WITH globalisation impacting every facet of your life, from the workplace to the marketplace, do you sometimes wonder if "culture" really matters?
After all, in many contexts, people usually speak the same language and follow the same rules, laws and procedures, especially in their organisations.
Assuming similarity often seduces people into overestimating the levelling effect of the approximately 95 per cent of human values and motivations they share around the world.
People tend to neglect that 5 per cent of differences which appear to cause 95 per cent of their cross-cultural misunderstandings, such as those below:
* Why didn't she reply more quickly?
* Why does he seem to beat around the bush?
* Why does he want to rush ahead when we need more analysis?
* Why does she give so much detail?
* Why does he only provide the conclusion with no support?
The way people prefer to communicate, make decisions, approach problems and find solutions are clearly culturally influenced.
But in our culturally complex world, the prospect of understanding everyone, everywhere, can seem overwhelming.
Intercultural effectiveness begins with each person.
People are like pebbles tossed into a pond - at the point of contact, the impact is greatest, but effects can ripple outwards and touch distant places.
While few have received cross-cultural effectiveness training, packing some personal success strategies in your cultural luggage, not baggage, can help you communicate effectively across all cultures, whether at work or in daily life. Here are some tips:
1. Check out assumptions and interpretations.
"My colleague has not replied to my urgent e-mail requesting data ASAP. Doesn't he know we have a deadline? He obviously doesn't care about the project."
Feeling that e-mail messages should be responded to quickly, you assume that your colleague's slower-than-expected reply demonstrates a lazy attitude towards your project.
You interpret his actions to mean he does not care about deadlines.
While you may think ASAP means within 24 hours, your colleague may respond only when he has a full answer.
If you check out your assumptions and interpretations, you may find that your colleague prioritises being thorough and comprehensive over sending a fast reply of poor quality or incomplete content, which would make him appear unprofessional.
In a split second, you see an action, give it meaning, and decide if it is right or wrong, good or bad.
Unknowingly, not "taking off your own glasses" or using your own cultural rules to make sense of and evaluate situations can cause frustration, misunderstanding and conflict.
2. Avoid focusing too narrowly on task or objective.
While deadlines are realistic and a time crunch inevitable, narrowly focusing on your own task or objective can cause you to perceive selectively.
What you hear is only what helps you to reach your goal.
What you see is limited to what facilitates or hinders progress towards your aim.
An eye on the deadline to the exclusion of all else can prevent you from seeing elements that may be important and influential to the cohesiveness, trust and productivity of your team or workgroup.
Don't miss out on the chance to build h5er working relationships while improving the quality of ideas - this can equal efficiency!
3. Look for both/and instead of either/or.
"My way or your way?" suggests tension, conflict and resistance.
When you try to see and understand a person's viewpoint, whether agreeing or not, you show respect and demonstrate the validity and worthiness of his perspectives.
What initially looks like opposition can become an additional resource.
4. Assume positive intentions.
Instead of asking "Why?", ask, "What is your goal?" or "What do you desire to achieve?"
Seeking the value in one's behaviour as well as the value driving the action can simultaneously provide innovative ideas and glue to bind a productive relationship.
5. Reflect on someone else's perceptions.
Before you pick up the phone or click "send" on the computer, consider how your words or action may be perceived by another person.
This moment of reflection can help you adapt your words and behaviours strategically and appropriately, according to whom you are communicating with, its purpose and the cultural context - and prevent a serious misunderstanding.
These personal success strategies enable you to approach every cross-cultural interaction with a determination to learn first - before offering advice or your pre-determined solutions.
Doing so helps to build a respectful partnership where all parties benefit from open two-way communication.