Very often in global companies nowadays, there is talk about diversity – making sure to be inclusive of various personalities, personal lives and backgrounds, religious traditions and much more. Somehow, many of them don’t mention cultural competence as a tool that can help manage those differences.
But let’s think about it a bit more.
Our behaviours are not dictated by whether we’re black or white, man or woman, introvert or extrovert, believing in one god or another. I mean, yes, socially, all of those might influence the behaviours we decide to show externally, but in reality we are so much more than that. We are an equation consisting of how we were brought up by our parents, whether we even had parents around, the place(s) we grew up in, the people we met on the way, the things we were doing in life, the books we read, the films we watched… and the values we hold.
The challenge we’re facing today is that many people do have some international experience. Not necessarily travelled outside of their countries but even working remotely with people from differing cultural backgrounds in their home country or globally. There is a certain awareness of the different ways in which people see the world. But it is just that – awareness. I know you don’t want to stop there. You’d rather be culturally competent to make the best use of those differences, right? 😉
Do’s and Don’ts are not enough anymore
Many times during the cultural awareness workshops you would focus on just the cultural differences, the do’s and don’ts in certain regions of the world, how you greet, how you receive business cards and so on. But then what would you do if you had to prepare to work with a person who was born in Japan, grew up in China, Sweden and Brazil, studied in Germany and is now based in the US? Exactly. The do’s and don’ts would probably not be of so much help. The key then would be to understand the person’s values and beliefs and make sure you can tune into their way of thinking during those business conversations. Which is when cultural intelligence comes in.
Otherwise it’s like if you were a Programmer and were aware that mistakes in the code happen but wouldn’t have any strategies on how to approach fixing them. Or like if you were a HR Manager and were aware that people need to have an employment contract but you didn’t know how to issue one. Or like if you were a Marketing Director and were aware that in order to grow your customer pools you need to find new ways of advertising, but you didn’t know what Instagram was.
Learning about cultural values, how they may differ across the world and how to approach the differences to still be effective but also stay true to yourself is not a negotiable. It’s something essential in today’s world.
So… what should you do if you kind of feel that you might need to look into this topic more closely, but don’t quite know where to start or where to get the excitement from?
Start with yourself
I want you to ask yourself a few questions that will help you boost your motivation to actually have a closer look at this topic. This will be a great first step to developing your cross-cultural self-awareness and competence.
- What is your one key commitment as a leader or a team member? (eg. being accessible, building trusting relationships with team members and clients, mentoring younger colleagues)
- How can intercultural experience strengthen this commitment for you and others? (eg. learning various ways of motivating people in different cultural contexts, practicing various leadership styles)
- What is the one skill that you are really good at in your current context (eg. presentations, sales pitches, coaching)? Think about how you might need to adjust if you were to present, coach, sell etc. in a different culture.
- What are the tangible benefits you see related to you learning more about various cultural values and practicing your intercultural skills? (eg. promotion, more international opportunities, better feedback from your team members, being more inclusive leader)
- What is your hobby, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? (eg. reading books, going out to restaurants, sports) Think about how you might incorporate intercultural learning into those activities (eg. reading a book by an author from a particular region of the world that you’re working with, trying out new food, looking at how the sports market looks like in other countries).
Think about how you might tag on some cultural learning and experiences into your daily activities and you might be surprised at how easy it is! You can find more practical tips on how to approach cultural differences in the Culture Map series on this blog.