Cultural expert Richard Lewis, of Richard Lewis Communications, made a good point recently when he wrote: ‘Our values can make a difference to what we believe is the right thing to do. And values, or the priority we give them, can be different across cultures. What do we believe is more important: the truth, or loyalty? justice or mercy? the ends or the means (see Machiavelli)?
‘The annual Corruption Perceptions Index is a good guide to divergence in ethics in business and politics across cultures. [It scores countries on their ‘ethical cleanliness’ – on a scale where zero is ‘highly corrupt’ and ten is ‘highly clean’]. Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden shared the highest score at 9.3. Bringing up the rear was Somalia (1.0), slightly trailing Iraq and Myanmar at 1.3 and Haiti at 1.4.
‘Score changes in the Index are not rapid, reflecting the slowness of cultural change. But there were some interesting changes in 2008, with Norway and the UK having been perceived as significantly more corrupt than a year earlier, and Nigeria’s position having improved. It will be interesting to see what happens to the UK’s position for 2009!
‘As corporations become increasingly global and try to apply the same ethical norms and corporate governance worldwide, the issue of ethical differences across cultures is getting more important. Getting under the skin of a culture’s deepest values must be the starting point for truly understanding what could otherwise simply make us puzzled, frustrated and angry.’
Comment: Cross-cultural understanding is one of those things that we all tend to agree is important – but for other people. Perhaps we all just want to be understood.