Instilling Intercultural Sensitivity and Appreciation for Innovation and Changes

What is the effect of emotional state in building cross-cultural competencies in GVTs? The theory of mind as abovementioned also states that a person’s mental state covers a range of elements, one of which is the person’s emotional state that results in actions. In this section, we will explore the role of emotions in GVT behaviors. For example, at the intellectual cognitive level, a person can attempt to guess or interpret what is in the mind of another, that is, mind-reading. What about the use of intuition or “gut feelings” at the affective level? Intercultural sensitivity was defined as “an individual’s ability to develop a positive emotion towards understanding and appreciating cultural differences that promotes appropriate and effective behavior in intercultural communication” (Chen & Starosta, 1997, p. 5). With the same kind of logic, intuition allows a person to use their affective judgment to feel or understand the feelings of others and to assess others’ intentions and desires. To what extent is this type of emotion valuable in producing high performing GVTs? And what is the role of emotion in enhancing GVT performance?

According to Murphy, Hine, and Kiffin-Petersen (2014), there is a significant relationship between motivational systems and emotion in virtual work, just as there is in face-to-face work. They found that managers of virtual teams need to recognize the differences in motivational level that result from different emotional states, which consequently affect virtual performance. Some of the key emotions they identified are anger, anxiety, annoyance, nervousness, and distress. Cultural differences that create challenges in working with GVT members of diverse backgrounds can create these kinds of negative emotions. On the other hand, positive emotions such as joy, excitement, gratitude, hope, pride, inspiration, and love can create team cohesion, leading to better team performance.

At the affective level, a person needs to cultivate a high level of sensitivity when confronted with cultural frustrations. They must be considerate and appreciative of cultural differences; this will enable them to be composed, patient, and flexible when faced with cultural complexities. A culturally sensitive person will try to adjust to differences in others, and take measures to ensure that differences do not lead to conflict. At this level, a person will use his or her own intuition, wisdom, and values to identify the cultural synergies that are possible by working with others. Ultimately, they will develop the emotional intelligence that is necessary for understanding another culture.

When we think of emotion, we should also consider the concept of empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feeling of others. Consider these two common maxims: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. For example, suppose that a deadline is approaching and a team member will be unable to meet it because he is sick, and that this news was not communicated to you thousands of miles away? How do you put yourself in his shoes when you know that this missed deadline will result in delays in fulfilling a contract, and consequently will incur costly penalty fees? GVT members cannot empathize with one another if they don’t have enough information, or if they are unaware of the situation that the other member is experiencing. How do you learn to be sensitive to others when others fail to communicate their intentions to you or to reach out at an affective level?

Many scholars in the cross-cultural management field argue that there is a greater need for emotional intelligence when people work in a multicultural workforce (Crowne, 2013). The development of emotional intelligence requires addressing two basic questions: What is the ability of a person to precisely evaluate the emotional state of himself and others? How do people use feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve their goals? Wong (2016) explored the role and significance of emotions when communicating intentions face-to-face in the context of international diplomatic negotiations and found that when people collaborate, they reveal their preferences, and when they compete, they misrepresent their intentions. In other words, collaboration results in greater honesty than competition. He further found that words and verbal expressions are not the only messages that diplomats pay attention to when negotiating; they also pay attention to emotional cues. For instance, the way people choose their words, the intonation used when speaking, the emotive gestures observed in hand and body movements—all of these cues can be vital in correctly evaluating a situation.

In the context of GVTs, organizations need to recognize that team members working in a non-collocated environment are less able, or have less opportunity, to assess non-verbal cues, which can pose a cultural challenge. For instance, in a high context culture people do not readily demonstrate their feelings unless they have a strong bond with the other person, and when they do express emotions, they may do so indirectly. On the other hand, people from a low context culture are willing to express their emotions directly and make clear how those feelings affect their actions. In a virtual environment, low context team members may experience difficulty interpreting the actions of a team member from a high context culture, while a high context team member might perceive the straightforward or blunt verbal statements made by a low context team member as hurtful or hostile. Hence, GVT members need to be equipped with the emotional intelligence to be able to accurately assess the intentions and desires of others within the limitations of whatever technological platform(s) the team is using to communicate. Members need to be sensitive to and observant of the situation at hand. This heightened awareness can come from several sources: concrete knowledge, past experiences, wisdom, values, beliefs.

Proposition 2 When cultural blunders occur, GVT members need to look carefully for non-verbal cues or behaviors in order to respond with the correct level of empathy, kindness, and compassion. Tolerance, appreciation, and sensitivity among team members will enable everyone to operate more effectively despite distance and cultural differences.

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