As the world becomes a global village people get to exchange ideas, beliefs, attitudes, practices, food and various facets of culture. The dynamics are interesting and challenging because the way of doing things in one culture may not be the same in a different culture.
How we keep time
For example, time – people in the West are sticklers for time. Other cultures operate on island time – one variant being “Filipino time” or being habitually “fashionably late”. It doesn’t matter whether a Pinoy social event is in the islands or in the continental USA, most pinoys will usually show up half hour to one hour late. But, some Pinoys do show up on time, if not early. They, however are a – minority. The thing is – when habitual tardiness in parties spills over into the workplace, productivity suffers and in the end, the company suffers. But no worries about tardiness – we have compadres, katropa who will cover our back; who by pakikisama will time in for us; or who have utang na loob who owe us – one way or another the tardiness will not show up because we “take care of our own”. In contrast, the Japanese will not tolerate such behavior.
How we treat honor and “face”
Another aspect involves whether ones culture is individualistic or communitarian. For example if I am individualistic or a self-determining person then value will be placed on preserving my image with others and myself. If there is conflict I will take upon it myself – and address the party who I believe wronged me. I will be glad to sit face-to-face and confront my accusers.
However, if I see myself more as a group member then my considerations will be more about the group – about not bringing shame to the group, or I may avoid criticizing another group member so as to maintain group harmony. I will use a third party to act as a bridge between other people in the group. Since there is no direct confrontation, harmony is preserved. The thing is – when there are 3rd parties involved, the message tends to get mangled – and both parties can be played off by the 3rd party.
The former is more common in the West. The latter is very prevalent in the East.
Fate and Personal Responsibility
Communication across cultures is also affected by variables involving fate and personal responsibility. In effect this reflects the extent to which we perceive that we are in control of our lives against the degreee to which we believe that we are subject to forces beyond our control – or how much we gauge our ability to change the course that our lives may take.
Some draw a relationship between the land and the attitude on personal responsbility. The vast North American landscape for instance is seen to nurture a “frontier” mentality, of conquest and mastery over the wilderness, a larger sense of life. When experiencing failure, the admonition is to try again. Action, efficiency, merit, and achievement are of utmost importance. Free will takes the prime spot.
In contrast, smaller territories with histories of repeated occupation and colonization, place more emphasis on the role of destiny. Struggles are more likely to be seen as inevitable and a fatalistic mindset becomes deeply rooted. The response to failure then becomes “bahala na”, implying that failure was destined.
The former will expect activity and accountability – while the latter will expect that the things should remain as it is.
The former will see the latter as lazy. The latter will see the former as arrogant and delusional in what his ideas can accomplish.
Differences can also be seen in the workplace. For example, in the West, it is performance that counts. In the Philippines – it’s not about performance, or better yet, your “performance” is not based on what you deliver to the bottom line – but how well you “fit” within the organization – will you go with the flow or will you rock the boat. In the West doing business means creating organizational wealth. In the Philippines, it means individual wealth.
The differences go on and on.
Cross Cultural Management
Given that cultural backgrounds differ, sparks are bound to fly. The smarter actor will recognize the cultural factors at play and will manage the divergence and convergence of attitudes.
When a person from one cultural background meets, interacts, understands, and deals with persons from another cultural background – that is cross cultural management.
Looking at the divisions in Philippine society – one can see two cultures – one oriented to the West, a minority – and one that sits diametrically opposite to it, the majority.
The thing is, as a country we are aspiring for a quality of life with its attendant comforts and conveniences without the corresponding cultural attitude necessary to sustain such way of life. This is akin to performing cosmetic surgery with a kitchen knife instead of a scalpel.
We can’t be habitually late in a world that beats like clockwork. We can’t keep on going with the flow when such is working against us. What’s the point in fitting in when your organization is about to close ship due to inbred thinking? Where do we draw the line on retaining a “culture” that doesn’t work for us?
Ningas-cogon, bahala na, utang na loob, pakikisama, are supposedly classic Filipino values – whose time has come to be re-evaluated.
Preservation and co-existence between cultures used to be the norm but the times are changing. Cultural boundaries are being taken down. Cross pollination takes place through the generations. New identities are being evolved or made through integration – drawing the smaller parts into the bigger whole.
We shouldn’t be afraid of change. To survive and thrive in todays complex global society, we need to incorporate a wide range of styles, attitudes, perspectives, practices in continuous process of innovation and improvement.
It is difficult for one culture to have all the answers, but when we network and learn from other cultures to bring solutions to our challenges we take on more valuable roles that contribute to the greater good – and our individual good.
Filipino culture can’t remain stagnant forever – something’s gotta give.