Does Cross-Cultural Competency Improve Job Performance?

Organizations may hire expatriates in high-tech positions based on their technological aptitude rather than on their cross-cultural or personal merit.

On the other end, expatriates may accept a position without being cross-culturally competent or familiar with the country.

A study of expatriates in the high-tech industry reveals some interesting findings on the subject.

Let’s take a look.

What is Cross-Cultural Competency?

The study defines cross-cultural competence as follows:

“the ability of individuals to work effectively and live normally in different cultural contexts, and…to adopt adaptive thinking patterns and behaviors in the host country.”

Using collected questionnaire survey data, the study identifies expatriate challenges in their new role and proposes ways in which expatriates can adjust psychologically.

Challenges

Challenges to expatriates include:

When these challenges lead to excessive pressure, psychological and even physical symptoms can occur.

That isn’t to say that all pressure is bad, however. 

An appropriate application of pressure can drive employees to progress in their work smoothly and help the adaptation process.

How Adaptation Can Help

Those expatriate employees who adapt to their host country’s culture and customs participate more in the workplace and find more ways to alleviate stress.

Moreover, those employees with high cross-cultural competency also adjust to their host country more smoothly and have a higher job performance.

Setback Period

There is a setback period when expatriates first begin working in their new role.

Unforeseen situations coupled with cultural incompetency and potential incomplete assignments lead to wariness of expatriate employees.

The expatriate needs to navigate the setback period successfully in order to adapt to their cross-cultural environment and achieve in their job performance.

Cross-cultural skills will help this transition, as the expatriate will sooner accept the foreign culture, the environment, and their co-workers.

The Study’s Findings

To achieve cross-cultural competence, the expatriate must initially recognize the differences between old and new environments in order to spot potential conflicts between the two and find ways to overcome them in order to integrate.

Using the reported data, the study found that the stronger an expatriate employee’s level of cross-cultural competence, the better their performance in both the host country and in their job.

Job involvement is also improved by the employee’s ability to adjust to customs. 

This is likely due to the fact that those who can adjust to the host country generally release more work stress and enjoy greater life satisfaction.

Moreover, those able to adjust to work contexts better feel less frustrated and achieve more in their role.

An accumulation of negative pressures can lead to poor job performance, while positive pressures can drive expatriates to achieve individual and work success.

The bottom line is: cross-cultural competency can improve job performance by smoothing the transition and reducing stress.

6 Basic Emotions & How They Are Viewed by Different Cultures

Happiness. Sadness. Fear. Anger. Surprise. Disgust.

According to this study, titled “Two Sides of Emotion: Exploring Positivity and Negativity in Six Basic Emotions across Cultures,” universal emotions can be perceived positively or negatively by different cultures.

The study tested the affective and cognitive components of these emotions on Korean, Chinese, American, and Canadian students.

What the study found was that each of these emotions contain both positivity and negativity but were viewed differently among cultures.

Study’s Findings

Canadians and Americans (Westerners) and Chinese and Koreans (Easterners) have different thinking styles.

As the study notes

“Easterners tend to be dialectical when thinking about a situation in a manner that balances the positives and negatives. When things are going well, Easterners might expect a change for the worse, and when things are going badly, they might expect things to get better.”

On the other hand, Westerners’ thinking style can lead to imbalance.

“Westerners tend to focus more on one pattern—things will tend to stay as they are, good or bad. This thinking style may lead Westerners to think that things are rather consistent, leading them to concentrate on one side of an issue.”

Let’s see how this affects each group’s perspective on these six basic emotions.

Sadness

Stronger positivity of sadness was reported by Easterners, and stronger negativity was reported by Westerners.

This complies with past studies’ findings that negative emotions have motivational and cognitive utility

Other studies have found that Westerners tend to feel they shouldn’t have to face sadness, while Easterners embrace the experience of sadness.

Happiness

All four countries rated happiness as positive, though Easterners reported stronger negativity of happiness, while Westerners reported stronger positivity.

Past studies have found that happiness may be experienced differently and mean different things across cultures.

The study suggests that while happiness may be a bright sunny day in the West, it may be balanced with the negativity of a drizzle in the East.

Anger

Anger was viewed more positively by Easterners than by Westerners. 

A 2013 study found that anger was expressed more by those with lower social status in the U.S., while it was expressed by those with higher social status in Japan, probably to demonstrate authority. 

This may be one reason why Easterners view anger more positively than Westerners.

Fear

Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive fear than affective fear.

Their thoughts and conceptualization of fear were more negative, as fear was anticipated more and felt less, or maybe suppressed, while the other three groups felt fear as more negative.

Koreans reported a stronger positivity of fear, which may be due to their history. 

As a threatened nation, they may view fear as a norm that they must simply live with.

Disgust

Similarly to fear, Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive disgust than affective disgust.

This means that others felt disgust more negatively, while Americans thought and conceptualized it more negatively. 

Easterners reported a stronger positivity of disgust, which might suggest their duality of thinking/feeling that even “bad” things can be beneficial.

Surprise

Surprise was reported by Easterners to be more negative, while by Westerners it was reported to be more positive.

Unexpected events are viewed as more negative by Easterners, and although they expect change more than Westerners, it’s not as welcome.

Emotion Words: How Different Languages Express Feelings

Does the emotion word for happiness mean the same thing in all languages?

How about grief? Angst?

A scientific study looked at the semantic patterns in some 2,500 languages and discovered that emotion words may mean different things according to the language family from which they originate.

We’ve talked about emotion and culture over the past few weeks: how emotions are perceived differently and expressed differently.

Now, we learn that even the language of emotion is diverse.

Let’s take a look.

Universal Emotions

Some emotions, which English speakers might consider primary emotions – think happiness, sadness, anger, love, hate, etc. – are quite universal across world languages.

Most languages have words to describe the primary feelings shared by all humans.

However, just as cultures see color differently, even these primary emotions may be nuanced.

The primary emotion of anger blends into other feelings in different cultures.

Indo-European languages link anger to anxiety, while Austroasiatic languages link it to regret or grief.

Austronesian languages connect anger to pride and hate, while Nakh-Daghestanian languages connect it to envy.

This seems to indicate that cultures see even primary emotions in different shades.

But where culture and emotion become even more interesting is in the specificity of the language surrounding it.

German Specificity 

Some languages, like German, have words expressing very specific feelings for which other languages have no equivalent vocabulary.

“Sehnsucht,” for instance, means to yearn deeply for another life, while “schadenfreude” means to feel pleasure from another’s misfortune.

There are no direct translations in English, and the nuance would be lost in describing these feelings in pretty much any other language but German.

You might consider that these feelings, therefore, are deeply rooted in German culture.

Papua Guinea’s Hospitality

The word, “awumbuk,” is another example of a feeling expressed with language that is deeply rooted in culture.

This word comes from the Baining people of Papua Guinea.

It expresses the feeling felt after guests leave following an overnight stay.

According to cognitive scientist, Asifa Majid, it describes a feeling of listlessness, like a “social hangover.”

The different experiences of emotion across cultures are emphasized in language.

As the study’s senior author, psychologist and neuroscientist, Kristen Lindquist, put it,

“We walk around assuming that everyone else’s experience is the same as ours because we name it with the same word, and this suggests that that might not be the case.”

“Are You Angry?” How One Can Identify Norm Violations Through Emotional Expression

A group is completing a task.

Each participant takes a turn doing the task. Most do it the same way, but then one does it completely differently.

When this individual steps out of place, the others look at him angrily.

If you observed this, what would you deduce?

What would you think if the others didn’t look angry but appeared sad instead?

This is the scenario put forth by the study we’ll be discussing in this post.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about societal emotional environments and cultural emotional arousal levels.

As a foreigner in a new country, how do you adapt your behavior so that you don’t have a monkey moment in another culture?

Often, you can read into others’ emotional expressions which may indicate to you whether you’ve upset a social norm.

The Study

This study takes a look at observations of norm violations using four countries – Germany, Greece, Israel, and the US – each of which has different rules and norms for negative emotions.

Each group observed the two interactions described above.

In general, the anger shown suggested to the observers that if you want to be part of a group, you should complete the task the same way as the others (see, norms).

However, when the observers saw sad reactions instead, they weren’t universally sure how the participant should have behaved in this social context.

Anger vs. Sadness

Anger is generally a strong signal about societal norms and behaviors.

Anger suggests a behavior that’s both undesirable and incongruent to the emoter’s norms.

Sadness, however, though it may indicate unpleasantness or goal obstruction, does not necessarily emphasize a norm violation.

Performance of All Groups

For all four groups, anger was more indicative of a norm violation than expressions of sadness or neutrality.

Greek participants were better at perceiving sadness as a sign of a norm violation, while German participants were most prone to perceive anger.

American participants were most likely to consider the expressers indifferent.

Israeli participants differentiated best amongst the three expressions…although that may be because the study was Israeli-created (and so, the expressions were too).

The study also found that participants were more likely to recognize the norm and see the violation if anger was the expression shown.

This suggests that different cultures are more perceptively sensitive to different emotions and that anger is more pointed in making one note a norm violation.

Emotions & Your Environment: Are You From a High or Low Arousal Culture?

When you’re excited, how do you express it?

Do you squeal aloud with glee? Do your eyebrows reach your hairline?

Or do you suppress your zeal, maintaining a cool exterior?

Last week, we talked about societal emotional environments.

This is the “emotional climate of a society” or the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed.

Today, we’ll look at an academic paper discussing the emotional arousal level of different cultures – specifically, Western or individualist culture versus Eastern or collectivist culture.

The paper looks at actual and ideal emotions in a society – ideal being which emotions are most valued.

Are Emotions Biological?

Some researchers view emotion as universal and biologically based.

But culture certainly determines the degree to which one feels comfortable expressing emotion.

The study explains,

“Culture constrains how emotions are felt and expressed in a given cultural context. It shapes the ways people should feel in certain situations and the ways people should express their emotions.”

Valence and Arousal

Studies on this topic often define emotional expression in two dimensions: valence and arousal.

These bipolar dimensions – pleasure-displeasure (valence) and activation-deactivation (degree of arousal) – make up the affective state.

Both of these dimensions affect brain activity and cognitive behaviors.

High Arousal and Low Arousal

There are high and low arousal emotions.

High arousal emotions induce action, energy, and mobilization. 

Here are some examples of high arousal emotions:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Happiness
  • Hostility
  • Irritation
  • Alarm

Low arousal emotions induce rest and inaction.

Here are some examples of low arousal emotions:

  • Boredom
  • Calm/Serenity
  • Sadness
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Relaxation
  • Helplessness
  • Peacefulness

As you can see, the difference in the intensity of feeling of each of these categories is vast.

Cultural Differences Determine Outcome

As we talked a little about last week, Eastern or collectivist cultures value low arousal emotions, while Western or individualist cultures value high arousal emotions.

This relates to cultural values.

In an individualist culture, a desire to influence others is a part of the social fabric.

High arousal emotions – which prompt action – are more effective in achieving influence.

In a collectivist culture, conforming to the group is ideal.

You can see why low arousal emotions would be preferred in this case.

Defining Emotion

The definition of emotions also differs across cultures.

For instance, happiness in China would be reflected in reservation and solemnity, while in America it would be reflected in exuberance. 

Thus, the arousal state of happiness is high in America and low in China.

These differences in valued emotions inspire preferred activities.

Because Westerners value high arousal emotions, they will participate in activities that elicit these emotions – like enthusiasm or excitement.

Think thrill-seeking activities, like mountain climbing or skydiving.

This goes to show that values and societal ideals drive everything from behavior to emotional expression even to our favorite hobbies.

Expressing Emotions in Culture: Do More Emotive Cultures Experience Greater Life Satisfaction?

Does expressing positive emotions make a person happier?

Does a society that embraces expression breed a population that’s more content?

Before you answer, let’s look at this forty-nine-country study on societal emotional environments and cultural differences in life satisfaction and well-being.

Societal Emotional Environments

First off, what is a societal emotional environment?

The paper defines it as

“the emotional climate of a society (operationalized as the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed in a society).”

In other words, our individual “emotional environment” is influenced by the emotions those around us express

This, in turn, influences our well-being.

The study looks at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal effects of emotion expression.

  • Intrapersonal – the well-being of those who express the emotions
  • Interpersonal – the quality of interactions with others for those who express emotions
  • Extrapersonal – the well-being of those around the expresser as a result of their expression

Emotion Valuation

Not only do different cultures express emotions differently, but they value them differently too.

Particularly when it comes to intensity of emotion.

Latin American cultures, for example, tend toward high arousal positive emotions, like joy and excitement, and these are shared often, intensely, and openly.

Confucian Asian cultures, on the other hand, value low arousal positive emotions, like calm and serenity, and therefore will more often suppress expressive emotions.

The Study’s Results

While identifying the average PSEE (positive societal emotional environment) and the NSEE (negative societal emotional environment) of each society surveyed, the study evaluates the participants’ life satisfaction and well-being.

Participants self-reported the frequency of positive and negative emotional expressions.

The study found that all countries expressed positive emotions more frequently than negative emotions, some more so than others.

Italy, El Salvador, and Ghana were countries with the highest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a day,” while Japan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom had the lowest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a week.”

High PSEE country scores were in the regions of Latin America, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, Latin Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, while low PSEE scores occurred in the Anglo region, as well as Southern Asia and Confucian Asia.

Negative emotions were expressed frequently in countries like Guatemala, Bhutan, and Pakistan, averaging “a couple of times a week,” while those countries with the lowest scores – Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland – expressed them “a couple of times a month.”

The study found that societies with high NSEE scores reported lower life satisfaction on the whole (although individuals were often independently more satisfied), while societies with high PSEE scores reported higher life satisfaction but not significantly.

This seems to indicate that having negativity vocalized around you affects your life satisfaction to a greater extent than having positivity vocalized around you.

Next week, we’ll take a further look at emotions in culture.

Self-Esteem & Future Time Perspective: How One’s Orientation Affects Their Sense of Self

When you look to the future, what do you see?

Are you positive about it? Negative? Confused? Certain?

And how does this predict your level of self-esteem?

That’s what one study by Southwest University and Ohio University set out to determine by examining Chinese and American college students and their feelings about the future.

Future & Past Time Perspective

We’ve talked about time orientation in past posts.

Americans generally have a future time perspective, while the Chinese favor a past time perspective.

Future time perspective involves goal-setting and forward-thinking. 

Future-oriented cultures are progressive and look toward – you guessed it – the future.

They try to see the big picture.

They plan and are driven by aims and goals.

Past-oriented cultures are conservative and risk-averse. 

They look at the past and present as interchangeable.

The past is revered and directs the future. 

Tradition is important, as are family values.

As you can see, each culture views time – and the future – very differently.

The Study

Using the FTP Scale (Future Time Perspective) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, 340 American undergrads and 460 Chinese undergrads were tested.

The study found that the American undergrads were more negative and confused about the future, as well as more positive, perspicuous, and perseverant about it.

American students also exhibited higher self-esteem than their Chinese counterparts.

What do these results mean?

The study has some answers.

Results Analysis

Why are young Americans more pessimistic about the future than their Chinese counterparts?

The study suggests that ever since the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. GDP has suffered, while China, as a developing nation, has a higher growth rate.

These socioeconomic factors may impact both groups’ levels of pessimism.

As for the Americans’ higher levels of optimism, this could be due to an innate belief in the economic development and national trends of the country.

American individualism may also impact the undergrads’ level of confusion about the future.

Those from individualist cultures more often believe that the future is in their hands. This makes for both isolation and uncertainty.

Those from collectivist cultures have a social safety net.

Their future is also viewed from a collective perspective (parents, friends, teachers, etc.), so this group involvement may reduce feelings of uncertainty for Chinese undergrads.

Self-Esteem

In both the American and Chinese groups, self-esteem was linked to future-negative or future-positive sub scale scores.

Those who had a positive view of the future had higher self-esteem, while those with a negative view of the future had lower self-esteem.

Similarly, those confused about the future had lower self-esteem, while those perspicuous about the future had higher self-esteem.

The higher degrees of optimism and perspicuity about the future in the American group led to a higher average level of self-esteem overall.

Culture and Self: How Self-Esteem is Based on the Fulfillment of Dominant Cultural Values 

Does one’s culture influence self-regard?

This article by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) suggests that it actually informs it.

How?

Everyone bases their success or level of achievement on the dominant values of their culture.

Even if a person’s personal values differ from the norm, their self-esteem is often based on fulfilling cultural values.

Let’s see why.

The Survey

Fulfilling one’s personal values has long been viewed in psychology as the greatest influence on self-esteem.

But that may not be the case.

A global study, conducted by social psychologist, Maja Becker, at the CLLE (Laboratoire Cognition, Langue, Langages, Ergonomie) department of the Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail, surveyed 5,000 teenagers and young adults from 19 different countries.

200 young people from countries in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East took part.

Questions in the survey covered personal and cultural values and to what degree they impacted the students’ self-esteem.

Key Factors of Cultural Influence

What the survey found was that four key factors drove self-esteem in all cultures:

  • Earning social status
  • Fulfilling one’s duty
  • Controlling one’s life
  • Benefitting others

The study also found that the students’ own personal values had little to do with their level of self-esteem.

Rather, self-esteem is measured against our ability to fulfill dominant cultural values.

Fulfillment of Values = Self-Esteem

Each culture places different degrees of importance on these four factors.

For instance, those from Middle Eastern, African, or Asian cultures that value tradition and conformity might place more importance on doing one’s duty and benefitting others.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating this fulfillment of duties.

And those from Western cultures whose values lie in individualism and freedom might place more importance on controlling one’s life.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating such control.

Even if one doesn’t personally subscribe to their own culture’s values, they are still influenced by them on a deeply personal level.

Subtly, societal expectations can make or break an individual’s psyche and self-worth.

Next week, we’ll discuss how a culture’s time perspective might also influence self-esteem.

Workplace Organizational Structures: The Pros & Cons of Divisional, Matrix, Network, and Team Workplaces

Working with global virtual teams means working with employees who may have different norms when it comes to workplace organizational structures.

Last week, we talked about the pros and cons of hierarchical, flat, and functional structures.

Today, we’re discussing divisional, matrix, network, and team workplaces.

Divisional Structure

Divisional structures are often used by large companies.

In this organizational structure, each division of a company operates like its own company within a larger organization.

They control their own resources and may each have their own sales, marketing, and IT teams.

This structure also allows divisions to make their own decisions without everything requiring approval from the big boss.

This type of structure may be market-based, product-based, or geographically-based.

Divisional pros:

  • Provides flexibility
  • Enables customization and autonomy
  • Allows more efficient response to customer needs

Divisional cons:

  • May lead to in-company conflict/competition
  • Can create duplicate resources
  • Communication may become confused or lax between the divisions and headquarters

Matrix Structure

If a company has many special projects, it may use a matrix organizational structure.

Such structures enable the formation of cross-functional teams.

For instance, a graphic designer might work in the art department, led by an art director, but be placed on temporary projects, led by a project manager.

Matrix pros:

  • Individuals are chosen by needs and expertise
  • Skills can be applied in various ways
  • The organization becomes more dynamic

Matrix cons:

  • Department managers and project managers may butt heads
  • The organizational chart changes frequently, which may cause confusion

Network Structure

When resources are spread in a company, a network organizational structure can create order out of it.

This type of structure is best for businesses that may include multiple freelancers, subcontractors, vendors, locations, etc.

Network structures rely more on relationships and open communication than hierarchy.

Network pros:

  • Connects the web of offsite and onsite relationships
  • Enables flexibility and promotes collaboration
  • Empowers employees to make decisions

Network cons:

  • Offsite processes can become complex
  • Lack of hierarchy can confuse employees about final decisions

Team Structure

This type of structure kicks open a traditional hierarchy and groups employees into teams.

Team structures promote employee autonomy and control, cooperation, and problem-solving.

Team pros:

  • Performance, productivity, and growth mindset are often boosted
  • Management is minimal
  • Experience becomes more important than seniority

Team cons:

  • May not be applicable to many organizations
  • Blurs the lines to paths of promotion

As we also saw last week, each organizational structure has its pros and cons.

Choosing the structure that works best for your organization – and being aware of other management approaches regarding cultural norms – will help you lead a global virtual team.

Workplace Organizational Structures: The Pros & Cons of Hierarchical, Flat, and Functional Workplaces

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed how to build the best global virtual team, the challenges of working virtually and cross-culturally, and how to best manage such a team.

One of the cross-cultural challenges discussed was differences in norms regarding organizational structures in the workplace.

Some cultures prefer a hierarchical structure with a clear chain of command. Others prefer a flat structure, which is often more collaborative.

Over the next couple of posts, we’ll discuss various organizational structures.

Knowing about these structures as a manager will help you understand how others might be accustomed to working.

Hierarchical Structure

The hierarchical structure is probably the most common organizational structure in a workplace.

It has a clear and direct chain of command, with a senior manager at the top, followed by various departmental executives, followed by supervisors/team leads, all the way down to general employees.

Those at the highest level – the CEO, for instance – have the final say in decisions.

The CEO’s decisions may, however, require approval by a board of directors.

Each structure has its pros and cons.

Hierarchical pros:

  • Provides clear career paths
  • Offers a clear chain of command, thus reducing conflict
  • Helps businesses streamline processes
  • Leaves little room for dissent from those low on the chain (which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it)

Hierarchical cons:

  • May negatively impact employee morale
  • Can slow decision-making processes, as approval is needed
  • May stunt innovation and creativity, as fewer are allowed the power to make decisions

Flat Organization Structure

Small businesses and startups typically use a flat organizational structure.

They must often adjust to a stabler structure once they move past the startup stage.

As you may have guessed, this structure is much less hierarchical with fewer middle managers between the lower-level employees and top dogs.

Flat pros:

  • Less supervision required
  • More responsibility given to employees
  • Trust and open communication
  • Greater employee involvement and ease of coordination

Flat cons:

  • Potential for more conflict and confusion
  • Sometimes slows decision-making processes, as people cannot agree
  • May stunt specified skills or knowledge

Functional Structure

A functional structure involves departments made up of specialized work functions, each with a designated and experienced leader.

The decision-making process is generally centralized in this type of organization, with department heads reporting to upper management.

The team leads communicate with each other to coordinate, and the team members below them typically have little involvement with that process.

Functional pros:

  • Employees focus on specialized tasks
  • Each department fosters teamwork toward a joint goal
  • Is scalable no matter the size of the business

Functional cons:

  • Coordination can be lacking
  • Big picture context is lost on lower-level employees
  • Company processes and strategies can become confused

As you can see, each organizational structure strong and weak points.

The type of structure you choose should be best suited to the business you’re running.

Without a strong structure that supports your business and the type of work culture you wish to promote, you will face difficulties in productivity, coordination, communication, and overall morale.

Next week, we’ll talk about four additional workplace organizational structures.