When cultures collide (2022)



When cultures collide (1)

(Video) What do we choose when cultures collide? | Janine Miller | TEDxSlottsparken

And another reason for being young

IN THE streets of New York, especially on Fridays, the first victims of the youth movement hurry from train to office, pulling their stomachs in. These are the middle-aged middle managers, thrust into a brave new world of casual dress and techno-tribalism at the workplace. Along with dictation and personal secretaries, they miss the simple certainties of matching shirts and ties, and the armour-plating of a well-tailored jacket.

Now they must buy new wardrobes of khaki and blue. There is no hiding a gut in a cotton Oxford shirt and chinos, whatever those may be. These are grown men who feel naked going out to lunch with nothing but a shirt on their backs. Recognising their distress, companies such as Lands' End come to their workplace and stage fashion shows. To make the humiliation complete, they recruit these executives as models, which is great fun for the rest of the staff. Sales of polo shirts skyrocket.

The young may be rising to prominence in the workplace, but older workers are not going away. Indeed, they have the numerical advantage. In 1960 the median age of America's population was 25; today it is 35. By the middle of this century there will be more Americans in their 70s than in their teens. With unemployment at record lows, and likely to stay that way until recession intervenes, there are simply not enough young people even to fill the entry-level jobs, let alone take over from older managers. At the same time the bulging boomer generation is ageing. Within a decade, the first boomers will start to retire.

Paradoxically, then, youth is coming to the fore in the workplace at the same time as the workforce is greying. But note that strength of corporate impact is not necessarily measured in numbers. A few young visionaries may have more influence than an army of time-servers and a forest of deadwood. In reality, though, it is not so much youth itself that is rising to prominence, but the qualities of the young: ease with technology, flexibility, embrace of change and risk-taking. Not all 30-, 40- or 50-year-olds exhibit these qualities, but many do, and the future workplace will home in on them.

At the same time, youth qualities by themselves are not enough. Experience, judgment and maturity are needed, too. Just talk to a refugee from one of the hundreds of dysfunctional dot.coms. Of course the campus atmosphere was fun for a while, but after the first few management tantrums even the funkiest employees started muttering about the need for adult supervision. When General Motors workers went on strike in 1998, one of their main complaints was that their supervisors were too young and inexperienced.

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When cultures collide (2)

Is this where you switch it on?

On the other hand, older employees may find it difficult to accept that respect no longer automatically comes with age. They have worked to one set of rules for most of their life, and then one day the rules change, and they are out of a job—or working for someone a decade their junior. In America this has been happening ever since the consultant-driven restructuring of the early 1990s. But in other countries the shake-out of older workers is only just beginning. In China earlier this year, a group of them held representatives of an American multinational hostage for 40 hours to protest against the closure of a state-owned enterprise. The company was downsizing and had offered most of the restructured jobs to people in their 20s. The older employees feared, probably with reason, that they would never work again.

The older you get, the less you know

For better or worse, companies are already thinking younger. Big, traditional companies, from Procter & Gamble to Siemens, have started “reverse mentoring” programmes in which middle-aged executives are tutored on the mysteries of the Internet by young newcomers who sometimes slip and call them “dude”. General Electric's boss, Jack Welch, says that “e-business knowledge is generally inversely proportional to both age and rank in the organisation.” GE asked its top 1,000 managers to become “mentee” to 1,000 young employees, many of whom had only recently joined the firm but who nevertheless understood the new technologies better than GE's finest.

At the same time, the growth of start-ups and young companies outside the mainstream corporate world is giving young people far more opportunity than ever before. About 15% of American top managers (chief executives, presidents and company owners) are in their 20s or 30s, according to Dun & Bradstreet, a business-information provider. That would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

But this is a time of change, when cynicism about staid corporate culture is at an all-time high; hence the success of the irreverent “Dilbert” management cartoons. It is the heyday of free agents, whose loyalty is only to their own skills. Robert Morgan at Spherion, an employment firm, calls this the “emerging workforce”. Today, he says, a third of workers have the portable skills and ambition necessary to become successful free agents. In an era of record low unemployment, it is a seller's market; but even when the balance tilts back again, the traditional corporate hierarchy will probably turn out to have gone for good. “The war for talent has banished a lot of rules. Once they go away, they tend not to come back.”

Earlier this year Fast Company, in association with Roper Starch, a polling firm, asked American workers to consider the following statement: “The new century is all about youth. Increasingly, people in their 20s and 30s who understand and master technology will take over key roles in business and society. Baby boomers will have to surrender power before they are ready.” Two-thirds of the respondents agreed but, tellingly, nearly as many thought that the trend was worrying.

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Will there be a wholesale takeover by the young? A good place to look for an answer is Microsoft, which has had a quarter-century's experience with the workforce trends that most companies are only just beginning to confront.

Microsoft's most important employees are not its managers, but its individual programmers (on the face of it, the lowest rung on the organisational chart), who take the company's only real lasting asset, its knowledge, home with them in their heads each night. They have great autonomy in choosing how to do their job. By and large, the managers' task is not to tell the programmers what to do, but to clear obstacles from the path they choose.

This is the military model turned upside down: the officers serving the enlisted men. The difference is that whereas the best soldiers do not question orders, knowledge workers are valued most for their ability to think for themselves. They are trusted to steer their own path through business problems. Managers hold back, knowing that the more specific their order, the more it is likely to undermine their employees' ability to find creative solutions. So they concentrate on the diplomatic tasks that most of the independent young programmers are not much good at: co-ordinating with other teams, resolving conflicts, motivating people and ensuring that everybody is happy.

Think of the programmers as young workers and the managers as older ones, and this starts to look like a model for the workplace of the future. As it happens, Microsoft's programmers tend to be in their 20s and early 30s, whereas the managers are about a decade older. Many of the managers are former programmers who reached a point where they no longer wanted to sleep under their desk. The effect of all this is that youth and youth qualities apparently dominate, but the experience and maturity of older employees is put to good use too. Can't picture a law firm working the same way? Just wait. The khakis are only the start.

This article appeared in the Special report section of the print edition under the headline "When cultures collide"

Bright young things the young

  • Bright young things
  • The kids are all right
  • Know future
  • The disaffected
  • Youth, Inc
  • Tomorrow’s child
  • A long wait
  • When cultures collide

When cultures collide (3)

From the December 23rd 2000 edition

Discover stories from this section and more in the list of contents

Explore the edition
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What does it mean when cultures collide? ›

Organizations are made up of individuals whose combined attitudes, values and beliefs create an organizational culture that is unique to all others. When organizations merge, two cultures are thrown together, and that could result in a collision that will eventually destroy the new company.

What happens when different cultures collide? ›

Assimilation. The process of a assimilation when the two cultures meet often only happens when one is more advanced than the other and swallow up the other culture. This eventually leads to complete loss of cultural identity. It sometimes- like adoption results in a complete new culture.

What is it called when two cultures collide? ›

Acculturation is one of several forms of culture contact, and has a couple of closely related terms, including assimilation and amalgamation. Although all three of these words refer to changes due to contact between different cultures, there are notable differences between them.

What is Lewis model of culture? ›

According to the Richard Lewis model of cultural differences, it is possible to divide all the world´s cultures into three parts: linear-active, multi-active and reactive. These three clearly distinctive cultural groups form a triangle that is known in the world as the Lewis model.

How do you combine cultures? ›

Exploit any opportunity to bring the cultures together. Make judicious use of seminars, retreats and small group functions to get the two cultures talking. If the merger resulted in new physical locations that you plan to keep, encourage employees to relocate when an opening occurs.

How do you bring two cultures together? ›

1. Develop a change management plan including effective communications to:
  1. help each side understand the other's point of view and manage perceptions from both sides;
  2. help both sides understand why things had to be different in the new world;
  3. clearly articulate why somethings could no longer be done;

What happens when two cultures meet for the first time? ›

The process of a assimilation when the two cultures meet often only happens when one is more advanced than the other and swallow up the other culture. This eventually leads to complete loss of cultural identity. It sometimes- like adoption, results in a complete new culture.

Why are there cultural clashes? ›

Cultural clashes in American society are usually rooted in lack of understanding and communication. A 2019 article in Frontiers in Psychology emphasizes that culture clashes are rooted in the friction that comes from different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

How does cultural relativism affect human rights? ›

“Cultural relativists ” believe human rights should take account of cultural differences. Cultural relativism states that values are defined by local culture as opposed to global ideology. Cultural relativists argue that human rights were developed by Western countries and are based on Western morality.

What is the difference between acculturation and syncretism? ›

In contrast to acculturation and transculturation, syncretism is the birth of a new culture trait from blending two or more culture characteristics. These changes lead to a wide range of differences, including languages and religions.

What is assimilation vs acculturation? ›

Assimilation is a two-way process, and the majority culture is changed as well as the minority culture. Acculturation occurs when the minority culture changes but is still able to retain unique cultural markers of language, food and customs. Acculturation is also a two way process as both cultures are changed.

What is the difference between assimilation and multiculturalism? ›

Assimilation is a social process where minority groups or cultures within a mainstream culture come to reflect the mainstream group in terms of their values, beliefs, and behaviours, whereas multiculturalism is a process where a mainstream culture acknowledges and accepts the cultural, ethnic or racial differences of ...

What is cross cultural diversity? ›

Cross culture is a concept that recognizes the differences among business people of different nations, backgrounds. and ethnicities, and the importance of bridging them. With globalization, cross culture education has become critically important to businesses.

What is cultural iceberg? ›

In 1976, Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture. If the culture of a society was the iceberg, Hall reasoned, than there are some aspects visible, above the water, but there is a larger portion hidden beneath the surface.

What is a reactive culture? ›

Reactive or listening cultures rarely initiate action or discussion, preferring first to listen to and establish the other's position, then react to it and formulate their own. Reactive cultures listen before they leap.

Is cultural integration good or bad? ›

Thus, there are positives and negatives to cultural integration. It may diminish the distinct elements of a culture, but help two cultures understand one another better. It introduces new elements to one culture while making the historic values of a culture indistinct and less important to new generations.

Why is culture important in mergers? ›

Cultural factors and organizational alignment are critical to success (and avoiding failure) in mergers. Yet leaders often don't give culture the attention it warrants—an oversight that can lead to poor results. Some 95 percent of executives describe cultural fit as critical to the success of integration.

Can cross cultural relationships work? ›

While, ultimately, the diversity of their union can lead to an enormously strong and healthy relationship, couples from very different cultural or racial backgrounds sometimes need to work harder to create understanding and compromise.

Can two cultures coexist? ›

Despite having many cultural differences, society can effectively and peacefully coexist, and they can do this by being open to cooperation, building on common values and beliefs, and learning to respect the beliefs of other cultures. The numerous cultures and beliefs in the world give variety and spice to life.

Can you be from two cultures at once? ›

Bi-cultural people, who identify with two cultures simultaneously, are particularly vulnerable to this kind of rejection. A person can become bi-cultural by moving from one country to another, or if they are born and raised in one country by parents who came from elsewhere.

How culture can affect your relationship? ›

Every culture affects our personal habits and preferences. In interracial relationships, personal habits might cause issues the same way they would when they are acceptable in one country but not tolerated for long in another. A lot of interracial couples mistake cultural influence for personality flaws.

What causes cross-cultural conflict? ›

Cross cultural conflict in the workplace can arise when different perceptions around power, resources, and compatibility create competition between individuals or groups.

How do you deal with cross-cultural misunderstanding? ›

How to work through cross-cultural misunderstandings
  1. Identify Behaviors. First, identify the behaviors that you and the student are each engaging in at the time you feel tension or discomfort. ...
  2. Identify Feelings. ...
  3. Identify Expectations. ...
  4. Reflect on Underlying Values.
Sep 20, 2021

What causes cross-cultural misunderstanding? ›

A second common reason for cross-cultural misunderstandings is that we tend to interpret others' behaviors, values, and beliefs through the lens of our own culture. To overcome this tendency, it is important to learn as much as you can about the other party's culture.

What is extreme cultural relativism? ›

In its most extreme form, what we can call radical cultural relativism would hold that culture is the sole source of the validity of a moral right or rule. Radical universalism would hold that culture is irrelevant to the validity of moral rights or rules, which are universally valid.

What is the opposite of cultural relativism? ›

Ethnocentrism is a theory opposite to cultural relativism. This idea consists of being able to judge another culture. Comparing cultures to one another. Decide whether one culture is better than another.

What are some examples of cultural relativism? ›

Cultural Relativism Examples

Food choices are a good example because people have become more tolerant of food from cultures that are not their own. In the past people were more likely to find some types of foods unacceptable, but now they are more likely to not judge others based on their food choices.

What is syncretic culture? ›

Cultural syncretism is when distinct aspects of different cultures blend together to make something new and unique. Since culture is a wide category, this blending can come in the form of religious practices, architecture, philosophy, recreation, and even food.

Does Christianity have syncretism? ›

Instances of religious syncretism—as, for example, Gnosticism (a religious dualistic system that incorporated elements from the Oriental mystery religions), Judaism, Christianity, and Greek religious philosophical concepts—were particularly prevalent during the Hellenistic period (c. 300 bce–c. 300 ce).

Which cultural phenomenon is an example of syncretism? ›

1. Mestizo Culture. Mestizo culture is a syncretism example because it is a blend of indigenous and European influences in modern-day Latin America. The term “mestizo” comes from the Spanish word for mixed, and refers to the mixing of racial groups that has occurred throughout the region's history.

What kind of struggles between cultures exist? ›

An example of cultural conflict is the debate over abortion. Ethnic cleansing is another extreme example of cultural conflict. Wars can also be a result of a cultural conflict; for example the differing views on slavery were one of the reasons for the American civil war.

Is ethnocentrism still happening in the present time? ›

While many people may recognize ethnocentricity as problematic, they may not realize it occurs everywhere, both at local and political levels. Sure, it's easy to point the finger at the likes of colonial men and women who oppressed slaves, but ethnocentrism still exists today.

What is Deal Focus culture? ›

Deal-focus. How people solve problems differs based on what kind of culture they are in. People in a deal-focus culture (DF) focus on work itself, while people of a relationship-focus culture (RF) try to build close ties with their business partners before working with them.

What causes cross cultural conflict? ›

Cross cultural conflict in the workplace can arise when different perceptions around power, resources, and compatibility create competition between individuals or groups.

What causes culture clash? ›

Culture clash can be caused by a multitude of reasons: Differences on issues such as expenses and pay. Lack of agreement on workplace formality. Opposing behavioral norms.

Why do cultural conflicts happen? ›

They may be caused by differences between tourists themselves (Reisinger and Turner 2003) or associated with historical and geopolitical intercultural relations (Stein 2008). Furthermore, stereotypes, prejudice, and culture shock are important factors which may lead to conflict (Hottola 2004).

What is an example of ethnocentrism today? ›

A popular example of ethnocentrism is to think of the utensils different cultures prefer to use. Some cultures prefer to use forks, spoons, and knives to eat, and may have the belief that it is weird or incorrect that some cultures traditionally use chopsticks to eat.

How does ethnocentrism cause conflict? ›

It's quite clear how ethnocentrism can cause intercultural conflict. A manager, who thinks that their way is the right way, will cause upset with his / her reporting staff, fail to listen to their needs, undermine their approaches and, quite likely, demotivate them.

What is cross cultural Behaviour? ›

Cross-cultural psychology is a branch of psychology that looks at how cultural factors influence human behavior. While many aspects of human thought and behavior are universal, cultural differences can lead to often surprising differences in how people think, feel, and act.

What is the difference between a deal and a relationship? ›

Deal-focus people can be assumed as aggressive, bad-mannered, and assertive. On the contrary, relationship-focus people will concentrate in build strong relationship before jump to the work part. In addition, relationship-focus people are calmer and more flexible in doing business.

What is Polychronic culture? ›

In the polychronic culture, employees can work on several tasks simultaneously. Polychronic individuals thrive on carrying out more than one task at the same time as long as they can be executed together with a natural rhythm.


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