I was recently invited to speak at my local business club about the impact of culture on business. Because I work in Germany the focus of my presentation was “Working with Germans: Why the World is impressed and stressed by the Germans”.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of my presentation, please let me know.
My main message was this: As the world is globalising and we all find ourselves working with representatives of other cultures, the stress levels caused by cultural shock are rising. Part of the problem is insufficient cultural awareness.
It might seem obvious that business people coming from different cultures run on very different “operating systems”, which in turn run on very different sets of core values, but many people still aren’t fully aware of this. Nor are they aware that this can create very real problems or even sabotage business partnerships and projects.
According to professor Andy Molinsky, the author of Global Dexterity, there are six cultural dimensions where cultural norms differ significantly: directness, enthusiasm, formality, assertiveness, self-promotion and self-disclosure.
These different norms impact the way we communicate and interact with each other on personal and business level.
This is how it works: According to the Richard Lewis Model, the cultures in the world can be divided into three general groups: linear-active, multi-active and reactive.
The values within them are sometimes dramatically different. The linear-active cultures value “truth before tact” and because of that their direct feedback can be shocking and damaging to reactive cultures which value “tact before the truth”, consensus and and relationship building. The American enthusiasm can look very “fake” and “not appropriate in business” for the practical and logical Germans. The Asian formality and high respect for social protocol can get less formal multi-active cultures into a lot of trouble. Linear-active assertiveness and tendency to strong verbal arguments can shock relationship-building multi-active and reactive cultures. And the representatives of cultures with high self-disclosure will find the linear-active tendency to divide work from private life unfriendly and disrespectful.
All of this is of course in great simplification, but the conflict potential coming from these differences in cultural values is very real and it costs multinational companies millions of dollars.
So what solutions can be applied to navigate the tricky waters of globalised workplace?
Companies with global ambitions need to learn about those differences and they need to implement systematic strategies to address the globalising workplace and help their teams develop a global mindset. They must also build their cultural awareness, starting with good knowledge of their own culture. And last but not least, they need to build tolerance and develop cultural empathy.
Over to you: Have you experienced business problems caused by different cultural values? How can companies better prepare their teams for the multi-cultural workplace? Share your experience and help others avoid cultural incidents, thank you!