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The Role of Culture and Communication in Work Places Essay

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Introduction

In a work set up, it is always necessary to consider employees or business associates’ communication and cultural diversity (Kottak & Kozaitis 2003). For instance, in Australia, individuals seeking employment are expected to promote themselves explicitly and show that they can work in an environment of diverse cultures.

This is done by requiring them to state their skills in details with regard to culture and communication ability. This paper will discuss the role of culture and communication in work places, discuss the Arabic culture in Middle East and try to compare it with the Australian culture.

Role of communication in work place

In a job set up, the interviews given may at times be culturally biased especially if they have little or no regard to the interviewee’s skill pack in relation to their experience from their country of origin. Similarly, a business person may get upset when performing business with individuals from the Far East who have a tendency of consulting with their home country’s business counterparts before making a decision.

If a person does not understand the work mate culture, he/she can consider their actions as pressure tactic rather than taking it as a reflection of cultural custom.

When looking at the role of culture in a personified framework of reference, it is of great importance to keep in mind the fact that there are many factors that influence values and communication styles. These by and large include: family assemblage, personal experience, level of education, global occurrences and modern culture during decisive years (Kottak & Kozaitis 2003).

For good relationships to exist in work place, it is necessary that a person be inquisitive and ask what is important to the other person. Questions such as how someone would know that he/she has done an excellent job and how learning of others’ culture and communication works best for them are critical.

Understanding the role of communication and culture in work place will go a long way in minimizing the chances of misunderstanding and conflict in cross-cultural communication.

As such, it is advisable that in dealing with culturally diverse individuals, one should avoid making assumptions, encourage discussion where necessary, offer a listening ear to colleagues or business counterparts and seek their understanding and create mutual interest (Kottak & Kozaitis 2003).

As Australia expands to become a multi-cultural society, it is extremely important to be aware of cross cultural issues that are likely to have some impact in workplaces. In most occasions, when people come across someone whose behaviors are not similar to theirs, there is often an assumption that it is as a result of ignorance. If these actions continue, the person is taken to have a personal issue.

At the end of the day, the possibility that the person is operating from a different set of rules is adopted by many. For instance, in a place where immense importance is placed on time management and punctuality, one may seem odd going to work late. At first, it may be taken that the person is unaware of the expectation of arriving on time.

If the lateness trend continues, people are likely to think that the person is lazy, disrespectful of rules, or rather addicted. It is only when a person is confronted about the issue of arriving to work late that his principals get to be known. Probably, he puts more emphasis to supporting and work relationships compared to time keeping (Kottak & Kozaitis 2003).

Muslim Arab group in the Middle East

History

The history of Arab can be traced on concepts such as atomism. Arabs have a tendency of viewing the world and activities as separate incidents, snapshots, and they take each moment at a time.

Arabs are known for their deep believes in God. Most of them believe that almost all things in the world are under the control of God rather than by human beings. Arabs have a way of expressing their emotions in an aggressive, vibrant and at times exaggerated style (Kottak & Kozaitis 2003).

Most Arabs have similar fundamental beliefs and values that that are applied across national and social class boundaries. The main reason that causes this is the fact that most Arab societies are more conventional and demands the same kind of conformity from all members of the society (Hostedft 2001).

It therefore necessary that Australia and other observers are able to identify and separate these cultural styles from individual behaviors. Most Arab countries are secular countries; however, the predominant religion is the Islamic culture which has its basis on the Qur’an Law.

Customs

Family

In Arab society, families are often made up of large groups of people and have strong control of individuals’ lives. The family is the fundamental unit of the society and normally has very strong ties that are well-knit. Arabs achieve social status by virtue of the family one is born in, that is the right family. In a patriarchal structure, the family is headed by a father who is also taken as the family role model.

Very few women work in offices away from their homes. This trend is however being overtaken by time due to the increased rate of urbanization. Both male and female have their own separate social subgroup, which are allowed to interact only in the home.

Actually, everything that is done rotates not on the individual but around family life (Brisline 2000). A family member’s achievement is taken as the whole family achievement and serves as reputation of the entire family progress. The family is seen as a foundation of reputation and admiration as well as an avenue of both financial and emotional support.

For Arabs, the highest degree of loyalty is pledged to the family, and this cannot be disregarded. In real sense, maintaining the family loyalty is one of the highest values in Arab society. The misdeed of the female gender can bring more damage and shame to family than any misbehavior by men committed by their male counterparts.

As such strict and well defined patterns of behavior have been established with an intention to protect women and help reduce their vulnerability to situations that may give rise to untrue impressions or baseless gossip (Hostedft 2001).

Figure 1. An Arabic family

An Arabic family

Greetings

In Arab society, men are allowed to shake hands but must do it gently and can choose to pull those that they are greeting toward them and kiss their cheek. Holding hands as people walk to some areas is also acceptable. If an Arab male fails to touch someone that he greets, it is a show that he either does not love him or he is restricting himself because he feels that the person is customarily not supposed to be touched.

After shaking hands, most people place their right hand on the heart as a show of greeting with respect and genuineness. This is different on the part of women who place the right hand over the heart after serving food as a symbol of giving the food with sincerity.

An act of kissing the front part of the head, nose, or even the right hand of a person symbolizes great respect. Shaking hands with the right hand only shows that the left hand could be unclean (Hostedft 2001).

When one fails to shake hands on meeting someone or after bidding a person good-bye, it is considered impolite. Whenever a non-Arab man is introduced to an Arab woman, it is the woman who makes a decision whether she will shake hands or not; she is the one to make the first move to have a handshake.

Arab Women shake hands by use of their fingertips only. Touching their palm and kissing their hand is not allowed. Women are also restricted from kissing a man’s cheek in greeting as it is considered arrogant (Hostedft 2001).

Dress

Dress code for Arab men is less stringent. It includes British executive wear, T-shirts, blue shorts and traditional fine clothes among others. The flowing clothes give room for utmost circulation of air all over the body so as to keep it cool. The head gear on the other hand provides shield from the sun.

Sometimes, Arabs combine the traditional wear with Western dress code. Varying head gear patterns clearly represent one’s clan, tribe or family (Brisline 2000).

Figure 2. Men in white head dress; white head dress shows that the wearer comes from Monarch kind of a country

Men in white head dress; white head dress shows that the wearer comes from Monarch kind of a country

As far as Arab women are concerned, conformity to the strict traditional manner of dressing varies from society to society. A good example is Saudi Arabia which is very conservative as opposed to Egypt which is less traditional. Arab women’s dress code is characterized by body covers that are full length and they include hijab or chador, jilbob and abayah among others.

Modesty is the biggest concern for women dressing. The religiously most dedicated women cover both their faces as well as the bodies in veils/robes. However, the rule is less stringent for the rural women, who typically work in the fields. They are allowed to put on less restrictive garments often of lighter color and weight (Brisline 2000).

Figure 3. Devoted women

Devoted women

Religion

Islam is the dominant religion of the Arab societies. It was initiated by Prophet Mohammed’s revelation and teachings in the 7th century. People who observe the teaching of Islam are called Muslims. Islam is one of the three Abraham religions others being Judaism and Christianity all of which accept as true the existence of one God and the essence of honoring God’s will under the sun.

The Muslims follow the first four books of the Christian religious book, known as the Torah in the Jewish religion. The holy book used in Islamic faith is Quran. Arabs strictly follow the teaching of the Quran with about six paths of moderation; believe in God.

Prophets derive confidence from Adam from Genesis, to Mohammed and their teachings. Lastly, Muslims subscribe to the Divine Creed -fate. They put much effort not only on guiding their faith in their spiritual lives, but also in their social/political endeavors and personal relationships as well (Brisline 2000).

The Arab religious practices form their bases on the astral calendar or cycle, having twelve months of 29 or 30 days each, adding up to about 353 or 354 days in one calendar year.

The beginning of a new moth is marked by the sighting of a new moon. Friday is the secluded as a holy day of the Muslims. It is viewed by many as a sacred day and the Day of Judgment. During the sermons every Friday, the Imam who is also the prayer leader offers the sermon and leads prayers (Brisline 2000).

Food

Most of the foods and recipes in the world today originated from Arab, more so from Middle East. Coffee is one of the most used beverages around the world and has been in use as a traditional drink in the Middle East for a long period of time now. Chickpeas, rice and dried fruits are very common in the Arab society. The type of foods taken in the Arab societies is dictated by the holy book- Quran.

It offer very specific instructions on how food should be prepared and outlines certain foods which are off limits entirely. A good example is the idea that any animal offered as a sacrifice for others than Allah (God) is not to be eaten. Similarly, eating pigs is completely prohibited (Landis & Bhagat 1996).

If a Muslim happens to eat these foods without his knowledge, he can ask for God’s forgiveness just as a Christians would ask God to forgive their sins.

In an informal interview with my friends, a question of what they think about the Arabic culture was posed. Below are samples of their responses:

  • Kate thought that Arab women are often mistreated and oppressed by their male counterparts. According to her, all women are expected to put on veils. Even in countries where the veil is not imposed on women, they still put it on for fear of victimization. In her opinion, even the non Muslims do wear the veil to avoid being attacked or beaten up by those that pretend that they are guarding the Muslim religion.
  • On the opinion that all Arabs are Muslims, Shelly respond that Arabs form a religiously diverse group with large numbers of Arab Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Arabs just form between 15-18% of all Muslims in the world.
  • On the issue of economic development in Arab society, Sarh who seem very knowledgeable about Arab culture defended the thought that Arab world is not civilized. To her, Arab is actually a portrait of a highly developed culture and civilization where modern cities blend with ancient ones.

Understanding cultural diversity

Through both verbal communication and non-verbal communication, people express their cultural norms. A tight handshake is an acceptable way of greeting in Australia whereas bowing is the customary acceptable way in parts of India. In the Australia, for instant, looking at a person directly in the eye is a generally accepted sign of trustworthiness and actually one is seen as ‘shifty’ should they fail to make eye contact.

On the contrary, in Middle Eastern countries such as India, direct eye contact is seen as disrespectful and unacceptable. Western culture is considered low context because it put lots of emphasis on words to make our messages direct and explicit (McCauley & Draguns 1999).

On the other hand, India can be seen as a high context cultures. This is because of the much reliance that is put on non-verbal cues and the context in which the communication is happening. Whereas Australian culture puts emphasis on rational reasoning processes, India cultures relies more on intuition than logic.

In Australian cultural context, focus is put on personal fulfillment and individual strongest ties are heavily limited to the nuclear family members. In Arab culture however, people are viewed as a large community.

They do their roles as part of their societal assembly and the decision-making involves group or the community at large. In other words family members include extended family. Despite the many challenges associated with cross-cultural communication at work, it is right to appreciate that diversity always presents opportunities for innovation, creativity and increases the chances of expanded opportunities (Brisline 2000).

Perception of others about my culture

The erosion of the Australian culture due to effects of globalization has attracted the attention of many people. Improvement in communication and transportation technologies in the recent past has given room for new types of cultural production, consumption and manner exchanges (Rhinesmith 1996).

A number of people see the transitional nature of world markets as the major factor causing consolidation of media and entertainment ownership, and improved flows of cultural products in and out of Australia.

Most are of the view that with the coming and increased popularity of cultural products originating from the Arab societies, leisure time is becoming more and more commoditized and inscribed with corporate logos. Australian culture has for a long period of time been influenced by borrowed cultural products, and indeed it is made up of selective adoption of overseas cultural practices (Gibelman & Schervish 1997).

Cultural values or models-reflection on understanding the target population

Cultural values can be taken to mean those values that are common to a group or community, or are made legitimate through a socially accepted way of conveying value. This suggests that there can be many options of valuing cultures—the values common to those who are in an associated group as well as those characterized by disciplinary expertise (Gibelman & Schervish 1997).

This knowledge is very useful in the study of Arabs culture. In their case, culture is inclusive not only of values traditionally viewed to be part of culture such as manner of dressing; but also of characteristics that can be considered as part of nature, yet taken to be cultural (Brisline 2000).

Lessons learnt about self and others

This has been a learning session. I have realized that there is a lot to learn and selectively borrow from the Arab culture. I have known the reason why there has been so much cultural and value disloyalty in Australia. I have I also known that I am really culturally diverse and can quickly change and adapt to a new diverse culture.

My ability to work in a diverse cultural environment is also evident. I have learnt the idea of appreciating one’s culture without blocking the mind to learn from others. Just like Australian, Arab culture is a rich culture although very conservative (Brisline 2000).

My future approach in regard to cultural exchange

As an individual, I will always seek to understand the society’s culture and values, and their role in modeling human behavior and the society at large. Recognizing and appreciating the strengths of a certain culture is of paramount importance.

If I am to work in an environment of people with a different culture, I would seek to be information of their cultures and so as to demonstrate aptitude in the provision of services that are insightful to their cultures (Okun & Okun 1999). I would also seek to understand the differences among people and cultural subsections.

I would endeavor to get information and seek to be aware of the nature of social diversity and subjugation if any with respect to race, ethnicity, nationality, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political inclination, religion, and mental or physical disability (Solomon 1976).

Knowledge is a major aspect to successful cross-cultural communication. As such, I will seek to understand the possible problems that can be caused by cross-cultural communication, and make a deliberate attempt to overcome these problems. Of more importance is the understanding that my efforts will not always bear fruits and as such, I should be ready to adjust my behaviour in a flexible manner.

In this case, I will take the approach that there is a big possibility that cultural differences can cause communication difficulty and so, I will try to be serene and forgiving, rather than antagonistic and aggressive in the event that problems arise (Brisline 2000).

References

Brisline, R 2000, Understanding culture’s influences on behavior, Harcourt College Publishers, New York.

Gibelman, M & Schervish, P 1997, Who we are: A second look, NASW Press, Washington, DC.

Hostedft, G 2001, Culture’s consequences, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Kottak, P & Kozaitis, A 2003, On being different: Diversity and Multiculturalism in the Brooks, Cole Publishing, Pacific Grove, CA.

Landis, D & Bhagat, R 1996, Handbook of intercultural training, Sage, London.

McCauley, C & Draguns, K 1999, Personality and person perceptions across cultures, Lea, Mahwah.

Okun, B & Okun, M 1999, Understanding diversity: A learning-as practice primer, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Rhinesmith, S H 1996, A manager’s guide to globalization: Six skills for success in a changing world, Irwin, Chicago.

Solomon, B 1976, Black empowerment, Columbia University Press, New York.

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