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Fish out of water: Cultural biases and conflicts in diverse settings

Question:

Discuss about the Reflection on Cultural Awareness for Intercultural Communications.

The saying that ‘Fish without water’ often goes for individual who finds himself or herself in a situation where he should not be present or where he is very much uncomfortable to exist. A fish only lives in water and this is its obvious place to survive. When an individual remains in the place where he should be present in his comfort zone, it may be said that he is a fish who is living at his best place that is in water. However when he is not in the place where he is accustomed to, he may feel himself a fish who is taken out of the water that is out of his place where he is accustomed to.

When I joined the Australian firm for internship, I had the same feeling where I felt that I had been taken out of my comfort zone from among the known faces and similar culture to that of unknown faces with different culture. From my learning on intercultural communications and theories, I had developed an idea about how cultural conflicts arise and how different person have biases towards another culture. A similar experience I also faced in the new firm. As I was from an Asian background, we follow totally different forms of greetings and biding goodbyes which were not at all liked by the Australian colleagues of the new firm. They made fun of the ways how I talked and conducted my activities. Some of them also showed biasness towards my culture which made me feel agitated. The Australian culture of workplace management was quite different as the environment was more informal which did not match with the work styles followed by Asian. Moreover I was also unable to understand their working cultural traditions and preferences as there was no one to guide me. However, my theories that I learnt in my university helped me a lot. I understood that I have to be open minded enough to respect other cultures and at the same time show my adaptability skills to match with the new environment. Two important components I have to incorporate is being aware of my own cultural traditions and preferences consciously and at the same time gather knowledge about the cultural preferences and inhibitions of the employees of the Australian firm. I have to be flexible enough to come out form my insecurity zones as feeling a fish out of the water would never help me to overcome the barrier of culture and emerge successful. Rather, I should try to use my communication skills effectively with the proper body language that Australians use and try to be one of them for effective team membership. This flexibility would make me feel respected where they would also try their best to develop ideas about my culture (Forehand & Kotchick, 2017). I also had certain biasness towards their culture as I thought them to be casual with their behaviors with their employees which is not accepted in Asian firms. Rather, I tried to find its positive side and understood that it has a good benefit. This attitude helps in proper relationship building between individuals and helps in maintaining a transparency which increases effective communication and hence productivity. Asians are much formal with their approach and do not maintain such transparency which often results in development of negative feelings (Purnell, 2016). Hence, I decided to look towards the brighter idea to adapt to the new surrounding so that I do not feel ‘fish out of the water’ anymore.

Cultural awareness and adaptability as key components of effective team membership

A similar experience was faced by me and my friend who had come to the nation of Australian for completing out higher education in business management. He was of the Islamic background and belonged to the Kashmir region of India. He had his own set of traditions where he had to maintain certain outlook according to the need of his religious beliefs. On the first day of the university, he had faced certain biasness form some of the Australian students in the university. During a conversation with them, they made fun of his long beard and his sense of dressing irrespective of trying to understand his cultural traditions. Not only that, an Australian student also asked him from which country he came from. When he replied India, they made remark that Muslims usually come from Pakistan.   This not only reflected their limited knowledge about other cultures, traditions, geography and demography but also showed their insensitive nature to make such remark (Ferraro & Briody, 2017). This had affected my friend’s emotions and he felt broken down. Such situations are common occurrences in every nation in workplaces, study places sand others. In such scenario, it becomes extremely important for any individual coming to a new nation to develop a mind set of facing different biasness and preconceptions. Rather than feeling agitated or emotionally affected, he should take the opportunity to explain his cultural traditions and preferences with pride and polite way so that the opposite people can identify his own mistakes (Spencer, 2013). Developing the value that a person with other cultural traditions would be less knowledgeable about the individual is important as that will lead to less negative feelings and more strength of empowerment. The video showed a similar situation where the English men had preconceptions about the Korean women just from her appearance although she was born and brought up in San Diego and spoke perfect English. One should be positive about such situation and explain the opposite person about the cultural traditions and inhibitions to make him aware. This form of transparency should be adapted by every individual not only them who travel to new nations but also among individuals of the host country so that the reflection of human emotions and tenderness can be exhibited (Ang & Van Dyne, 2015). Development of proper intercultural communication skills, self regulation, self awareness about cultural traditions, and adaptability to new culture, sensitivity while talking with people form opposite cultures and similar should be practiced by both the individuals coming from other backgrounds and that of the same host country. All these would ensure higher productivity at workplace, development of strong bonds among team members and a smooth workflow without any conflicts and negative feelings (Pedersen et al., 2015).

Positive attitude and effective communication for overcoming cultural barriers

I once had a chance of interacting with one of my friend’s father when I visited her place for studying together for our projects. As she was not in her place, I had to wait and during this time I had a chance of interacting with her father. After a short introduction, we soon entered into some serious discussion out of which the significant part of the transcripts is depicted:

Sarah’s father: When I travelled to your country, I had a weird experience. All the brown people there were staring at my wife as they have never seen women in their lives. Probably, they might have not seen white skin before.

Me: It is really a bad experience of you, I must say.

Sarah’s father: Yes, I came to know form a friend of mine there that men there are not comfortable there to see their wives working. That is really not a good one as men there dominate women.

Me: however, our cultural traditions had long supported such system. However, women are now trying to break the barriers and emerging out with good education, career and independent lives

Sarah’s father: It sounds good but I doubt as gender biasness have been huge issues in your country.

Me: with the passage of time, our country is progressing

Sarah’s father: one interesting thing that was quite funny was how you people touch others foot when you meet. That is really unhygienic.

Me: we mainly do it as a matter of showing respect to the elders

Sarah’s father: That is quite funny… and how you say “Namaste with flowers and incense sticks” who on earth would do that?

Me: each and every country has traditions that are set by ancestors and we respect our culture the way it is.

From the entire discussion, I felt quite agitated as Sarah father named Mr. Green’s conversations reflected he cultural preconceptions that he harbored within himself. He had developed some notions form certain experiences which he had applied to the entire nation of my country. He was insensitive in his approach and his statements made me develop the feeling of otherness as his comments made distinctions between our culture and Australian culture. Gender biasness was stated by him as a factor which is no more a concern in our country as women are now taking on education and career with the same length as their male counterparts. His idea thereby reflected a preconceived notion of our culture which no longer hold true. However, a mockery was noted in his acceptance of the fact. Moreover he also made fun of the cultural traditions of greetings elders in our country. He is actually not sensitive but impolite in his comments as he should have the idea about how to put sensitive things in a polished way. Moreover racism was noted in his speech when he used words like “brown people”. Therefore a strong sense of otherness was felt. However, the remarks which are made should never be put in such unskilled way (Tomalin & Stempleski, 2013). If an individual is really curious about other cultures, he should develop the skill to put it in a sensitive way at the same time of respecting the culture of the positive aspects and wanting to know the main rationale behind the tradition rather than making fun of them (Katan, 2014).

References:

Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (2015). Handbook of cultural intelligence. Routledge.

Ferraro, G. P., & Briody, E. K. (2017). The cultural dimension of global business. Taylor & Francis.

Forehand, R., & Kotchick, B. A. (2016). Cultural Diversity: A Wake-Up Call for Parent Training–Republished Article. Behavior therapy, 47(6), 981-992.

Katan, D. (2014). Translating cultures: An introduction for translators, interpreters and mediators. Routledge.

Pedersen, P. B., Lonner, W. J., Draguns, J. G., Trimble, J. E., & Scharron-del Rio, M. R. (Eds.). (2015). Counseling across cultures. Sage.

Purnell, L. (2016). Are we really measuring cultural competence?. Nursing science quarterly, 29(2), 124-127.

Spencer, M. B. (2013). Cultural cognition and social cognition as identity correlates of Black children's personal-social development. MJ Peebles-Kleiger, Beginnings: The Art and Science of Planning Psychotherapy, 215-260.

Tomalin, B., & Stempleski, S. (2013). Cultural Awareness-Resource Books for Teachers. Oxford University Press.

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