MBA: In Command of Cultural Differences ; Globalisation Has Increased the Need to Avoid Stereotypes and Misconceptions
Hoare, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
If you stay at a guest bedroom at Cranfield University and find yourself wondering about the purpose of the painted arrow on the ceiling, you'll be told that it points in the direction of Mecca. This small gesture is evidence of a sea change in the way business schools are responding to the needs of international and, particularly, Islamic students. In a world shaped by the globalisation of capital and of cross-border mergers and acquisitions, managers have to be able to do business as readily in Tehran or Tokyo, Baghdad or Bombay.
Cranfield has been walking the talk now for at least five years. Dr Jehad Al-Omari, a visiting lecturer from Abu Dhabi, prepares Cranfield students for the cultural nuances they will encounter doing business in the Middle East. "Westerners who come to do business in the Arab world arrive with an awful lot of stereotypes and misconceptions," he says. "They believe the media hype about threats to personal safety and freedom of movement and try to dive straight into business and get away as quickly as possible. Invariably they rush things."
Cranfield teaches its students that business operates within a cultural context. Although the global village is shrinking, there are enough differences in work practices and the ownership of capital to keep management consultants fully employed. Cranfield specialises in international case studies; students of different nationalities and cultures work together in syndicate teams and benefit from a much wider perspective and awareness of their diversity.
Doing business in the Arab world is based on friendship, so shared relaxation is an essential prelude to deal making. Dr Al- Omari recommends a leisurely meal and some self-revelatory conversation. The language of business carries an unwritten agenda that students need to be aware of, such as the context in which words are being spoken. Dr Al-Omari explains: "Language skills and communication are exceptionally important. Most western cultures - except British - tend to be low-context cultures: you say what you mean. High-context cultures like Britain, Arab countries and the Mediterranean rely heavily on hidden meaning, jargon and body language. Your hidden meanings can be missed by us so you need to speak clearly, without patronising."
If two high-context cultures meet, the opportunities for misunderstanding multiply because each culture has its own unspoken agendas and assumptions. Gestures and dress code take on a whole different meaning as do definitions of leadership. …