A while back I did a TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) for my fellow coworkers at TLR, it ended up being a very hot topic and sparked much conversation! So I thought I’d put pen to paper and write down a few things, which we covered in the TGIF for anyone who missed it, and also for those who are interested to learn more and gain new skills!
Does national culture affect team productivity? That’s what a researcher from UCLA wanted to find out in 1992. So, she set out to measure the productivity of 800 teams. She chose a mix of multicultural teams and single-culture teams, and guess what she discovered! Multicultural teams were seldom average. Surprisingly, these teams were either the most or the least productive. Why?
The answer can be found in something called “Cultural Competence”, also known as “Cultural Intelligence”. But, what’s that?
Let’s find out by looking at a simple formula you can use to reflect on your own levels of cultural competence. First, we’ll consider the kinds of knowledge that multicultural workers need to acquire. Then we’ll see what kinds of skills anyone working across cultures should be building. And finally, we’ll look at the big question: attitude. What is it and how do you adjust it to work successfully across borders?
Cultural Knowledge: what do you need to know?
What kind of knowledge do we need to work better with people from other cultures? Teams of researchers and experts around the world are developing some amazing tools to help us understand each other so much better.
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer is a great place to start learning more. Subtitled “decoding how people think, lead and get things done across cultures” this book will introduce you to the A, B, C’s of culture crossing in the work world:
A. How do different cultures see time? And how does that affect your next global deadline?
B. What’s the difference between high and low context communication? And how can that make or break your next international meeting?
C. How does the role of boss differ from country to country? And how might that change the way you approach people above and below you depending on where they’re from?
These are just a few of the fascinating questions Meyer explores while offering tips and tools for working better with just about anyone from just about anywhere.
In a global world, we all need to seek culture-crossing knowledge in order to prevent misunderstandings and promote peace and synergy. You can build your knowledge on your own by reading and even Googling. Or you can take classes, participate in simulation activities and even join international organizations like SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education and Research), that sponsor workshops, conferences and webinars around the world.
Culture-Crossing Skills and Strategies: where do you start?
Have you ever heard of “cross-cultural listening”? Once you develop specific skills and strategies for listening to people from other cultures, you’ll start hearing things you never detected before.
Ever felt suspicious that a coworker from another culture wasn’t being totally honest with you? Cross-cultural trust-building skills will help you solve this one. It’s a proven fact that different cultures build trust in different ways. As global professionals, we need task-based relationship skills for working with some cultures (particularly all Anglo and Scandinavian cultures) and specialized people skills for building trust with collectivist, group-oriented cultures (like the Mediterranean, Latin and Asian cultures).
Cross-cultural critical thinking skills and strategies are also an essential kit for global professionals. As you develop concrete methods for perceiving, interpreting and evaluating from different cultural points of view, you will literally explore the box your culture came in … or should we call it your “cultural cage”.
Together with culture-crossing knowledge, skills like these will transform every corner of your life.
Your attitude doesn’t exist by itself. We have attitudes towards objects, specifically, people, places, things, ideas… And, if it can be challenging to have a good attitude towards things we understand, it can be even tougher to feel positive towards beliefs, values, and behaviors that seem to make no sense.
Fortunately, cross-cultural knowledge, skills, and strategies all work together to transform attitudes. Curiosity, open-mindedness, appreciation, flexibility, and respect combine with other ingredients to plant seeds of empathy that culturally competence professionals continue to nurture on the job.
So, how is your cross-cultural work experience? Is there peace on your team? Do you feel empathy for clients from diverse cultures? If not, you may be spinning your wheels, locked in a phenomenon known as “ritual politeness” where everyone is “nice” but only superficially.
Multicultural teams are productive when each member helps leverage incredible value from their diversity. If this is not happening (yet), then you can be the catalyst that sparks a cultural competence revolution. Start with a little dose of knowledge, choose a set of skills, and then watch your attitude towards coworkers from other cultures transform in the process.
Following on from the TGIF I gave a couple of months ago on Cultural Competence, I am pleased to say I now give workshops to my amazing coworkers at TLR to start the process of understanding cultural competence and how this can benefit them every day in the workplace and beyond.
Brenda Lynn Ericksen Cox, an amazingly active TLR member since May 2018, trains multinational professionals and international students to break out of their cultural cages and live without borders. She loves sharing simple tools for turning life upside down and seeing everything from different perspectives. Her current motto is “perception is reality”, and she spends all her time questioning everything, even (especially) herself. You can visit her Spanish language website at www.icultural.es (the English language version is on the way).