Are you wearing Cultural Spectacles?

‘Is it better to be the nail sticking up from the floor or the nail that isn’t?’

Working in a Global Environment by Jenny Goulding

This question was proposed at a recent seminar on ‘Working in a Global Environment’ when considering a sales person that was more successful than the rest of the group put together.    Japanese business culture suggests that to be successful you should be collaborative, don’t be the one that stands out because others will lose face if you do this.  Contrast this with American Business ideology which would complement and promote you for standing out.  What do you do when one culture favours a completely different approach to the other??

The impact of cultural differences is extremely significant in a business setting.  If you assess well your business can flourish internationally get it wrong and refuse to remove your ‘cultural spectacles’ and you could seriously impact your bottom line.

Many people will suggest that the main barrier to working across borders is language, indeed this is a challenge but perhaps only a surface issue, the understanding of a country’s corporate culture is far more significant.  What is deemed as a good behaviour in one culture for example ‘Italians clearly expressing emotions of anger/ surprise in a business meeting’ may be met with discomfort in a culture such as British.

There are of course many other issues that can also affect cross country working such as IT communications and Finance but perhaps not as profound as the understanding of business culture.  Another way of viewing this is how do you play the game when the rules of the game differ from country to country?  Two countries playing with a bat and ball – US baseball contrasting with Indian/UK cricket.

The challenge for a business to succeed cross cultures is to make the bridge.  Understanding that there will be some similarities but also some significant differences.  Awareness of this will allow your business to identify problems in advance.  Considering the benefits of a diverse workforce in the host country with all levels having the ability to work ‘multiculturally.’

How about competencies at appraisal?  As mentioned ‘individualism is considered a great strength in the US’ but in China collaborative relationships are everything.  Perhaps in the first instance the only way to introduce a global appraisal system is to focus on task ‘what’ rather than ‘how’ of a competency?

Perhaps even more challenging is the need to accept that others may not see you in the same way as you see yourself?  After all the reality is that your ‘cultural programming is very hard wired’.  When in a challenging situation most people will revert to the culture they know best (the one they were raised in generally.)  Every successful business needs to be able to effectively influence and persuade – the key to this must be knowing your audience and behaving in a culturally aware manner.

One final thought – relieving tension in a business context;

UK business person will use humour, whilst Japanese business person will remain silent – both completely uncomfortable with the others’ approach but need to work effectively together.  Neither is right nor wrong just a cultural difference that can be overcome by understanding the other party.

We would be very interested to know your thoughts and experiences working cross culturally.

For more information contact

Stay in the know