Cultural clash

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Cultural Differences and Clashes in Communication
Li Yong, Deputy Secretary General, China Association of International Trade, and Liu Baocheng, Professor, University of International Business and Economics

Games with familiar and unfamiliar rules
There is a story about a cross-cultural training session at a western company. The trainees were going to be expatriated to overseaspositions. At one point in the training, the trainees were asked to take a break to play poker games. Very quickly, they agreed on the type of game they were going to play, and naturally they played one of the games they were familiar with, whose rules were clearly understood by all the players. After a while, the instructor interrupted their game and said, ‘Now, you are not allowed to play the gamewith the familiar rules of your home country. Please continue the game’. The players’ minds suddenly went blank. They looked at each other in silence with bewildered expressions on their faces, and with no idea how the game should continue. The instructor then broke the silence by saying, ‘The country you guys are going to be assigned to is one that has no rules, or you will be completely ignorant ofthe rules there are. Are you ready for that?’ Indeed, it is easy to play a game with rules understood by all players, and it is fun to play games with players who understand the rules. However, it is not fun at all to play a game without a rule and with players who have different sets of rules for the same game. These cultural differences can cause different understandings of the same thing. Wheneach of the players is trying to play the game according to the rules that they are familiar with, differences in the understanding of these rules will lead to cultural clashes. Of course, cultural differences have much more profound roots than a simple game, and solving cultural clashes is much more complicated than simply setting up uniform rules, as has been done in sports such as with theOlympic Games. 158

With the development of international trade and the world economy moving towards what is termed globalization, people’s interactions against different cultural backgrounds have become increasingly frequent and inevitable. The world is now called a ‘global village’, and like it or not, it is true that we are living in a multicultural ‘village’. In transnational economicoperations, it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish rules, such as those of the Olympic Games, that people from all cultures will abide by. Historical concepts of the ‘game’ such as beliefs, ethical standards, religions, codes of practice, institutions and behavioural patterns, as well as factors of inter- and intra-competition, language, approaches to a particular objective, interactions ofcultural traits, conflicts of value, legal framework and social structures all come into play, and make the pursuit of a uniform cultural rule under a bicultural or multicultural environment difficult and practically impossible to achieve. In addition to this, ‘cultural’ games are a dynamic process and there is no one single rule that can apply to all situations. There is only one rule to remember whenit comes to cultural differences – people may look at the same thing but they all see it differently, regardless of whether they come from the same or a different culture. This rule goes some way to explaining the diversity of the world. Returning to the training story, no information is given about how the trainees were instructed to deal with a situation in which there were no rules, or rulesof which they were ignorant. One criticism of the instructor’s first comment – that there are no rules in the country concerned – is that he was using selfreference criteria (see Chapter 5.1), one of the sources of cultural clashes. However, his second comment that

Cultural Differences and Clashes in Communication

there might be rules that the trainees were completely ignorant about offers...
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