Ambient cultural disharmony

By Michael Blanding via http://hbswk.hbs.edu   Article

Cultural Disharmony Undermines Workplace Creativity

“In today’s global work environment, it’s a given that companies need culturally diverse teams to succeed. Both scientific studies and common sense tell us that having people with different viewpoints onboard increases the creativity that teams will employ in solving problems. Of course, that’s assuming all members of the team are pulling in the same direction.

But what if they aren’t? Can being exposed to intercultural conflicts and tensions have an impact even on observers who are not directly involved in these disharmonies? …He coined a term for the phenomenon, ‘ambient cultural disharmony’ …

The effect of indirect conflict happens all the time. Children who witness conflict between parents may develop negative ideas about marriage, just as citizens of the United States and China may develop bad feelings about each other from watching their leaders squabble. So why wouldn’t the same thing happen in the workplace? …

 ‘Just as a child observing parents not getting along may develop the notion that marriage is very difficult, those seeing conflict around them by involving people of different cultures may develop the idea that ideas from those cultures are incompatible and cannot be easily combined.’ …

‘AS HUMAN BEINGS, WE PAY MORE ATTENTION TO NEGATIVE INFORMATION BECAUSE IT IS A SIGNAL OF DANGER’

Interestingly, while ambient cultural disharmony decreased creativity, ambient cultural harmony (that is, observers experiencing people from other cultures having a good relationship) did not promote creativity. That reflects human nature, Chua says. ‘As human beings, we pay more attention to negative information because it is a signal of danger. Positive information tends to be given less weight.'”

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