4. LEGAL AND POLITICAL SYSTEMS: FORMAL VS. INFORMAL
Most cultures develop systems for maintaining order to ensure citizens will not violate the rights of others in the society. This results in the legal system of a society, which is closely tied with the government of a particular place. In places like the United States, there’s a formal legal system governed by a written constitution and through local, state, and federal laws. Although less formalized and complex, many smaller-scale, technologically simple societies also have effective ways of controlling behaviors.
- Formal: A very formalized system that is chronicled in things such as a written constitution and laws.
- Informal: Although less formalized, simple legal systems are still binding and are passed along through conventional wisdom. Citizens and visitors are presumed to understand and follow the rules.
- Recruit local expertise to aid you in negotiating with legal and government officials.
- Take the time to learn which laws are relevant for your work in a respective place.
- Find out what unwritten practices should be used or avoided with legal officials. For example, giving a gift to a government official will be essential in some cultures and can get you arrested in another.
5. RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS: RATIONAL VS. MYSTICAL
Why do bad things happen to good people? How come drunk drivers survive while innocent people get killed? Why do tsunamis kill some innocent people while others escape? Every culture develops a way of explaining what otherwise seems inexplicable. There are no uniform conventions for answering these questions, but all societies offer a variety of supernatural and religious beliefs for things that go beyond human understanding.
Admittedly, there are many differences within most cultures for how different individuals and their religions answer questions like these. One of the distinguishing differences between how many cultures organize their supernatural belief systems is rooted in the extent to which they take a rational, scientific approach to answering the inexplicable versus a more spiritual and mystical outlook on life. The rational approach puts more emphasis on individual responsibility and work ethic whereas the mystical way places a higher degree of confidence in supernatural powers, both good and evil.
- Rational: The emphasis is on finding reason-based scientific answers to the supernatural with a focus on individual responsibility and work ethic.
- Mystical: The emphasis is on supernatural powers, both good and evil, that control day-to-day events and life.
- Be respectful about how you discuss your religious beliefs and learn what might be most likely to offend someone in light of his or her religious beliefs. Be alert to the most potentially offensive things that could be done in regard to a culture’s religious beliefs and seek to avoid those practices.
- Become a student of how religious values and supernatural beliefs affect the financial, management, and marketing decisions made by organizations in a particular culture.
- Find out key religious dates. Avoid opening a new business in China during the Festival of the Dead or on Deepavali in India. And don’t schedule an important meeting on days such as Christmas or Chinese New Year.
6. ARTISTIC SYSTEMS: SOLID VS. FLUID
Finally, every society develops a system of aesthetic standards that gets manifested in everything from decorative art, music, and dance to the architecture and planning of buildings and communities. There are many different ways we could examine artistic systems. One way of thinking about it is to observe the extent to which a society’s aesthetics reflect clear lines and solid boundaries versus more fluid ones. Many Western cultures favor clean, tight boundaries, whereas many Eastern cultures prefer more fluid, indiscriminate lines.
- Solid: A preference for clean, tight boundaries that emphasize precision and straight lines.
- Fluid: A preference for more fluid, indiscriminate lines with an emphasis on ebb and flow and flexibility.
- Determine whether you need to alter the color schemes, navigation logic, and representations on your website for various regions. What might seem like a clear navigation approach in your culture might be very confusing in another place.
- Beware of assuming that symbols or logos can be universally applied in all cultural contexts. Do your homework to find out how symbols will be received in the places where you work.
- Learn what cultural icons are revered. For example, inappropriate use of lions or the Great Wall when marketing to Chinese will erode credibility.
LIVING WITH CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE IN TODAY’S WORLD
What do you do when you encounter someone who isn’t like you? How do you feel? What goes on inside you? How do you relate to him or her?
As the world becomes more connected and accessible, the number of encounters we have with those who are culturally different are growing daily. Most of us are more comfortable with people like ourselves. But, seeking out and loving people of difference is challenging. Therefore, learning how to reach across the chasm of cultural difference with love and respect is becoming an essential competency for today’s leader.
No one will ever lead across cultures perfectly. But by familiarizing yourself with the systems found within a culture, you can undoubtedly become a more effective leader, giving yourself an overall repertoire and perspective that can be applied to myriad cultural situations.