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Religious Diversity at Work

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 8:23 AM

Soumaya Khalifa is a contributor to the book titled "Religious Diversity at Work". Please order your copy at Amazon.

Communicating Across Cultures

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 12:15 PM

There are thousands if not millions of books and articles written about effective communication across the world. The forms of communication would include verbal, written and non-verbal.

In a recent training on US Culture for Saudi employees of an American company, I had the following sample of an email that I had them react to:

Subject: XYZ Project Message: Please provide update on above project asap.

The reactions of the Saudis included that the "email was very rude", "not respectful", and "I would just delete this email unless it is from my boss".

Working in an intercultural world, would the above reactions drive the business results that an organization would want? Absolutely not! Working across cultures requires the following:

1. Self awareness - understanding oneself and one's cultural preference. In the example above, the Saudi cultural is a relationship based culture and emails tend to also build on that. So instead of going immediately to the "what's needed", they would prefer that the email starts with a greeting and some small email talk.

2. Awareness of the other - when we debriefed this example, we discussed how the culture of the US is task oriented and time is viewed as money. From a US cultural perspective, it is being respectful to be to the point as to not waste the person's time.

3. Analyzing and interpreting the situation from both perspectives - after gaining the above two points, one can analyze and have a different perspective. So in the example above, the Saudis will realize that the American sending the email did not mean to be disrespectful at all but in the contrary very respectful. It is an opportunity to see situations through a different cultural lens.

4. Responding in a culturally appropriate fashion - What ends up happening with companies working internationally is they create a hybrid culture - a culture that meets somewhere in the middle.

Without the awareness of the different cultures, breakdown in communication resulting in a negative impact to the bottom line will happen.

Do you have examples of similar situations to share?

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Wow! I can’t believe what a difference the training made for our incoming international students. We now have a common framework to refer to when we are engaging with them. The training was extremely valuable and helped our university staff understand the students better and it also gave the students insight into the US culture and the university’s expection!

Program Director Foreign Student Program