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5 Critical Tips for Crossing Cultures


1. Know yourself and your cultural bubble. We are all a product of many things: personality, life experiences, individual choices, and so on. But these don't happen in a vacuum. The ways we act and react are defined by the cultural "software" that makes a society function. It is so pervasive that it's hard to be aware of it until you come up against a different cultural software. All cultures have internal integrity, and they are better thought of as different than as better or worse. It's important to be clear that most of your deep values, beliefs about how things should be done, and assumptions about what to expect in any given situation are a product of your cultural inculcation. Think about it. What things do you assume day in and day out? What assumptions do you have about how people should communicate, make decisions,present information? Why do you assume those things?


2. Be flexible, open minded, and non-judgmental.  People have reasons for the way they do things. If the reason is cultural, then they are assuming it's the right way. On your part, assuming people have good intentions before you rush to judgment, will save you a lot of back-pedaling if it turns out to be a cultural misunderstanding. Often, the more you get to know a culture, the more you can appreciate the value in its way of doing things. Being flexible enough to try new ways gives you more options and earns you respect by people from the other culture.


3. Work on both the relationship and the task. Yes, you need to accomplish your goals, but in many cultures you can't do that without cultivating a strong and trusting relationship. In fact, in many, many places you need to build the relationship first. Even after the relationship is built, you need to nurture it by showing that you care about the person as much as the deal. This means not diving directly into the business at hand and not splitting as soon as the task is complete.


4. Listen, listen, listen and confirm understanding. Listen more than you talk. Listen with your radar when there is silence. Confirm what you think you heard being said. When you do talk, don't hesitate to restate important points. Try to get confirmation that your points have been understood. Writing things down or diagramming them out is helpful as a visual confirmation.


5. Last but not least, be patient. Some things will take longer than you are used you. Many things will take longer as you learn the ropes. In addition to these, you will need patience to practice 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this list!


© Copyright by Diana Rowland


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Rowland & Associates is a premier cross-cultural consulting firm, providing essential international business skills since 1985. Our passion is bringing intercultural business success through heightened insight and agility. We believe that bold steps with exceptional preparation can create dynamic solutions.


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