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In today’s world, with the blurring of boundaries and a fundamental shift in the world economyIn today’s world, with the blurring of boundaries and a fundamental shift in the world economy, the workplace has become more global. Business success in this globalised world calls for skilful navigation through cultural minefields lending credence to the theory that culture is the real power of globalisation. Every human mind is shaped by experience, history, and context and has some cultural filters through which it views the world. Understanding situations with the backdrop of culture assume a lot of significance and very often is the key driver of employee performance, engagement, and innovation. Hence, not surprisingly business leaders cite intercultural understanding as the single most crucial factor in international business success.
At the SDA Bocconi Asia Center, the pan-Asian hub of SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy, we pride ourselves on not only providing our students with a first-rate academic experience but also equipping them with intercultural communication skills needed to succeed in the ever-globalising business arena.
We believe the best way to develop a global outlook is to acquire the first-hand experience from around the world. Our students exhibit the most personal and professional development when they are compelled to solve problems in new environments and are part of diverse teams. This is evident when all of them participate in the international exchange program at Bocconi University which hosts students from 80 different nationalities and allows our students to acquire a competitive global approach along with a balanced, cross-cultural perspective.
Another way in which we foster global perspectives is through the faculty; they come from diverse cultural backgrounds and nationalities and bring in a wealth of their global experience of working and consulting companies throughout the world.
We also host study tours from global business schools such as Bocconi Italy, CEIBS China, ESSEC Paris, and Rotman Canada; these schools conduct their courses or modules here at the Asia Center for participants from more than ten different countries, further adding to the cross-cultural synergy for all our students. We also focus heavily on bringing in guest speakers from across industries, functions and multinational companies who share their experiences in managing talent across teams and geographies, further enhancing the first hand learning for our participants.
At SDA Bocconi Asia Center we understand the importance of intercultural communication skills; we provide our students with cultural models for decoding how cultural differences can affect business and how invisible cultural boundaries can impact the effectiveness of global teams. The concept of cultural sensitivity permeates our teaching across programs so that students desist from falling into cultural traps. Some of the key focus areas are:
1. The role of language in intercultural business communication:
Language and culture are intertwined and shape each other; every time we send a message we make cultural choices. Although language helps in communicating with people from different backgrounds, it is essential to be culturally literate to understand the nuances of the language. This is because words in themselves do not carry much meaning; the meaning is largely embedded in the context or arises out of a cultural usage.
2. Cultural rules for establishing relationships
Symbols for authority and power vary across different cultures, as also the concept of what constitutes ethical behaviour. Understanding cultural norms is exceptionally vital as each culture also has its unique rules and customs regarding what is acceptable social behaviour; in fact, rewards for performance are also based on cultural considerations.
3. Persuading and negotiating across cultures
Persuasion and negotiation are two very critical business skills which do not function in isolation but are deeply rooted in a culture’s philosophical, religious assumptions and attitudes. It is culture that decides the goals and tells negotiators what is essential and enables them to assign meaning to the other party’s messages.
4. Orientation to time.
Possibly, nowhere do cultures differ as much as they do than in their approach to time. Western European and North American cultures view time as linear and precise, South American and African cultures see time as more circular, whereas East and South Asian cultures could be either, depending on where you are located. None of these classifications regarding time are consistently true for any region or place – they only provide generalisations and guidelines. However, the concept of time orientation is necessary to understand at the beginning of any relationship to reduce conflicts over workload and deadlines.
According to Prof. Seema Khanvilkar who teaches Business Communication at the SDA Bocconi Asia Center, “Culture is defined as the lens through which we view the world and we believe that individuals can widen their cultural lens (of course, an open mind being imperative) and work effectively in global teams with practice and experience. At the SDA Bocconi Asia Center, our focus is to orient our students towards a more collaborative future where cultural diversity is a given. Our students and executive candidates leave the program with real-life experience in inter-cultural understanding – applying this knowledge to sought-after leadership roles around the globe.”
The SDA Bocconi Asia Center is the hub for SDA Bocconi in India and Asia at large. The school of management based in Milan, Italy, inaugurated its Indian presence in 2012 through MISB Bocconi catering mostly to the local Indian audience. As MISB completes six years, SDA Bocconi establishes it as SDA Bocconi’s pan-Asian hub, with a broader scope across India, the Middle East, China and the rest of Asia.