How to Grow your Global Savvy by Richard Cook

Are your international tele-con meetings delivering culture shock without you even being aware of it?

In today’s busy world we all work globally – sometimes we fly and visit but mostly we just sit at our desks, at our workstations or in video conferencing rooms whilst the world, in all its diversity comes to us. This ease of access can lead us to a false sense of comfort – we may believe that we understand our international counterparts but do we really?

08_080aLet’s take a quick dive below the surface of day to day international business encounters and find out what is really going on. Along the way, I’ll provide you with a few tips on how to be more effective and to grow your global savvy. So, first off – let me ask you, have you ever been irritated or even upset by the behaviour of a colleague, client or customer during one of these tele-con, or video meetings, or even in an exchange of emails? Who hasn’t I hear you say! Well, let me ask you another question. How many of you know or suspect that you have irritated – or upset one of your international colleagues, clients or customers by your behaviour?  Almost certainly you have – we all have because it comes with the territory. So we seem to be doing it to each other – well at least that is fair! Fact is that these everyday means of business communication are excellent opportunities to give other people – and us – ‘CULTURE SHOCK’! Would you like to improve what you are doing? Okay, so let’s look at three key mistakes that most of us make when we first start working globally.

Mistake #1 – You think the world plays by your rules – but in fact, they are playing by THEIR RULES. If you are subordinate to them (i.e. they’re the boss) their frustration will be “Why are YOU so difficult to manage – why are YOU so rude and presumptuous?” If you are the boss then they are thinking – “Why do they keep asking me my opinion – they should know we can’t give it – and why do they ask for things that are near impossible – don’t they know we cannot refuse an order?”

What’s the solution? – Find out about their world! What is ‘normal’ in the office? How does leadership, or communication, or meeting management work – then have your meeting. Do NOT assume they are playing by your rules.

Now you are probably asking yourself –how do I find this stuff out? Then, I’ll tell you that it is in those things called ‘books’, oh, and also on the internet. But the best way to get it is from someone like me – of course I would say that AND of course I charge – but you can feel some comfort in the fact that that it’s been checked and verified and it is tailored to your situation. Money well spent – but, as I said – I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Mistake # 2 – You take English for granted – “We do not need any cultural training because all our people globally speak good English”. – How often have I heard this but, what kind of English are we talking about? Fact is that there are numerous varieties of English – with their own usages, forms and idiomatic phrases. Indian English can be a very different thing from Australian English – divided by a common language is truer now than it ever was. Then there is the experience of native language transfer. When people learn a foreign language they often carry over into the new language the way they speak from their first language into the second language – so the speed, stress patterns, volume, and so on. This can make people difficult to hear, understand or feel comfortable with on a call or in a group video meeting. Lastly, they will also carry over their own cultural norms about verbal and written language into their use of English. ‘Please revert back’ is a wonderful example of Indian email English that sounds English but isn’t used, or understood in the UK.

What’s the solution? First off – about you. Slow down, use more checking language. And for them: ask them to slow down too. Agree openly about language rules with new teams or joining members. Do not use metaphors (he’s our trouble-shooter – we are always firefighting), idiomatic expressions (it’s all water under the bridge) or slang (unless you know that they know it too and that it has exactly the same meaning).

Mistake # 3 – You don’t stand in your counterpart’s shoes – do you know how your counterpart got to be in their job? Who did they need to be, to influence? Where did they need to study to get that job? It is unlikely to be exactly the same as it was for you getting your role. Maybe it was about going to the right university as it is in France and in India, or maybe it is about knowing the right people as it is in Turkey and Italy. Maybe it is about being born into the right family as it is in Thailand and Pakistan – who knows?

What’s the solution? Find out about them – gently, not as if in an interrogation! Start by sharing stuff about yourself – your role, life and so on. Be interested in them as people. Widen your zone of ‘what you do’ with ‘who you are’. Privacy has different meanings in different cultures and what is acceptable to ask about or share varies enormously. Find out about how it plays out in their culture.

To conclude then. Don’t take anything for granted in the global work space – get tuned in and savvy – and if it’s important then get culture training – not culture shock!

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