Study Highlights Role of Cultural Differences in Multinational Businesses | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

November 23, 2020by Noah Shaw

Summary of:

Stojanovska, S., and Velichkovska, K. (2020). Communication differences and conflict resolution in international business environment. Economics & Management: How to Cope With Disrupted Times, 85-92. https://doi.org/10.31410/EMAN.S.P.2020.85

Background & Theory:

Multicultural workplaces are becoming more and more common in today’s organizations. With an increase in variety of cultures often comes an increase in conflict between those of different cultures. In order to resolve these conflicts, it is important for organizations to understand what spurs employees into conflict and how employees deal with conflict. This study dives deep into multinational organizations in North Macedonia to better understand how culture impacts employee behavior.

Question(s):

Research was conducted by Sjagjana Stojanovska et al. to answer the following question:

    1. How does culture shape individual and intergroup behavior in Macedonian multinational companies?

Methods:

25 participants from four different multi-national organizations were asked to fill out a survey which utilized Hofstede’s four dimensions of national culture. Hofstede’s dimensions include individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and power distance. The survey also measured whether the participants lived in a high-context, medium-context, or low context culture. Conflict resolution styles were additionally measured using the Thomas-Kilmann scale as a framework. The participants had heritage in a variety of places, including North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Montenegro.

Results:

The survey results reported that 64% of the respondents identified as coming from a low-context culture and 36% identified with living out of a medium-context culture. High context cultures utilize nonverbal communication with an emphasis on group work and interpersonal relationships. Low-context cultures rely primarily on explicit communication and often separate communication issues from the person speaking when problems arise. Medium-context cultures showcase a mix of high and low traits.

92% of respondents came out of collectivist cultures with only 2% part of individualist cultures.

88% of respondents noted a feminine cultural dimension, with only 12% noting the presence of a masculine dimension. According to this model, a masculine culture within the workplace focuses on assertion, material success, and decisiveness. On the other hand, the feminine culture typically focuses on intuition, building consensus, and quality of work life.

In terms of power distance, 80% of respondents exhibited a low-power distance whereas 20% reported a high-power difference. Power distance measures the “extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally” (Hofstede, 1980). Those who reported high power distance likely experience more inequality, whereas those who reported low power distance typically see equality as the norm at their workplace. This result suggests that power distance is not a big factor in conflicts associated with the multicultural teams reported by respondents.

Additionally, 72% of respondents reported high levels of uncertainty avoidance, which suggests that conflicts may occur in association with this dimension among multicultural teams. Those who report with higher levels of uncertainty avoidance tend to prefer a structured environment with little risk-taking because of a feeling of discomfort with unknown situations.

Finally, in terms of conflict resolution styles, the respondents indicated that their preferred style was a collaborative approach and the least preferred style was an avoidant approach. The authors noted that while this study elucidates the presence of multiple cultures and conflict styles in multinational organizations in North Macedonia, it should not be used to make final claims due to the small sample size.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • In this study, cross-cultural communication may be most effective with an understanding of the collective feminine-oriented workplace culture of these Macedonian organizations. Additionally, conflict may best be resolved by enacting systems that create more structured environments, given the preference of avoiding uncertainty in the workplace.
  • Every multinational organization is different when it comes to culture, multiculturalism, conflict resolution styles, and more. To truly understand how cross-cultural communication can help prevent and resolve conflict, it is important to have a grasp of the individual characteristics and culture of the workplace.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: It is important to fully understand the context of the organizations you consult for in order to best serve them, especially in multinational organizations. Having a grasp of employee cultures and the most common employee conflict styles can help point you in the direction to work towards improving communication and organizational culture.

For Everyone: Understanding the culture of individuals is vital in working through conflicts with them. If you find yourself in conflict with someone of a different culture, try to acquaint yourself with that culture to better understand where the other person is coming from.

References:

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Sage Publications, Inc.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems. His writing on the latest workplace conflict resolution research has been featured on Mediate.com.

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