The landscape of international business has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. People are more globally connected than ever before. Cross-border mergers and acquisitions, the globalization of media and entertainment are only accelerating. Yet people and cultures change slowly. Getting under the skin of other cultures (and your own!) and understanding how to make the most of diversity is a ‘must-have’ skill, if you work internationally, whether online or in person.
Cross-cultural relationship skills and competency will distinguish the successful leaders of the 21st century. An excellent way to start your journey would be to dive into The Eight Great Beacons of Cultural Awareness – Navigating the cultural landscape.
The eight great beacons will lead you across the cultural landscape, giving direction, illuminating cultural blind spots, and celebrating the enrichment diversity can bring us all. The beacons are:
- Rules and Needs
Businessmen and women who work on the premise that what works well in their culture must work well in another culture are heading for a cultural shock. Do not expect things to be the same as they are where you are from. Remember that when things are not as you had expected them to be, you could hurt someone’s feelings without realising it. In fact, it is ironic that we often do the most harm in our intercultural interactions whilst trying to do the right thing.We often do the most harm in our intercultural interactions while trying to do the right thing. Click To Tweet
- When “Face” Meets “Truth”
The ‘face’ referred to is not one which can be washed or shaved but one which can be given or lost. Origins of the concept of face vary, but it is believed to have its roots in Chinese culture. This beacon also discusses how the perception of “truth” differs per culture and how leaders can best deal with examples where some team members might view truth as scientific and some might view truth as negotiable.
- Emotion in Cultures
Whatever your culture, we all have emotions. Yet we express them differently and react to situations with different emotions depending on our culture. Not all cultures agree about how to manage emotions. Some would argue that to suppress any emotion would be like trying to push a ball under water and hence it is much better to express any emotion openly right from the outset. Another culture may find the outward expression of emotion, especially a negative one, as simply not done.Whatever your culture, we all have emotions. Yet we express them differently. Click To Tweet
- Space and Time
For some cultures, time is money— a precious commodity which must be controlled, if people are to be productive. For other cultures the reverse is true. Time will never become the master. There is no need to worry about controlling time as this simply is not an issue for them. Time, for them is a fluid concept. Also there are differing cultural etiquette on personal and physical space.
- Language (Verbal & Nonverbal)
At least half of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual. Whichever nationality you are working with, it is always a good idea to learn a few words of the language. It is a great icebreaker at the start of a meeting and shows an interest and respect, which can be lost if we dive straight in with the business language (often English) that our company has agreed we will work in. Some of us may already speak the other’s language, but this is still no guarantee that both parties will understand each other.Whichever nationality you are working with: its good to learn a few words of the language. Click To Tweet
- Leadership Across Cultures
In today’s world, people can communicate online with clients and colleagues in other countries they might never visit. Members of an international team often struggle to understand the cultural context of these clients and colleagues. It is therefore much harder for them to understand the impact culture could have on their communication. Successful global leaders are those who recognize this and manage with cultural sensitivity.Successful global leaders are those who recognize and manage cultural sensitivity. Click To Tweet
The key to making people feel involved and motivated is to understand what makes them tick at a deep level – a cultural level. Where negotiations become heated or stressful, we tend to revert to our cultural basis, which exists deep within us. For these reasons, it is likely to pay huge dividends if you enter the negotiation process with a solid foundation of cultural awareness.The key to making people feel involved and motivated is to understand what makes them tick. Click To Tweet
- Becoming a Creator Team
In today’s business world, many people work on a daily basis with colleagues across the globe, either face-to-face or virtually. Global teams have an enormous wealth of ideas, approaches, and thinking styles. Multicultural teams that are well managed can create significant competitive advantage by bringing together this wealth of different ideas and knowledge.Multicultural teams that are well managed can create significant competitive advantage. Click To Tweet
There is no right or wrong in culture. Different cultures do however have different needs. If you are leading or working with global teams, then use these cultural beacons to lead you across the cultural landscape, giving direction, illuminating cultural blind spots, and celebrating the enrichment that diversity can bring to us all.
Jim Morris is a senior facilitator and project manager for Schouten Global. He lives and breathes culture: English by nationality, he lives in the Netherlands and works all over the world facilitating professional learning and development. He specializes in intercultural communication training programs.
Sylla Pahladsingh is an independent business communication adviser, facilitator and owner of Sylla Training & Consulting. She advises people and teams on leadership and communication in a cross-cultural context and facilitates training programs in these fields. Born to a Dutch mother and Surinamese-Indian father, her life has been an inspiring multicultural experience. She lived and worked as a training and capacity development consultant for 16 years in Kenya, Bhutan, Vietnam, and the USA.