Communicating Across Cultures
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?
Fear of the "Un-experience"
My husband and I moved to our dream home this past summer. We absolutely loved the house but one thing about the house that is a challenge is the driveway. Our driveway is steep! Steep is actually an understatement. People visiting us made many suggestions including zip lining, buying a helicopter, etc. You get the picture?
Since we moved in, we had a fear about when it snows or sleets. We lived in that fear from June through February. In February, our fear came true. Our driveway iced! It was on Tuesday and that is when our garbage pick-up is as well. My husband decided that it is business as usual and took the trash can down the driveway only to slip on the icy slope. We are lucky he did not hurt himself badly.
After this experience we realized that we feared the un-experience so much. When it actually came, here is what we learned:
1. Worrying about something that has not been experienced is much worse than the event itself. Going through the icing experience of our driveway was not as bad as we anticipated it to be. We essentially wasted 8 months worrying about it.
2. Being prepared for the event. Having salt and sand to put on the driveway and parking our cars on the street was a major help. Having food and water in the house.
3. So what? The "so what" if it snowed and we were house bound for a few days. It is not the end of the world as long as we were prepared.
Do we have the same issues in business? Are we afraid of the unknown and sometime we "freeze" as it was our case with the driveway (no pun intended here)? How scared are we in business of the "un-experience"?
As I work with many expatriates taking assignments in a different country, this "un-experience" has a huge impact on them. Attending cultural training before they go on their assignment. A country expert providing the expatriate and his or her family with insight into the new culture from a business as well as a daily living perspective gives them the skills and tools they need to be successful.
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!”