The significance of cultural differences in engineering is getting increasingly high since, when placed in the environment of the global community, it invites a number of opportunities and challenges for intercultural communication. The threats that are typical for the regular communication process (i.e., conflicts, misunderstandings, etc.), therefore, increase in number and scale. Moreover, the process of multicultural communication between the people working in the engineering area implies that the moral dimensions of people’s lives should be challenged. Due to the differences in the cultural specifics of the participants, viewpoints on certain moral dilemmas may differ significantly.
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To avoid the above issues, one should consider introducing engineers, in general, and the people working in the engineering area in the UAE, in particular, to the principle of cultural diversity. Shedding some light on the way in which different cultures function is crucial to maintain the chances for cooperation between engineering organisations from all over the world high. A change in the organisational behaviour of engineers in the UAE can be carried out by applying the principles of cross-cultural awareness (CCA) to the process. It is strongly suggested that the CCA process should be guided with the help of a transformational leadership strategy as the tool for changing engineers’ behavioural patterns and values correspondingly.
Although the issue of cultural differences might seem insignificant for someone working in the engineering department compared to the workplace-related processes, it, in fact, has a tremendous effect on the overall productivity of the team (Williamson, Lounsbury, & Han, 2013). Studies show that, due to the increase in the speed of the globalisation process, cultural differences affect the members of the engineering field to a considerable extent: “We are living in a changing society where events and innovations in engineering along with expectations of stakeholders involved have resulted in the globalisation of engineering” (Maken, 2012, pp. 1–2).
The engineering area has correspondingly suffered significant changes as a result of the above progress. Although, from the perspective of technological development, the analyzed phenomenon may be viewed as positive knowledge sharing, the risks of a culture clash may jeopardise the progress and hamper the development of engineering as a discipline: “vast array of new materials and processes, use of information technology, a need to have both specific technical knowledge and breadth of knowledge, a need for teamwork, and a rapid pace of change calling for lifelong learning” (Maken, 2012, p. 2).
Herein lies the necessity to address the threat of conflicts, misunderstandings, and all types of misconceptions in the multicultural environment. The goal of the paper is, therefore, to locate the factors that define the increase in the identified risks, analyze the role of cross-cultural awareness (CCA) in the target environment, and define the strategy that will help manage the emergent misconceptions, thus, reducing the existing threats.
Cultural diversity: definition
The phenomenon of cultural diversity (CD) is, in fact, rather broad. Traditionally, it is agreed that CD is a “term used to describe differences between cultural groups” (Webb & Kirov, 2014, p. 203).
Global community specifics
Operating in the global community implies facing culture-related issues on a regular basis. Because of the effects of the globalisation process, the rates of cultural diversity in the global community have increased significantly over the past few years (Maken, 2012).
Engineering in the global community
Engineering in the global community requires collaborating with people from all continents. Therefore, cultural differences will shine through. According to the recent statistical data, global engineering
Communication between cultures
A dialog between cultures starts only once the participants get rid of prejudices and acquire the necessary communication skills.
The project will aim at identifying the possibility of a culture clash in the engineering area as well as promote cultural diversity as the key tool for addressing the issue. Moreover, the project will explore the methods of preventing the above issue as well as the means of deriving essential lessons from the conflicts that will inevitably take place in the environment of global engineering. The specifics of a communication process among the representatives of different cultures will be reviewed.
The project is aimed at defining the essential factors contributing to a cultural conflict in the engineering setting, defining the role of cultural diversity in it, and suggesting CD-based strategies to avert the threat of misunderstandings and conflicts. Moreover, the subject matter will be reviewed from the perspective of transformational leadership.
Project scope definition
Upon completion, the project will provide a framework for promoting cultural diversity in the global engineering environment.
Data Review and Analysis
Cultural Issues in Global Engineering
The issue of information ethics needs to be addressed. Although the basics of engineering ethics are similar in most cultures, some tend to be rather lenient toward the breach of certain ethical standards that are viewed as crucial in other states.
For instance, the problem concerning compliance with the basic safety standards raised above is a concern in many states. Facing the environment, in which foundational ethical principles are disregarded, an engineer is likely to start a conflict, and, vice versa: once forced to follow the safety standards that are not viewed as crucial in their culture, engineers may engage in an argument with their partners representing another culture. Therefore, it is imperative to identify the ethical stance that engineers must assume once addressing similar issues (Vinod & Deshpande, 2013).
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A change in the OB patterns will be required to boost staff’s enthusiasm rates. The specified change is expected to occur with the help of a transformative leadership approach. Specifically, the engineers will be provided with a model that they can follow to work in the designated environment.
Differences in quality standards of various cultures will have to be addressed as well. To make sure that the quality standards are adequate, the leader will have to locate the highest ones in the existing multicultural design.
Engineering as science requires very accurate communication of an issue. Therefore, language issues may become a problem. It is crucial, therefore, to identify the strategy that will help avoid possible misconceptions and get the message across fast and efficiently.
Cross-Cultural Awareness as a Solution
Cross-cultural awareness (CCA) definition
The phenomenon of CCA is typically addressed as the phenomenon of learning or understanding that specific behavioural patterns, convictions, modes of thinking, etc., are culturally conditioned as opposed to being an intrinsic quality of an individual (Keys, 2014).
CCA in the context of engineering
In the engineering environment, CCA manifests itself as the ability to communicate with engineers from different backgrounds successfully, solving the emergent conflicts efficiently, avoiding misunderstandings, and taking the specifics of the foreign culture into account.
CCA strategies for conflict management
Avoiding conflicts in the multicultural engineering environment is not only practically impossible but also rather dangerous as the avoidance strategy may lead to the inability to address more complex issues. Therefore, it is imperative to develop a set of strategies that will help manage the conflicts successfully, i.e., reach a compromise fast and learn important lessons. These strategies include the development of Cognitive Cultural Intelligence (CCI), Meta-Cognitive Cultural Intelligence (MCCI), Motivational Cultural Intelligence (MCI), and Behavioural Cultural Intelligence (BCI) (Wang, 2015). In addition, incorporating integrative negotiation strategies is an essential step to promoting better understanding and cooperation among the members of the target audience.
CCA as an essential tool for negotiation
CCA can be adopted as a means of motivating the target audience to negotiate with opponents. Particularly, the adoption of the concept of a compromise as the basis for the negotiation process needs to be brought up. The idea of compromise as the primary tool for addressing the emergent conflicts should not be viewed as the inclination to accept the opponent’s point of view and succumb to the practices that others view as improper.
For instance, accepting the partner’s policy regarding certain ethical dilemmas such as the disregard of safety issues due to the necessity to meet the deadlines may cause deplorable outcomes and lead to numerous damages (Keys, 2014). Therefore, the process of compromising in negotiation should be interpreted as reaching the agreement that meets the needs of all parties involved.
It would be wrong to dismiss other negotiation strategies, such as accommodation, avoidance, and competition. Although some of them, such as avoidance, are typically viewed as inappropriate for a standard process of conflict management, they still should be considered as the alternative for conflict management.
In addition, the language issues need to be brought up as one of the issues that CCA is likely to address in an efficient manner. Although the terminology used by engineers is translated rather easily into other languages due to the universal names of most of the tools and devices, the absence of the lingua franca that could help engineers communicate their ideas clearly still remains a problem.
The reinforcement of the CCA principles, in its turn, is likely to reduce the threat of linguistic misunderstandings as it will reinforce the process of language-related skills acquisition: according to a recent study, there is a “need for engineers to have more cross-cultural awareness and second language proficiency” (Brandt & Prescott, 2012, p. 174). Claiming that CCA will help the participants involved speak the target language impeccably would be quite a stretch; however, understanding some of the crucial pieces of information and communicating the essential data will become a possibility once the specified framework is deployed.
CCA usage for handling misunderstandings
The adoption of the CCA principles is likely to lead to a better management and further avoidance of misunderstandings based on the specifics of the foreign culture. Particularly, the promotion of tolerance will prevent from developing a conflict between the members of the global engineering community. By encouraging the participants to learn more about the cultures of their co-workers, the leaders will be able to enhance understanding among the members of the target audience.
CCA and promotion of cultural tolerance
Among the benefits of CCA, the fact that it stresses the difference between tolerance and acceptance needs to be emphasised. Although, ideally, it is desirable that the members of the global engineering community should accept each other without bearing any prejudices and, therefore, work together on the solution of particular intercultural issues, in reality, the process of dealing with the subject matter implies managing one’s uncomfortable emotions first. Therefore, it is essential that the participants should realise that they are not being forced to accept other cultures that seem bizarre to them. Instead, they are provided with an opportunity to put up with the above specifics, therefore, creating an opportunity for successful intercultural communication.
Lack of motivation
The transfer from the traditional behavioural patterns to the ones that require displaying a significant amount of tolerance requires the engagement of the staff members. The unwillingness thereof to conform to the new norms foisted on them is a very likely possibility. Consequently, the managers are very likely to face the lack of motivation among the staff members.
Prejudice and stereotyping
As it has been stressed above, people are very reluctant to part with their prejudices against the representatives of other cultures. The reasons for the specified phenomenon to occur vary (Schermerhorn, Osborn, Uhl-Bien, & Hunt, 2013). However, because of the link between the images above and one’s perception of self and personal identity, the process of discouraging stereotyping is likely to occur at a very slow pace and face impressive resistance.
Lack of focus
In the environment that demands to address several issues at once, locating the one that needs a consistent supervision is barely possible. Therefore, it is likely that the managers of the project will be distracted by other concerns related to the technical issues, the process of quality assurance and management, etc.
Absence of leader’s directions
The motivation issue mentioned above is linked directly to the leadership strategy adopted by the managers to promote the required attitude among the members of the target audience. Therefore, it is imperative that a strong leadership strategy should be designed to encourage the staff members to follow the principles of cultural tolerance.
The process of cross-cultural communication in the environment of the above cultural dimensions requires that the parties involved should alter their behavioural patterns used typically to communicate with the representatives of other cultures and assume a different and more tolerant approach. The conflict resolution process, in its turn, should be based on mutual respect and the readiness to understand and tolerate the specifics of others’ culture. In the engineering setting, the process should be supervised by a transformational leader so that the people involved could strive for successful communication.
Moreover, the process of decision-making should be geared toward the safest and the most objective option. Although it is very tempting to take the easiest route and to follow the strategy that implies the smallest amount of effort, it is essential that the bar should be raised consistently in the course of intercultural communication.
As it has been stressed above, the unwillingness of the participants to accept the suggested behavioural patterns and acknowledge people’s right to a different vision of the world and the society is the primary obstacle to overcome. At this point, the concept of a cultural conflict dimension needs to be brought up. The dimensions above are not very numerous; the host cultural dimension implies hostility toward the manifestations of a particular foreign culture, whereas the home cultural one emerges once one experiences the need to reconnect with their culture and national identity.
Seeing that the process of communication often implies a clash of cultural values, it is essential that the participants of the communication process should be able to differentiate between their personal (i.e., retaining their cultural values) and professional (i.e., completing an engineering project) goals. Consequently, the need to introduce the phenomena of the content dimension and the relational dimension emerges.
While the content dimension allows creating shared goals locate common points of contact, overcome language issues, etc., the relational one permits creation of the relationships based on mutual trust and cooperation: (Camarinha-Matos, Pereira-Klein, & Afsarmanesh, 2012). Therefore, identifying the tools that will help the participants communicate in the context of the content and relational dimensions is the primary challenge to be dealt with.
At this point, the concept of the structural dimension needs to be brought up. A comparatively recent addition to the pre-existing ones, it implies that the process of communication and negotiation should be transferred to the virtual realm. On the one hand, the suggested strategy is rather reasonable as it allows creating the environment in which engineers from all over the world could discuss various issues and gain new cultural knowledge. On the other hand, the environment in question does not allow for the leader to supervise and control the conversation. Consequently, there is a threat that the communication may get out of hand comparatively fast and that the further control over the problems solution will be impossible (Camarinha-Matos et al., 2012).
Assessing the lessons that the management of cross-cultural relationships between engineers in the global environment has taught, one must mention the importance of tolerance and the threats of confusing tolerance with acceptance. According to the analysis, the process of multicultural communication is only possible once the principle of a compromise serves as the foundation for the negotiation strategy. Moreover, it is essential that all parties involved should compromise to achieve agreement.
Although conflicts are inescapable in the context of the global engineering, they must be addressed and resolved so that the development of the designated area should not be hampered. The promotion of the principles cross-cultural awareness should be viewed as the primary tool for addressing the emergent conflicts and creating the environment, in which misunderstandings could be managed in a manner as expeditious and efficient as possible. It is recommended that transformational leadership should be used to promote cultural sensitivity among the representatives of engineering departments.
Moreover, the strategy above is likely to address the development of a conflict at its different dimensions. Consequently, different aspects of the problem will be managed simultaneously. CCA will allow for both the prevention of future cultural conflicts and the detailed analysis of the current ones. Thus, the opportunity for learning essential lessons from the emergent misunderstandings appears. While eradicating the threat of a cultural conflict in the global engineering environment is hardly possible, CCA will create premises for improving the quality of communication in the multicultural engineering environment significantly.
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