We are experiencing the importance of awareness concerning the used language in intercultural communication (phrases, terminology, concepts and such) every day during our work. Even the meaning of the simplest words or phrases, such as politeness, loyalty, justice, honesty, good employee etc. seem to have a very different meaning in each culture and ignoring those can lead to serious misunderstandings and intercultural frustration.
The following case presentation shows well the differences in those kind of terminology in Japanese and European understanding.
We have just finished a modular intercultural management training for a company with an employee number of 3000+. We have trained the Hungarian (incl. also some staff from other European countries) management in the 1st module, the Japanese management in the 2nd module, and all personnel, who have attended the 1st and 2nd modules altogether in the 3rd module. Due to the long existing and significant intercultural conflicts in the organization we have asked the participants to prepare a list of „please continue’s” and “please stop it’s” directed to the representatives of the other culture. Both lists, that, prepared by Japanese managers and that of Hungarian managers included the request towards the other culture to be more flexible, parallelly both emphasizing, that their own culture is very much so.
During the moderation of directing those requests we had to explain the meaning of both „flexible’s, which was followed by a long discussion between the parties.
How was the concept “flexible” interpreted in different ways?
In short, in case of the flexibility of the Japanese’ covered mainly the followings:
Flexibility in work execution, smoothly changing between jobs and tasks, not insisting on contractual and other legal conditions, job descriptions or such, continuously adjusting to the needs of the company.
However, Hungarians (Europeans) meant basically the followings by the concept of “flexibility”:
Flexibility in decision making, in balancing between work and life, in judgements, in exception making, in most kinds of formalities such as forms, formats and codes.
Naturally the participants have identified the representatives of the other culture extremely inflexible in the relevant items, which caused them to describe the other nation’s representatives as ‘inflexible’.
So, who is flexible and inflexible now?
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What do you see on the picture? If a picture can be interpreted in so many ways then what about the different situations at the workplace, especially if it is a multicultural one?