“CULTURE IS THE NEW BLACK”

Forbes Magazine introduced contributor Josh Bersin’s article, “Culture: Why It’s The Hottest Topic in Business Today” with the statement that “Culture is the New Black.” The statement summed up the fact that culture, and the way to promote it, change it and retain it, is a top issue at most companies today.

Achieving success in post-global world requires a set of cross-cultural skills that go far beyond traditional core expertise, local leadership models, or traditional “business school model” management styles. Today, the competitive advantage goes to those businesses and individuals who can:

  1. Translate their core expertise across cultures;
  2. Develop their leadership skills with an understanding of global and local cultural needs;
  3. Know how to manage according to local cultural expectations.
In the 21st century, the hard skills are easy, the soft skills are hard. (dfa Intercultural Global Solutions)

Lack of Experience and Skills in Cross-Cultural Communication

Cross-cultural communication is a complicated process. Implicit and explicit messages can be transmitted through words, sounds, symbols and gestures; whether or not the individual realizes that he or she is communicating these signals. When you first encounter a cross cultural context, you may not readily possess the skills necessary for effective communication, and the lack of these skills in cross-cultural communication for one or both parties involved can create barriers leading to misunderstanding and missed business opportunities.

Basic guidelines to successful Cultural Communication:

Be Open-minded

It is helpful to keep an open mind, because experiencing cultural differences is inevitable when you are living or working in another country. From the start, you need to be aware that your own culture differs from that of the other. Only through awareness and in-depth knowledge of your own culture can you begin to understand that of others. Then you need to understand in what areas your culture does not transcend well and learn the cultural language of your new environment. Having the knowledge will certainly assist in communication. However, as it is not always possible to study all aspects of all cultures, paying attention to the interaction or disconnection when it occurs will enhance the quality of the interactions or remediate the problem promptly.

Ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. How well do I know my own culture?
  2. Does my lack of knowledge of another culture hinder me in business or personal transactions?
  3.  Am I aware of the potential missed opportunities due to my lack of cultural understanding?

 

Manage your Emotional Reactions

It is easy to assume that you know another person’s motivation and ideas, although you may not understand what they are trying to communicate. Unfortunately, assumptions about motives of others are not necessarily accurate, especially in a cross-cultural setting. It is crucial to make an effort to notice when such assumptions are made and to discuss your concerns with the other party. Instead of saying:

``I don't understand why you ask me to…`` you might try saying: ``I was really surprised when you asked me to…can you tell me more about why you asked?``

Taking the time to discuss uncomfortable situations will help enhance mutual understanding.

My Culture vs. Other Culture

One culture is not intrinsically better than the other. It is a good idea not to compare two cultures and impose values on the differences, such as “good versus bad” “right versus wrong” etc. We often tend to think of our own culture as superior to that of the other, a belief which is usually based on knowing how to navigate well in our culture. Our culture is in essence  our “comfort zone,” as opposed to viewing the new culture as unknown and thus unconsciously reacting to situations in a hostile manner. It will be beneficial to you to value the opportunity of understanding and appreciating the differences that you discover.

Assess the Context and the Relationship

Another important factor to consider when navigating in a new culture is the level of formality. You need to assess the context and the relationship to determine how formal your manner of communication style should be. For example, working with your Asian clients will require a much higher level of formality and hierarchy of negotiations than working with Americans or Europeans.

In summary, in a post global world, understanding that cultural diversity exists will emerge as an increasingly powerful driver of business transactions. Furthermore, when working in a global setting, you need to possess a global mindset and become culturally intelligent. Thus asking yourself the following three questions will help you conduct yourself successfully in various new cultural settings: