Three ways to help leaders & teams navigate cross cultural disconnects to manage challenges & appreciate the benefits of today’s diverse workplace.
Culture is a big, hairy topic. Even more challenging is that we each belong to more than one culture. There’s country culture, corporate culture, family culture, and beyond. We’re each a unique cultural mishmash of all of these. So, how can we prepare ourselves and our teams to manage challenges and appreciate the benefits of our diverse cultural backgrounds?
Here are three simple ways (that often feel very complex) to help us navigate cultural dynamics:
- Educate ourselves on cross-culture fundamentals.
- Recognize different communication styles.
- Prepare to expect and explore differences.
Educate Ourselves on Cross-Culture Fundamentals
Before we dive in, let’s acknowledge the obvious. There is no way to fully dissect all the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. It would be overwhelming, not to mention impossible. So, what can we do, and where do we begin?
A great place to start is “The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures,” by Erin Meyer. Meyer looks at eight facets of culture and how they may relate across countries: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Scheduling. These cultural factors offer a compass to navigate familiar complexities. When we explore and apply these insights, we begin to understand our similarities and differences more clearly.
Personally, I’ve found these insights extremely helpful, not just in my work but at home. My husband (French) and I (American) navigate our own cross-cultural microcosm of connects and disconnects. These range from funny to pull-your-hair-out frustrating. We usually reach a détente through active listening and patience. Also, a nice bottle of wine never hurts.
Recognize Different Communication Styles
Communication ranges from what Meyer describes as high-context (implicit) to low-context (explicit). High-context communication is more frequent in cultures with long, rich histories, which create context for a shared understanding of nuanced communication. Meyer uses Japan as an example of a country with high-context communication. Alternatively, the US is a relatively new country that has been populated by global immigrants from different cultures who speak different languages. As a result, communication in the US tends to be more direct to help assure clarity without depending on shared backgrounds, culture, or language. Of course, we still experience disconnects and misunderstandings even within cultures. Looking at possible roots of these challenges benefits us no matter what cultural factors may be at play.
Prepare to Expect and Explore Differences
Team members from different cultures may hold different assumptions about how to communicate. Each of us may enter a conversation with the best intentions, but it can easily be derailed because of disconnects in implicit assumptions. We walk away feeling confused, frustrated, and sometimes even offended. When we explore and understand these differences, we can consciously work to bridge gaps to improve communication and achieve better collaboration.
Engage the Human Fundamentals
Culture influences how we communicate with others around the world and even in our own communities. Navigating cross-cultural differences can be challenging, but it can also offer great benefits. We each bring different experiences and perspectives to help us tackle challenges and achieve success. Beyond culture, we share a lot of human factors, including our desire to build trust, feel respected, and be understood. In the end, we’re more alike than we are different, and our common ground is a great place to start building bridges.