No interaction is “value free.” Values create biases that can interfere when working with people from different cultures. For example, some cultures value openness while others are reserved. Cultural clashes occur when people do not understand cultural value differences. Thomas and Inkson (2009) explain that cross-cultural misunderstandings occur when cultural values clash and that “cultural values are fundamental shared beliefs about how things should be or how one should behave” (p. 31).
There are two typical patterns of time governance: monochronic and polychronic time. In Canada, time governance is monochromic with the emphasis on schedules and timelines. Time is seen as a valuable resource and is used in linear ways. We often hear people say, “I am wasting my time or I don’t have any spare time.” Time is to be used wisely. On the other hand, some cultures are more people oriented and are not time oriented.
In many Asian cultures the concern is more about relationships versus time. Aboriginal (First Nation), Middle Eastern, and many Latin American cultures are examples of polychromic cultures. Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel (2012) state all cultures have a way of thinking that affects the way we communicate. Truth, agreement, permission, and questioning are four patterns that influence our cultural communication. Truth Eastern cultures embody sets of beliefs that events will unfold and the truth will be seen. Patience is taught and valued.
Therefore, in conversations, communication style is quieter and open conflicts and emotional clashes are avoided. On the other hand, in Western cultures truth is seen as outside one’s reality. Communication styles tend to be more assertive and conflicts are managed openly. For example, when you ask a child if he or she had a good time, they will tell you honestly. Some cultures, not as comfortable with conflict or open expression of feelings may permit slight altering of the truth and as a result individuals may say what they know the person wants to hear.
Agreement Agreeing or disagreeing in some Asian countries such as Taiwan or Korea is different than in Canada. When a Korean disagrees it may come across as subtle. In many Asian countries, differences are not openly discussed. It may begin with a favourable comment and the disagreement will come in the form of a suggestion. A colleague may say, “Your ideas are sound but thinking about the whole scenario and the problems with this discussion makes it concerning” or sound non-committal. With no clear statement, it is too easy to underestimate disagreement.
Asking Questions In some cultures, asking questions is not done in formal situations. For example, Chris was presenting at a conference and during her presentation became discouraged by the fact that it was quiet and no one asked any questions. It was only after her presentation that people began to ask questions. In Western cultures, asking questions is seen as a sign of interest. Children are taught from a young age to raise their hands and ask questions.
Question asking is seen as a positive behaviour and is encouraged by parents and teachers. However in some countries, such as Taiwan, people are more reserved and question asking is reserved to the end of the presentation so as not to interrupt the presenter. Students also learn not to ask a question if there is a potential of loss of face for the presenter or teacher.