Cultural Differences

Human Relations and Cultural Differences

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Cultural differences impact a number of issues related to human relations. Within any society people are different; their attitudes, values and beliefs, the things that shape culture, vary depending on their upbringing and the groups they interact with from childhood to adults. Ones cultural background impacts every aspect of their being, thus also impacts the way in which people interact with one another, or human relations.

Cultural differences can impact human relations negatively and positively, depending on the extent to which people of varying backgrounds and ethnicities make an effort to relate to or understand one another. This requires to some extent that cultural assimilation, or adoption and acceptance of certain aspects of varying cultures becomes the norm. These ideas and more are explored below.

Analysis of Cultural Traditions and Human Relations

Values and cultural traditions may impact an individual’s or group’s beliefs, attitudes and actions with respect to their (Scarborough, 1998). People act, think and speak the way they do, as well as interact with other people in part based on their cultural background (Scarborough, 1998). Their cultural background ultimately influences the manner in which they engage in relations with other people.

Thus, culture affects communication, interaction and actions among different people. In an environment where little cultural diversity exists, it is likely that cultural differences will have little impact on human relations. However the majority of society is now culturally diverse, thus cultural differences impact the day-to-day existence of almost every man on earth.

The way people interact and act depend on their cultural reference points. One’s culture can be either a positive or negative aspect of their personality in this regard. For example, in a case where someone is brought up in a culture that is critical of other belief systems, and believes that a particular group or ethnicity is ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ in some way, it is more likely that cultural differences would impact human relations in a negative way. Consider Hitler, who made the among Jewish people something negative or bad, thus sought to wipe out cultural differences in order to make his society one that was more homogenous.

By and large however, cultural difference usually impact human relations in a positive way. Consider the organizational context, where cultural diversity leads to a vast array of different opinions, insights and approaches to solving problems and succeeding (Corley, 2004). Within the organization cultural differences can impact human relations in a positive way, promoting communication and understanding.

Corley (2004) notes that within an organization, identity differentiation between members of various cultures is directly related to the place within the organization an individual holds. For example, people who are higher up within the hierarchy of an organization tend to view their role and identity based on a common identity created by the organization, whereas individuals lower on the chain saw their viewed their identity based more on the common culture of the organization (Corley, 2004). Either way, cultural diversity and differentiation becomes less evident in the organizational context when individuals work together to create a new culture, an organizational culture, with common goals, ideals and strategies.

Cultural differentiation works much the same way in society, where people modify their own attitudes, values and beliefs in order to create what might be considered a new ‘cultural norm’ where human relations can exist in a positive light (Scarborough, 1998).

Indeed within the organizational context and within society at large cultural identity can play a critical role in human relations. Cultural diversity can lead to conflict but also collaboration within society and organizations, depending on whether or not people are willing to embrace people that are culturally different or whether or not people decide to attack people with cultural differences.

Cultural differences even impact students in the classroom. More and more teachers are being asked to become more culturally literate so that they can better address the needs of all their students, rather than the few who fall into one or two categories (Scarborough, 1998). Students with varying cultural backgrounds have different perceptions of learning and communicating, thus may have a difficult time achieving in a classroom that does not recognize their cultural differences and methods of learning. For students to be successful in a culturally diverse environment, teachers must work to improve communications and the methods they use to teach, to ensure that they are addressing the needs of a diverse population (Henderson, 1996).

To understand how cultural differences impact human relations one must also understand what culture is. Culture has been defined in a number of different ways.

Scarborough (1998) defines culture as the set of “values, attitudes, and beliefs shared by a group” and suggests that one’s culture actually establishes the standards of behavior individuals adopt in order to gain acceptance by their group and others (1). This makes sense, and suggests that from the time one is young they start learning behaviors, ways of interacting and attitudes that are acceptable based largely on their ethnicity and surroundings.

In the context of society at large, there are many different cultures that come together and must interact. Typically in the world today there is no one common value, attitude or belief system that is the same across all cultures, thus it is necessary for people of varying cultural backgrounds to come together to create some form of common identity or continuity over time in order to relate with one another and succeed in modern society (Scarborough, 1998). The process whereby people start adopting the values, beliefs and attitudes of other cultures has been referred to as “assimilation” (Schooler, 1996).

This process may be partial or complete, meaning that individuals from varying backgrounds may adopt a new culture entirely or certain aspects of it only; in essence creating a new culture of sorts that is acceptable to multiple parties of varying backgrounds and belief systems (Henderson, 1996). Most people that are brought up within a strong cultural tradition will retain a majority of their cultural values and beliefs, but will be willing to adopt some of the beliefs of the new cultures they are being exposed to (Schooler, 1996). This is where collaboration occurs, when individuals are wiling to meet each other half way in order to facilitate communication and understanding.

Henderson (1996) cites Abraham Maslow whose theory of the hierarchy of human needs suggests that people will come together in order to satisfy their needs based on the following order: (1) physiological, (2) safety, (3) love, (4) esteem, and (5) self-actualization (p. 3). Henderson goes on to suggest that for individuals operating from different cultural contexts to realize approval within society at large, they must first believe that their basic needs are met in this order. The degree to which their needs are being satisfied is directly related to the degree of relations they share with others, and the degree to which they believe their relations are good, whether in the workplace or otherwise (Henderson, 1996).

Differences in culture or what is perceived to be cultural norms may lead to conflict among members of varying social groups (Scott & Scott, 1998). Conflict typically occurs when a break down in communication occurs or a lack of understanding exists between members of several different parties. In order to avoid conflict it is necessary for people of different cultures to take the time necessary to learn about other values and belief systems, and decide which they can live with or adopt and which must be altered to create new societal norms (Scott & Scott, 1998).

Schooler (1996) notes that even within the United States, cross national difference exist with regard to individual values, attitudes and behavior, and these differences are largely the result of cultural differences that exist among citizens. The author suggests that with regard to people’s individual psychology and behavior. Cultural belief can shape and integrate “the expectations that pattern the relationships among a social structures constituent and statuses and roles” (Schooler, 1996:323).


Culture includes the attitudes, values and beliefs an individual or group adopt and consider normal in everyday society. Within and given society, differences in culture exist, and these differences impact human relations. Also within a society of different cultures, assimilation occurs, where ethnic groups adopt what are considered to be aspects of the cultural norm, but also retain aspects of their own culture of origin (Wortham, 2001) a process that creates even more diversity.

Cultural homogeneity on the other hand occurs when complete assimilation occurs, however cultural homogeneity is rarely seen because typically cultural differences lend themselves to diversity, and most people consider cultural diversity in a positive light (Wortham, 2001). Every aspect of human relations, including the manner in which people conduct business, interact, communicate and work together is affected by their cultural upbringing and background. Human relations is impacted by cultural differences in a positive way when people work together despite their varying beliefs and attitudes to identify common themes, values, and beliefs that lead to the creation of new cultural norms which are acceptable to society at large.

Ultimately one’s culture impacts human relations. Within a certain culture human relations are carried out one way or another. When individuals from different cultures interact, the manner in which they conduct business, communicate or carry out basic human relations tasks changes, as new values, beliefs and attitudes are incorporated into a new cultural reference point for society.


Corley, K.B. (2004). “Defined by our strategy or our culture? Hierarchical differences in perceptions of organizational identity and change.” Human Relations, 57(9): 1145-1177.

Henderson, G. (1996). Human relations issues in management. Westport: Quorum


Scarborough, J. (1998). The origins of cultural differences and their impact on management. Westport: Quorum Books.

Scott, R. & Scott, W.A. (1998). Adjustment of adolescents: Cross-cultural similarities and differences. London: Routledge.

Schooler, C. (1996). “Cultural and social-structural explanations of .” Annual Review of Sociology, 22(1):323

Wortham, a. (2001). “The melting pot, part 2 – America’s Cultural Institutional Core.”

World and I, 16(11): 269

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