It is not our differences that divide us.
It is our inability to recognise, accept & celebrate those differences.
The national culture we grow up in makes a great impression on us & how we view the world. For me it’s really important that when we talk about cultural training that we are not creating a culture of ‘them’ & ‘us’ or ‘right’ & ‘wrong’ ways of doing things. For me the word ‘etiquette’ has always seemed unhelpful & creates a relationship of superiority & inferiority.
But it is about cultural awareness & making active choices.
For example, how we use language & the way we say something, how we respond & react in certain situations & to other people, particularly in what we perceive as challenging interactions. How we even see time, our relationship to the past, the present & the future.
This awareness is so critical because we rarely have the ability to see our own national culture & how it influenced our beliefs, values, attitudes & ultimately our behaviour.
When we experience communication & behaviour from others that does not match our assumptions & expectations, we try to interpret the meaning & intention by applying how we would react in the same situation, but this can lead us down the wrong path. If we jump to the wrong conclusions, we might feel confused, misunderstand the situation and even create conflict.
Once we are trained to become aware of it, then we can recognise the similarities and the differences between ourselves & other cultures, and we can learn to bridge or reframe our communication & behaviour, connecting more strongly & finding the ways to work effectively together.
This is important because ‘difference’ is to be celebrated, which is why I love the quote above. Difference creates opportunity for exploration, discovery & innovation if we remain open-minded & approach the interactions with a curious mindset.
Yes, there are other cultural influences: regional, sector, industry, company & even team culture, which may have impacts.
Equally, we do live & work in a globalised world where we often collaborate across borders in international teams, but these cultural influences are still at play. They often reveal themselves in challenging situations, like delivering negative messages, negotiations or setting up a new multilocation project team.
The very established bodies of research in the intercultural field from Lewis, Hofstede & Meyer show that our own home national culture will continue to be at our roots, even if we have travelled & lived in other countries.
If we take an example:
Kate is the British founder of her business. Recently she had the opportunity to pitch for business with an Italian company.
She drew up a proposal presenting it with an executive summary of her key recommendations & next steps, backed up with data & a logical argument.
Arriving in Milan the night before, Kate confidently made the presentation the next day, sticking to the allocated time she had been given to make the presentation & making sure she finished promptly to catch her plane home.
This was even though the Italian team were running late after meeting another team in the morning, whose presentation had overrun by 45 minutes.
She eventually lost the project to a French team, even though the Italian company acknowledged that her proposal was clear & solid.
So, what went wrong for Kate?
If we interpret this through a cultural lens, we can see a number of potential cultural issues, which Kate hadn’t taken into account as part of her pre-planning.
As a British person, Kate is used to delivering her presentations in an exec summary, starting with the recommendation first, and providing support & data second, whereas the Italian team are likely to work by building up from principles & theory first to a final conclusion to show a robust recommendation.
Likewise, she has focused on efficiency & the task by arriving the night before to be just in time for the presentation. She hasn’t left enough time to meet or get to know the Italian team in advance of the presentation so she has missed an important opportunity to build relationships which matter to the Italian team when they are starting a new work relationship.
Finally, Kate stuck to the schedule & time allocated, but didn’t realise the Italian team would have welcomed more time to discuss her ideas with her & go into more detail, even if that meant running even later.
Kate is operating in her British mode & wasn’t aware of her cultural impact, which affected her presentation, the connection & ultimately the business. A costly mistake.
Once you understand & appreciate other people’s cultures, then you can also connect with them more.
This is why culture matters in business: to recognise & appreciate the differences so that you can make better connections, create real rapport, and explore & innovate where differences exist.
If you’re interested to learn more about my British Cultural private coaching or team training so you can improve your work relationships with British clients & teams, let’s set up a virtual cuppa to discuss your situation & how I can support you.
Have a good rest of the week & look forward to sharing my new tips & ideas with you soon.