Understand cultural differences to improve your management

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Editor's note: The item appeared in the Dec. 30 edition of Dairy Exec newsletter, published by Dairy Herd Management.

Understanding the basics of communication in different cultures can go a long way in promoting positive manager-employee relations, according to Jorge Estrada, founder and CEO of Leadership Coaching International Inc.

He believes the large influx and availability of workers of Hispanic origin into the U.S. dairy industry in the last 20 years calls for dairy managers to understand key cultural differences. Those managers that take the time to learn, appreciate and work with these differences have a distinctive business advantage.

“In general, we can describe culture from the context people use when communicating,” Estrada said. “In that respect, we can broadly differentiate Anglos, Americans and Northern Europeans from Hispanics.”

Estrada developed the following table to show some of the differences between low context cultures (i.e. Anglos and Americans) and high context cultures (i.e. Hispanics).

Subject

Low context cultures

High context cultures

Style

Individual achievement stressed

Harmony in the group stressed

Welfare

Individual

Group (family)

Hierarchy

Tend to see each other as equals

Tend to need a formal/established hierarchy

Focus

Business before relationships

Relationships and trust before business

The table shows how these differences make it particularly difficult for a dairy owner/general manager to, for example, promote a person of Hispanic origin to a management or leadership position. The Hispanic person places high importance on their harmony with their group/family, and a promotion would challenge that.

Estrada explains there are also several differences between Anglo American and Hispanic cultures in how they communicate. These are not black and white differences, but in general, Anglos tend to use communication purely as an exchange of information whereas Hispanics will use communication to build relationships. Anglos might be uncomfortable with someone talking to them standing really close to them or even touching them. Hispanics, on the other hand, are okay standing really close when speaking to other people, often even using touches on the shoulder, hugs and handshakes as signs of friendship and appreciation. The manager that places a hand over the employee’s shoulder while praising them for a job well done will likely get a more motivated employee than just saying “thanks."

A typical reaction managers get from Hispanic employees is that the employee won’t look the manager in the eyes, or will look down when being given directions for a particular task. The manager feels the employee is being disrespectful when, in fact, it is out of respect and loyalty that the employee is avoiding eye contact.

 



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