Cultural Diversity: Communication is key in our Eurocentric/Afrocentric culture

The globalisation of the business community is bringing fresh challenges to SA’s corporate management. Integrating a plethora of mixed cultures into one cohesive team is proving to be more challenging than originally thought.

For historic reasons, corporate SA follows the Anglo-American management style, one that is not always second-nature to the rising numbers of black people who are entering managerial positions. One of the biggest challenges for business leaders in SA is how to simultaneously compete globally and function parochially.

In Lize Booysen’s paper entitled “The Duality in SA leadership: Afrocentric or Eurocentric”* , she identifies two distinct types of management style.

“There are distinct differences in preferred leadership behaviours between SA white and African black managers linked to distinct characteristics inherent in each race’s own subculture. These differences in the two cultural groups’ values, priorities and preferred behaviour could be valuable assets and strengths in a diverse workforce, and could lead to higher levels of competitive advantage. However, if not correctly managed, such differences could become primary sources of misunderstanding between managers and employees.”

Booysen’s warns that this can lead to conflict, superiority, disrespect and inflexibility.

“If whites and African blacks are going to work together effectively in SA organisations, they need to become socially aware of the different subcultural orientations demonstrated by the groups to which they belong,” says Booysen.

At the heart of this dilemma lies the issue of communication. Here I extend the term to include not only verbal skills, but non-verbal and psychological elements too. It is widely known that the initial impact of general communications can be broken down as follows: content equates to 8%; speaker’s appearance equates to 42% and the style and technique in which the communication is delivered is a whopping 50%.

When we break this down further, words make up only 7% of impact, tone-of-voice measures in at 38% and body language at 55%.

The good news is that all of these skills can be learnt.

Take Peter Mageza, a former member of the ABSA board of directors, who worked with The Image Excellence Group, an associate company of MPC, to increase his strategic image and communication skills.

“In SA today, we come from various different backgrounds; norms are different depending on where you originate. There are certain things that are done in the corporate world that might

differ from your own personal paradigm,” says Mageza.

“It has been my experience that there is more to working in the corporate environment than just your technical or operational competencies. The Image Excellence Group pointed this out to me. It has taught me how to position myself and understand the world that we live in. As a result, I am more confident. I now understand the rules of the game and I’ve become a player. I can see where people are coming from and understand the various paradigms. It has given me the skills to understand people in totality.”

“Essentially banking is a service industry; to excel we need to understand that it is our people that bring the results – the outcome of our business depends on them. By better understanding people, I can better manage them.”

Another client is John Moeti, former deputy president of the South African Football Players’ Union (SAFPU). He came to The Image Excellence Group, an associate company of MPC, to work on his communication and presentation skills a couple of years ago when he was the coach of Bafana Bafana, and as such has many dealings with the media. Moeti is soft spoken and we started off training his voice utilising pitch and resonance.

Comments Moeti: “The confidence I have gained through increasing my presentation and communication skills has made me a better person and given me a new dimension in which to view myself. I am able to adjust the content and presentation of my talks to cater for a specific audience whether it be football fans or the media.”

Communication is not just about words. It’s about a person’s visual, vocal and psychological impact. By harnessing all of these aspects, SA’s manager will be better able to deal with the melting-pot of cultural diversity inherent in corporate South Africa.

Mageza sums it up when he says: “Today, diversity is part of who we are. If people are your most important asset, then the ability to deal with them is a manager’s most important skill.”


* *The Duality in SA leadership: Afrocentric or Eurocentric by Lize Booysen,
Graduate School of Business Leadership, University of South Africa
* ** Professor A Mehrabian, UCLA

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