Category Archives: Cultural Quick Tips

Cultural Quick Tip: Craft Your Message With Purpose

An enduring whimsical tradition that many people are familiar with is the act of placing a written message in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. The composer of the message has no idea who is going to receive the message or when they might get it -if anyone will at all. Not knowing the end recipient of the message limits the ability to communicate with intention. The message is written with little understanding of the end recipient, and created in a way that therefore may not be very effective. Communication across differences is often done in a similar fashion. However, taking time to think about who, when, and how a message will be received allows the sender to craft a much more effective message that will produce much better results.

Action Step:
Stop and think about the characteristics of an audience and the best methods for communicating with them before communicating across differences such as generation, culture or language.

Cultural Quick Tip: Use Intuition to Foster Better Teamwork

In the sport of barrel racing when a horse and rider are working well together, the horse will intuitively move under the rider if it feels the rider start to fall. This automatic response is only possible due to the bond and unspoken communication that develops between a horse and a rider through the many hours of practicing together. These countless hours of practice build a connection that allows horse and rider to communicate with each other using minute adjustments in weight and pressure. When you devote time and effort to communicating with a colleague, especially one from a background different than your own, you can improve the fluency of your communication and eventually be able to detect minute changes in these communications. Like a horse and rider, you will then be able to move intuitively to help each other when needed and often without being asked.

Action Step:
Ask follow-up questions to deepen your understanding of your colleague’s communication style.

Cultural Quick Tip: Create Structure to Help Bridge Barriers

Foosball is a tabletop soccer game featuring players that are fixed in position, meaning that each player can only cover a predetermined area. Flexibility, adapting or helping out are all out of the question. This lack of flexibility is similar in some ways to teams that are spread out over multiple locations or across borders, as their interactions are also limited in a predetermined way. The lack of face-to-face interaction reduces the team’s ability to adjust and adapt as quickly as a team that is located all at one site. In situations like this, having a clearly defined structure detailing everyone’s role and responsibilities is a key to success. Having this structure articulated will also help bridge language and cultural barriers that impact global teams.

Action Step:
Have clearly defined roles, responsibilities and goals when working on a team that is scattered across multiple sites.

Cultural Quick Tip: Adapt to Collaborate

Films are based upon the foundation of the screenplay. While the screenplay is the script and the game plan for the film, the work of turning the screenplay into a movie generates ideas that improve upon the screenplay. All great screenplays become better during the process of making them into a movie. The improvements come from the production team being able to recognize and utilize the new ideas created by the work of making the film. Like having a screenplay for a film, it is important to have a well thought-out plan for complex, collaborative projects to ensure a smooth execution. This is especially true for projects that involve groups of people with diverse backgrounds because the group will examine the work from a multitude of unique points of view. As the project commences, remember to keep an open mind and remain flexible to inspired ideas that improve upon the original plan.

Action Step:
When collaborating on a project, keep an open mind to ideas that improve upon the original plan.

Cultural Quick Tip: Teach Team Shorthand to New Team Members

The deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous places to work, as it requires precise and exact communication in order to safely land planes on a pitching deck in high winds. To an outsider, it may look chaotic, but this setting has been refined over time to be a highly organized workplace. One part of this success is the crew’s use of a shorthand communication style that has its own vernacular, acronyms, hand signals and subtext. While most work teams operate in a fairly safe work environment, they still develop their own compressed language that allows team members to communicate quickly and easily with each other. When outsiders join the team, this shorthand may be hard to understand or learn resulting in conflict and frustration, especially if people are from different cultural backgrounds. It is important when bringing new people onto a team that the team’s shorthand is shared with them.

Action Step:
Collect the acronyms and vernacular unique to your team so that new team members can quickly learn your team shorthand.

Cultural Quick Tip: Check Your Assumptions Before Judging

The Argentine tango is a dance of passion and elegance. When novice dancers start to learn the tango, they often focus on their feet. Although the footwork of the tango is fast and flashy, there is much more to the tango than just the footwork. Dance partners communicate with each other in a subtle way through the connecting points of the hips as well as the dance frame formed by the arms, where the duo adjusts their pressure and balance. While many people judge a dancer by the way they move their feet, there is much more that goes into being a dancer than just footwork. When judging the ‘dance’ of another person, especially across differences such as culture, be careful about making judgments based on what you think is important. Focusing on their ‘feet’ while communicating may mean you are missing the most important part of the dance.

Action Step:
Stop and ask yourself what other factors you need to take into account before taking an action based upon an assumption.

Cultural Quick Tip: Adapt to Encourage Growth

Humpback whales sing songs that can be up to 20 minutes long. While humans have not yet decoded what they are communicating with these songs, scientists have learned that the songs travel around the world from whale to whale. While the songs are distinctly recognizable, each whale adds its own interpretation to the song, essentially doing a cover version of the humpback Top 40 hits. Whales possess the ability to adapt what they hear and then make it their own. Adaptive communication is a skill that is also critical to organizational growth. Keeping something the same just “because this is the way we have always done it” hinders an organization from innovating and progressing. Adaptation taps into employee skill sets and allows people to utilize their diversity to improve upon old ‘songs’, making a new version that supports growth.

Action Step:
Replace the phrase, “that’s not the way we do it” with “lets explore that idea” so that you can benefit from another point of view.

Cultural Quick Tip: Propose Collaboration with Skill

Cultures around the world have unique traditions for making marriage proposals. In Fiji, the suitor presents the bride’s parents with a Tabua, a ceremonial whale tooth, while in Austria, it is considered good luck if pigeons or wolves are spotted on the way to the proposal. Whatever the cultural traditions, marriage proposals worldwide set the stage for the creation of a life-long contract of mutual respect and understanding. Similar to a marriage proposal, a proposal to collaborate should also begin with understanding and respect. Courting a partner from a different country or cultural background may require research on their cultural views on business relationships, developing trust, negotiation, and communication styles. Being aware of cultural differences will increase your chances getting the “yes” answer you are seeking.

Action Step:
When proposing collaboration, spend time researching the cultural background of your desired partner.

Cultural Quick Tip: Cross-Pollinate to Spark Innovation

Flowers are part of a  delicate and intricately balanced ecosystem and they rely upon symbiotic relationships with pollinator animals to survive and evolve. Only a small amount of pollination occurs through self-pollination. Most flowers rely on animals, such as hummingbirds, bees, and bats, to communicate between the flowers, facilitate growth, share genetics and create new variations. These pollinators have the essential role of helping different plants, plant strains, and even plant species to interact successfully. Similarly, within companies and teams, employees have the important role of sharing ideas between groups, departments and teams. This ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas helps to unlock the inherent creativity and innovation that lies within a company, but may need a spark from another source to bring it to life.

Action Step:
Help spark the cross-pollination of ideas in your company by inviting a colleague from a different department to lunch.

Generational Quick Tip: Work Environment

Each generation brings a unique cultural background to the workplace that impacts the type of work environment they prefer. These preferences may be impacted by their views on authority, informality/formality, leadership, etc. The Baby-Boomers desire a “flat” organizational hierarchy where a democratic approach to feedback and opportunity is desired, which is different from their Traditionalist predecessors, who preferred hierarchical organizations and chain-of-command. Baby-Boomers also want to create a warm and friendly atmosphere, though do not confuse the  Boomers friendliness with informality, as they stick to more traditional views on formality in communication and dress. Both Gen X and Gen Y agree that the workplace should be a positive, fun, and informal environment. Gen X greatly values efficient and fast-paced environments, where there is easy access to information and ability to work independently. Gen Y enjoys diverse and highly creative work environments that provide many opportunities for collaboration and advancement through training and learning.

Action Step:
Ask a colleague what aspect of their current work environment is most important to them in regard to getting their work done quickly and efficiently.

Cultural Quick Tip: Tell Stories to Build Strong Communities

Across the globe, cave drawings thousands of years old have preserved the remnants of ancient civilizations. While the drawings may be scattered over great distances and originate from different cultures, they all have one aspect in common: they tell stories.  The drawings recount stories about successes, hunts, trials and daily life. Storytelling is at the heart of what makes us human and is a universal tool used by groups of people to explain who they are and the experiences that shaped their history. While we might not use cave drawings anymore, we still use storytelling to capture collective histories and lessons learned. On our work teams, we use stories of past successes and failures to improve our current and future work plans and also to strengthen our sense of community. As work teams become more diverse, the team’s stories will evolve to include new perspectives.

Action Step:
Share team and company stories with new employees to help them get adjusted more quickly and to feel like a welcome addition to the group.

Cultural Quick Tip: Assess Your Communication Style

The alphorn is a musical instrument that originated in the Alps and was used as a European communication system. It was developed in response to the natural geographic barriers that inhibited communication between the small villages scattered throughout the Alpine valleys and hillsides. Hundreds of years ago when it was created, the alphorn was a cutting edge innovation that fostered greater communication across longer distances. While outdated today, the Swiss still learn and play the alphorn for music and as a form of maintaining their cultural traditions. Just as technologies for communicating across distance have evolved, so have communication techniques between people. When communicating with others, particularly people from other countries, it is important to recognize when your communication style has become outdated and when it is time to upgrade to a new technique.

Action Step:
Assess which communication method would be the most effective for your intended audience before communicating.

Cultural Quick Tip: Understand Your Expertise

The average margin of victory in a Formula One race is 10 seconds, thus victory is dependent on every second spent on the track. During a pit stop when all four tires are changed, the pit crew must exercise over 50 maneuvers  in an average of 7 seconds. Many Formula One races are won or lost by the pit crew’s speed, skill, and execution. Successful collboration on the track or in an office requires a team with diverse roles and skills working in concert. Diverse teams with members from different backgrounds will offer an even greater variety of expertise and personalities. While it may take an increased amount of respect and awareness to work in concert, the team has a greater potential for victory.

Action Step:
Understand the expertise you bring to the team and commit to performing your role with confidence and skill.

Cultural Quick Tip: Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

When new parents first bring home their baby, they are faced with many new communication challenges as they try to understand and meet the needs of their newborn. Without verbal communication parents must rely upon observable types of communication in the form of facial expressions, cries and body movements. Parents have a vested interest in learning to decode their child’s nonverbal communication, as it will help them to raise a healthy and happy baby. While your colleagues in the workplace communicate both verbally and non-verbally, understanding how to interpret their nonverbal communication can be a great advantage. Keep in mind that the meaning behind body language and facial expressions may vary from culture to culture, so it is always good to check for understanding.

Action Step:
Research communication etiquette from other cultures to aid your understanding when communicating with people from outside your country or culture.

Cultural Quick Tip: Use a Mediator to Help Stalemates

A referee’s job requires them to be an impartial expert on the game, clear headed and capable of fairly applying the rules. During games, it would be impossible for coaches, players, and fans to make unbiased calls without a referee. Similarly, in high-pressure work environments, differences between colleagues may lead to disputes that make it impossible for them to see past their biases, resulting in a conflict or stalemate. In these instances, asking for the assistance of a ‘referee’ or a neutral, third party colleague, may provide the necessary insight to tease out the cause of the miscommunication, which could be rooted in cultural, generational or personality style differences.

Action Step:
Reach out to an impartial referee to help resolve communication conflicts in a productive way when an impasse occurs.