There is an old chestnut saying “if a tree falls into a forest and nobody hears it, did it happen?” Following this saying, if we don’t talk about cultural differences, does this mean they don’t exist?
We have constantly opening new offices and recruit (put together) more international teams than ever in the human history to follow global opportunities. And this is why cross cultural interaction are of ever growing interest for us.
In my experience training different team around the world for the last 10 years, I encountered a lot of views on this subject from “we are all humans and there are no big differences between us” to “we are different and should be proud and celebrate differences”. We all have a view on this matter and that’s normal. But is there anything more complex than this view on differences? I believe there is and it affects us more than we imagine.
On one hand, in business environment we tend to accept and follow the same unwritten rules of doing business, learning, communicating, etc. So this makes things easier to accommodate differences of cultural environments. This is why we have those aligned training programs at corporate level. Everybody develops the same skills in the same way.
On the other hand, we know that although we all have positive intentions in pursuing our work – the behavior we exhibit may not send the same message. In short, no, not everybody develop the same skills in the same way and some skills are not only irrelevant but have an opposite effect.
Let me give you two examples
For instance, we may be prone on assertiveness in western culture by being direct in our requests yet this may seem a rude behavior in some eastern cultures.
Likewise, a simple “yes” to the question “is it all clear?” in some cultures is used just as a sign of respect rather than a true expression of understanding.
The impact of these situations is that we tend to make unverified assumptions about the intentions of others and judge them accordingly. That’s the easy way out – just blame the other.
The result? Inefficient communication, lost time and frustrated people. The regular solution? Buy some training sessions on communication, time management and stress regulation. No need to tell you it doesn’t work.
What are the options?
Training programs for instance have tried to address the issue by making global programs in a fit to all programs assuming that once learned, the behaviors in the global programs will be perceived and used as prescribed. But that’s not getting to the core of the problem, it’s just managing the effect.
We need training programs that open our views on differences and set up the environment where we can understand, accept and learn how to adapt our behavior to reach common ground in these differences.
It may be nearly impossible on a larger scale (unfortunately we see the results in the news every week) – but it’s achievable in business environment.
So, a fast solution?
Well, at least a part of the solution is the access to relevant information.
The Colorful Cultures training method allows an easy navigation through some of the nuances we have to be aware when leading or communicating globally. With real examples from training that work in this environment and a detailed view of real challenges in corporate life today, it gives you a broader view of cultural complexity and hopefully a new skill to handle any difficult situations.
by Dan Bruma