If you are in business – let’s suppose you are, whether you’re in business for yourself or employed – then chances are you have been making plans to further your career. Let’s also assume that your plans for the current fiscal year include strategies on how to improve your success rate. And since nearly every business these days is global, we aren’t far off to deduce that your plans include being a global success.
As you grow in your professional role, the skills which got you into your position won’t be the same skills which will elevate your global career. Add to that some of the learned behaviors that most of us pick up over the years and which aren’t particularly helpful when doing business across national and cultural borders. Here are nine of the non-supportive habits you want to let go, if you’re serious about achieving cross-cultural superstardom.
The attitude of showing no interest in another culture might be a rather obvious choice for a list of no-nos. Without regard for the behaviors and traditions of your foreign counterparts you’ll struggle to build a mutually beneficial business relationship. Try to muster some Curiosity and develop an understanding for the other.
No culture is “better” than others, even though you sometimes may encounter people in international business who appear to think exactly that. There is a thin line between arrogance and confidence: Arrogance is thinking you’re better than everybody else. Confidence is knowing nobody is better than you.
When dealing with people from other cultures you will occasionally be confronted with behaviors which don’t match yours. From communication style and feedback format to problem solving and organizing work. Sometimes you won’t like how “they” do it. And perhaps your way is better (is it really?). Even if that is the case, refrain from finding fault in unfamiliar behaviors. Railing against them will likely not buy you any goodwill with your foreign coworkers or customers. Find out why they behave the way the do, ask clarifying questions, and forgive – yourself and others.
You are probably in your professional position because of your experience, your credentials, your track record, or your relationship to the business owner(s). Which means you are relevant to operations, your contribution is seen as significant to the organization. However, this doesn’t mean other people in your work environment are less important. Especially in cultures which are less individualistic than, say, North America or Western Europe, your potentially exaggerated sense of self will be seen less as a sign of confidence than a display of ego. Humility will get you a lot further.
You can’t adjust in an intercultural work environment without being flexible in the way you interact with your peers. In global business cultural hiccups are inevitable and you will run into rejection and resistance. To overcome these obstacles you want to develop a thick skin and the capability to recover quickly from setbacks. Resilience is a skill that can be trained; with enough practice you will get better at bouncing back from cultural challenges.
Please stop it. Patronizing people will make them resent you. No matter how superior you feel, in most cases looking and/or talking down to individuals will not inspire them to improve their performance or skills. You may want to check yourself (and solicit peer feedback) if you indeed do perform better, know more, or achieve better results than those whom you disregard. Try Friendliness instead. Coach up. Encourage.
Assumptions are the termites of any relationship. They will eat up the foundation of your business connections and the trust within your team. To assume a certain behavior in people or a specific outcome can be a dangerous trap in international business. Too often unmet expectations lead to resentments. The less you anticipate certain results, the more you will be open to alternative approaches to solving problems. And the more you know about the cultures you’re dealing with, the less you have to speculate or imagine. When you think you know how your counterparts think and operate, you might only be guessing. Knowledge about a foreign culture is something you want to acquire and expand. Careful, though. Knowledge in and by itself isn’t the solution (see below).
Relax, nobody is calling you ignorant. That would be an insult and insulting people works in no business context, be it global or local. Think of ignorance as the opposite of Competence. Now, honestly: How much do you really know about the cultures you work with? More importantly, how competently do you navigate yourself in the different environments of your professional life? Being culturally intelligent doesn’t mean you’ve memorized the dos & don’ts of another culture. There is more to culture competence than simply knowing about the differences in behavioral norms. Many global professionals today are well-read about “How to do business with… [China, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, etc.].” Yet, information without application will not magically make you a global success. In fact, knowledge without skills will leave you ineffective. Knowledge without curiosity (see above) will likely cement your biases. And knowledge without humility leads to arrogance (again, see above).
If you point the finger at someone, there will be three fingers pointing back at you. Yes, hold people accountable. And do so in a culturally intelligent manner: Some cultures value direct feedback, others require that you articulate it “between the lines.” Will coworkers disappoint you? Most likely. As will you disappoint others. Practice Gratitude and learn how to show Appreciation for the things that worked well. Commend people for a job well done and celebrate their successes.
Bonus tip: The Superpower of Behaviors
Arguably one of the best attitudes to cultivate for global business success is Vulnerability. When you work with us you will hear a lot about the superpower of this character trait. The people whom we have the privilege to work with experience how the label “normal” becomes irrelevant. They quickly learn that there are thousands of “normals” around the world. And all these systems of values and norms are equally valid. Your authentic “normal” will sometimes support you, and at other times you’ll need to adjust it. This means you will make mistakes and you’ll have to own them. Not always is this pleasant, yet you will learn and grow from it. Those who are not ashamed of their mistakes, faux pas, and gaffes when interacting with other cultures will go much further in international business than the know-it-alls, perfectionists, dogmatists, and wall builders. So get comfortable with revealing your vulnerable side. It’s not a weakness, it is a strength.
And know that learning anything new comes with discomfort. You’ll feel a bit self-conscious or awkward. It’s almost like learning to dance with a partner you’ve not met before. At some point you will screw up and step on each others’ toes. It may make you feel uneasy, nervous, or embarrassed, particularly if you’re accustomed to succeeding. However, if you stay committed to learning and to your success, you will get better.
If you are interested in learning more about cultural competence and foreign language skills, we invite you to sign up for our newsletter, The Culture Reflections. As a token of our appreciation you will receive a series of complimentary materials on cultural competence from us!
Go ahead and sign up here now and we will send you the download links to the FREE white papers via email.
Share this Post