both comply with the law and allow the company to operate in different countries. This is especially challenging when those two things seem to be in direct conflict.

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Thanks to globalization, people are increasingly working with people from the other side of the world from different cultures and ways of life. It is not simply language barriers that one has to consider in such circumstances—breakdowns in intercultural communication are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Timing is a great example of something that could cause an intercultural operational conflict. African people are famous for operating on what is called "African time," which essentially means that being 20 minutes late for a meeting is nothing out of the ordinary. Additionally, one has to consider the use of phrases to describe time. In South Africa, for example, the phrase "just now" is commonly understood to mean "in a short while" or "a little later," whereas in many other countries the words "just now" would be taken literally to mean right this second.

Another great example is how people greet each other. In certain cultures, it is considered disrespectful to look somebody in the eye when you greet them, while in other cultures, this is expected. It would therefore be very easy to misconstrue someone's well-meaning actions as disrespectful.

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The increasingly globalized and international nature of business means that culture differences often lead to conflicts within the business environment, as people from different cultures must deal with different ways of doing business. In some cultures, standard practice in meetings and dealings with colleagues involves "getting right down to business" as quickly and directly as possible, while in other cultures this is seen as rude. What in some cultures is seen as being polite, including small talk, face saving, and indirection in others is seen as time-wasting and obstructive. In some cultures, there is a premium on promptness, and in others a greater premium on work-life balance leading to potential conflicts over deadline issues.

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