If you read all the info, blogs and opinion pieces about how hard it is to work across cultures without offending someone you might never bother to leave your own neighbourhood! The reality of course is that working with anyone requires sensitivity and awareness. That’s not to diminish the stretch of working across cultures, but it is worth taking courage because it is a big and exciting world out there.
I’ve worked with a number of global teams over the years. Now maybe I have just been really lucky, but the one thing I have found to be true universally is people’s willingness to be generous, to forgive cultural faux pas, and to help and encourage wherever they can. Of course you need to do your homework and understand as much as you can about the culture that you are working within, but often we find ourselves working with teams made up of people from many cultures, and what can help us then is the same things that helps us when building any new relationship: not making assumptions, not being arrogant that you know best, and to always be flexible and open minded.
These are the fundamentals of building rapport, that key component of any influential relationship (if you follow the thinking of Neuro-Linguistic Programming). If rapport is the only truly reliable way to be influential, then it is good to know that there are three key things that help us to build it:
- Share openly what our purpose is so that there is no mystery or misunderstanding
- Use all our senses to gather the available clues about what is going on, and check out the meaning of those clues by asking what they mean
- Be flexible and adapt our approach so that we can offer what we are doing in the way that is easiest for the other person to get.
All of these help us to see the world from someone’s point of view, what the jargon calls second position. And if we start from wondering what it is the other person needs, then we are likely to be able to build great relationships with anyone.
This thinking has altered the way I work radically over the last 25 years, away from being the expert, offering the answer and knowing what is right, to offering space so that others can choose what is right for them. everything I know about people tells me that we are all different and will flourish in different ways, so my job is to provide the opportunity for people to do just that. The cross-cultural dimension stretches that further perhaps, but it is true whoever I am working with.
One very real example was some years ago when working with a group of leaders brought together from all over the globe. Together they had succeeded in a challenging project and wanted to celebrate. Some chose to party, some chose a quiet reflective space, some chose to take selfies and text them to colleagues and friends all over the world!! All met their celebratory needs their way, and what was really great was that there was no sense of judgement from anyone in the group about who had got it right. For me the true celebration was not of the task, but of the understanding we had all gained that we are all different, and that different is good.
Jenny is a team and leadership development expert, specialising in building influential relationships and supporting leaders to achieve more at less personal cost.