"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Perception is the use of the senses to understand and interpret an action or event; it is ones’ reading of reality. Consequently, perception and reality do not equate each other. In the business world, organizations hire individuals as public relations whose role is to create a positive image of the organization in the public’s eye. This emphasizes on perception. But what is more important: perception or reality? In the case of organizations who are interested in projecting a positive image, the reality of the organization’s actions are not as important as the perception the general public will have. For example, consumers are becoming environmentally conscious and expect the corporations to share those values and to get involved in those issues. Because the frontier between reality and perception is unclear, one can easily con anyone into seeing reality as one wants it to be perceived. In such example, organizations can join environmental groups or publish letters on shared concern about environmental issues in order for communities to view them as environmentally friendly businesses when, truthfully, no action is being taken from their part to reduce gas emissions or research environmentally friendly production mechanisms, leaving humanity as disturbed. Therefore, from the organization’s point of view, perception is more important than reality, since it is less costly and demanding to appear concerned than to actually take action. However, when considering the wellbeing of humanity as a priority, the measures should obviously be given more importance since it is real actions which induce changes. This pessimistic example demonstrates how different ones’ opinion can be from reality and emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the perception phenomena to communicate efficiently with others.
Perception is a personal, individualistic interpretation of a phenomenon but there are common trends linking it to culture. A culture is the combination of the values, behaviors and beliefs which makes every society unique. From birth, one is born into a culture which becomes part of oneself. Each culture has its own specific rules, social structure and social practice which states acceptable conducts. Therefore, in given situations, culturally related individuals will draw the same interpretation which will induce them to react similarly. As an example, one can contrast a business meeting of Japanese individuals with one composed of Americans; analyzing only the greeting will demonstrate different cultural behavior. When meeting someone, Japanese will bow to show respect to one another. Depending on social status and age, the depth and length of the bow will differ since it represents the level of respect; a longer, deeper bow shows greater respect. Contrarily, Americans will shake hands and say “Hi, how are you?” Everything is said, nothing needs to be understood. Age and hierarchical position will not alter the greeting. Clearly, one can see how different the two cultures are. Furthermore, the first impression of the greeting is crucial since this will dictate how one perceives the other and whether or not one is interested in pursuing a relationship or not. Because of cultural background, a Japanese meeting with an American would perceive the American as rude and disrespectful towards him for not bowing, which will spoil the relationship; respect being a fundamental for a strong business relationship. Therefore, perception is culturally biased because of the differences shared by culturally similar individuals.
In the 21st century, relationships are no longer culturally bound. Therefore, one should develop cross-cultural communication skills such as knowledge, openness and awareness. First, knowledge refers to learning about the others’ culture. Before meeting, one will benefit from researching about the others’ cultural background. By doing so, one will make the other more comfortable and will be able to avoid offending behaviors. Second, openness refers to the state of mind one should adopt when encountering a different culture. One realizes the existence of cultural differences and should be able to accept them. Entering a meeting with an open mind will show respect for the other which will not go unnoticed. Third, awareness refers to being attentive to signs of misunderstanding and accepting that misinterpretation will happen. No matter how much experience one has with dealing with other cultures, there will always be new conflicting situations which one cannot be fully prepared for. Being conscious of misperceptions will benefit both parties by intervening promptly, limiting the damage. However, one danger in applying the three concepts is to lose oneself. One has to know ones’ goals and desires and not compromise these to the profit of the other; the goal is not to adopt the others’ culture.
Finally, one realizes perception is not universal, but culturally biased. Both words and actions are constantly being analyzed and interpreted which justifies the need to developing ones’ knowledge, openness and awareness to communicate efficiently in cross-cultural situations. By developing these skills one also learns respect and tolerance of others and their differences, leading to an overall more unified world.


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