The Culture Question: Assessment Over Assumption In A Globalized World

04/03/2017 10:52 am ET Updated Apr 03, 2017
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Photo Credit: Global Water Partnership

Developing intercultural competence requires more than familiarity with multicultural teams, national cultures, multilingualism or international travel. Cultural competence requires the ability to recognize and reconcile cultural dimensions without bias or generalization. It’s the capacity to work effectively with diverse teammates. With many region-specific nuances, how can we develop a global outlook that is both culturally-adept and universally effective? Deepening our awareness of the dimensions that shape and influence culture is a promising start.

1. Establish Key Universalities: One fallacy that professionals working with diverse teammates believe, is that the culture they’re working with is either the exactly same or opposite of their own. Neither is true. However, certain aspects of business are universal - such as progressing toward mutual understanding of interests, goals, opportunities, challenges, and financing. Instead of a win-lose proposition, consider win-win interactions to build lasting cross-cultural relationships.

2. Assess Expectations: Each culture has unique expectations concerning introductions, business cards, attire, punctuality, body language, and other customs. Conduct regional research, and adapt your behavior to work with the local culture, within your comfort zone. We’ve included a table below with 11 culture factors for your consideration. Remember that respect is universally understood, and your effort will be appreciated as cross-cultural bridge building.

Sharon Schweitzer

3. Dig Deeper: Now that you’re familiar with the surface aspects or manners and etiquette, go deeper and consider that each country has a spectrum or range of deeper cultural dimensions. For example, some cultures consider authority a natural and acceptable part of society; others seek equality. Some cultures are universalist, believing rules apply to everyone. However, other cultures are particularist, believing decisions are based on relationships, not rules. Read over these seven aspects of culture, and be aware that countries, even neighboring nations, can vary vastly on the spectrum.

Sharon Schweitzer

When using these tools to analyze various global cultures, strive to avoid cross-cultural fallacies and broad stereotypes. In an increasingly globalized market, these dimensions are constantly evolving as people from different cultures strive to meet one another halfway. Find your comfort zone and seek an authentic balance.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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