At a recent Emerson Exchange Americas virtual presentation session, Emerson’s Michalle Adkins and Alpana Desai presented on communicating with cross-cultural awareness. Michalle and Alpana opened by sharing their backgrounds from Pennsylvania and Zambia & UK respectively.
They described culture as a system of behaviors acceptable to a particular grouping of people. These behaviors are influenced by history, religion and geography. Global businesses must work across many cultures to achieve their business objectives.
Challenges to overcome include assumptions, rules which may not seem familiar or even acceptable, viewpoint differences and underlying values. Individuals are shaped by their culture, genetics and life experiences. Aristotle noted that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and this applies to global businesses.
Michalle and Alpana shared examples of interesting moments from their experiences. One example was exchanging business cards. In South Korea, the most senior person shares their business card first and it is done with two hands.
Another example is from experiences in India where people will often say “Yes” when they typically are just acknowledging that they have heard what you have said. They aim to please within their hierarchical structure. It is best to ask them to repeat what is asked of them and for them to explain what they are going to do and within what timeframe to gain clarity and agreement.
Generally, Americans want a quick response, so they have learned to respond quickly even without having the complete answer. It’s best to let them know you are working on it. In other cultures, like India, many like to wait until they have the complete answer, but this approach can frustrate Americans. Learning how to understand and work through these differences is well worth the effort.
In Professor Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, he defined culture as, “The collective programming of the human mind by which one group of people distinguishes itself from another group”. This theory describes how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. A framework is used to understand the differences in culture across countries and to discern the ways that business is done across different cultures. Culture is a group phenomenon–it is used to analyze the behavior of groups and assess the likelihood of groups of people acting in a certain way. One person does not represent a whole culture and the culture does not represent the person.
Here are Hofstede’s Six Cultural Dimensions:
They shared examples such as the cultural Power Distance differences between India and the U.S. where hierarchy is much more important in India and more egalitarian in the U.S. and Ireland. In the Collectivism vs. Individualism the US is much more individualistic than Costa Rica or India. Uncertainty Avoidance is greater in Costa Rica where structure and rules are important.
Michalle and Alpana shared some key presentation takeaways. When something outside of your culture occurs that may be shocking, stop, think and act graciously. It’s an opportunity to learn about these differences. Always be curious about cultural differences. When visiting new places around the globe, do you homework first, avoid judging and use the opportunity to get to know your global team better.
Sounds like some great advice!