Culture Clash


People in the same
network trade favors

'The market for hand-made collectibles is increasing here in the Pacific Northwest," John Shore told Taufik Pekerti as they looked at samples of fabric art from various Asian countries. John was a division manager of an import company in Tacoma, Wash., and Taufik was a representative for a handicraft guild in Jakarta, Indonesia.

When John had visited Jakarta six months ago, Taufik had been very helpful introducing him to various business associates. Now, John could return the favor since Taufik had traveled to Tacoma with the hopes of finding new markets for the guild's products.

John took Taufik to dinner and they discussed various business opportunities. John mentioned that there was a reception in two days for a visiting university professor who would be presenting information on Internet marketing to an invited audience. "Maybe you'd like to come," John added. "There will also be a reception. The networking opportunities should be very good." Taufik did not know what John meant since he had never heard the term "networking" used in this context.

If a person has a good network, it means that he or she knows many other people who can be of assistance on various aspects related to work. A good network has people from different fields: journalism, politics, law, accounting, marketing, psychology and so forth. People in networks trade favors. One person might offer help on a marketing plan in return for later help finding a good motivational speaker for a convention of business professionals. People in active networks also refer customers to each other, keep each other apprised of political developments than can impact business, and pass on information about attractive investment possibilities.

Network members are not necessarily good friends who are part of each other's emotional lives. Members do not necessarily have relationships that go back many years. Rather, network membership can be developed quickly as long as people have a reason to interact and to keep in touch. At the reception, Taufik may meet people who can help him achieve his goals of opening up new markets. To be a good network member, he has to keep in mind that he must return favors. For example, he might share the names of influential government officials in Asia who will be of assistance if Americans want to investigate various overseas business opportunities.

Taufik may be less familiar with networking than John. As an Indonesian, Taufik was socialized into a collectivist culture. Collectivists have relations with people that have developed over many years: relatives, business associates of their fathers, college classmates, and so forth. If Taufik needs business contacts or information, he is likely to approach his long-term collective. John, on the other hand, will be comfortable approaching a network member whom he met only a few days ago.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Special attention will be given to miscommunications caused by cultural differences. Each column will start with a short example of such confusion. Possible explanations will be offered to encourage thought about these issues.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration,
University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the
College Relations Office:

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