Honesty-The Malaysian Cultural Perspective

In the workplace, it is essential to have trust. Mutual respect and trust form the foundation for strong workplace relationships. However, in a workplace where employees and employers may come from different backgrounds, cultural differences may be misunderstood and foster distrust. One such cultural difference is that of the way people view honesty. Some may view anything untrue to be a lie, and thus wrong, whereas in other cultures, bending the truth may be viewed as necessary in some instances.

Building trust in any culture takes time and effort.  However, different value systems can present a very distinct challenge to building trust between individuals of differing culturals.

Building trust in any culture takes time and effort. However, different value systems can present a very distinct challenge to building trust between individuals of differing cultures.

For example, let’s say someone has made a mistake at work. The other employees know of it, but may disclaim all knowledge of it, in order to prevent their fellow employee from getting into trouble. Is this dishonesty? To some, yes! Is it excusable? Most Malaysians would likely say yes. This is because Malaysian culture is very much a face based culture, and most of Malaysians would go to great lengths to protect face (our own as well as that of others). They value diplomacy over literal truth, as Malaysian culture is very relationship-based. Most Malaysians would want to protect the relationship between themselves and their colleagues in order to avoid any future unpleasantness. Therefore, the bending of the truth is excusable because it serves a better purpose later on. But this may cause fellow employees or their employers from other cultures to distrust them, because of not fully comprehending their cultural values.

A related point to the one raised above is that Malaysian culture highly values harmony. When things go wrong, this causes disharmony, which is definitely undesirable. If telling an untruth to smooth over any problems that may have arisen will regain harmony, the Malaysian might opt for harmony over honesty. They might explain the decision by saying that the untruth isn’t really a lie, or that it’s just a little lie that does not cause any harm, and thus is acceptable. However, other cultures such as Western cultures may not view it in the same light.

There are also other examples of perceived dishonesty, such as saying ‘I’ll think about it’ when they really mean ‘no’. People who are accustomed to being direct and always saying what they mean would take that statement at its face value, and consider it as dishonest when they find out the actual meaning. However, to Malaysians, it is simply a kinder and less confrontational way of expressing rejection or disagreement. Some Malaysians may not even think of it as dishonest.

In conclusion, not everyone views lying in the same light. Therefore, it is important to remember this when interacting with those from different cultures, so that workplace trust does not break down. The reality is when we begin to work with those of other cultures we have a narrow window of time to get off on the right foot with our relationship. Trust can be built or destroyed very quickly if we do not understand the value systems of those whom we work with from other cultures. Cultural training can be of great help in this area, and it can lead to better communication and interaction among you and those from other cultures, as well as a more productive working relationship that is solidly based on understanding and mutual trust.

By Boleh Blogger