Looking backwards I believe that to work successfully in a multicultural environment, one must always keep in mind the 3 C’s: Communication – Confidence – Comprehension. Easier said than done! Let’s break it out one by one!
Watch out for non-verbal communication! We have to be careful about the messages we deliver and transmit with our body. Many times I encountered the difficulty of not making too much eye contact with my European interlocutor. In our occidental world, looking someone straight in the eyes is a sign of frankness but for my European counterpart it is a sign of disrespect. This is also true with Africans. A tip? Take a view point behind the face and move my eyes from this view point to the face of my counterpart alternatively. In this way I will never be fixing too long. Also keep a smile on my face and be quiet in all circumstances, even if I have to make a statement. I never know how a blast could be interpreted by the other culture.
To develop my confidence I can only recommend I to prepare myself before a business visit, especially to non-European countries. Read, Listen and Learn about the other culture. Body language, salutations, eating habits, a visit to the family, making a present, etc. Everything counts! I may avoid uncomfortable situations like the one of this French family being invited by a one for an evening at 8:00 pm. The non-Indonesian family came with a bottle of wine thinking of sharing it during dinner. The Dutch family offered coffee and cakes as in the Netherlands eating habits are earlier. The French kept smiling but were starving. A lesson learned! Adapting myself to make my counterpart at ease is key. One should be flexible enough to put himself/herself in the other’s culture shoes!
Let me give I another example. In Asia, people do not discuss business at lunch time. This is simply not done and one of my Dutch colleagues learned it the hard way. So be creative: talk about general things (there is always an upcoming football cup) or even better about the food being served. No arguments but a friendly environment guaranteed!
Comprehension is, I think, the most difficult to acquire. I’ll have to truly involve myself with a genuine interest for the “other” person and culture. But be careful and take the time. Not in Indonesia and especially not in the Middle East or Asia. I also have to learn to respect body distance. Do not ask “intrusive” questions about personal situations (are you married?), politics or religion until I have established a solid relationship and gained trust and respect.
Show consideration for the culture. It is well known that European and people from the Middle East cannot afford to lose face, especially during a meeting. So avoid direct questions (can I do that? yes/no?- a favorite question from my “direct” Dutch colleagues) and instead work with them: if we would do so, what could we expect; how could we do differently. By using indirect questions I will be able to determine if my counterpart is competent or not for my project. Learn a bit of their language. ”Hello” and “thank I” are minimal and I will make the difference if I prepare 1 or 2 sentences of introduction in their language. In return for my efforts, I’ll receive an understanding of a different culture and experiences that will dramatically and forever change my view of the world.
If I am open to local customs, people open up for me. By recognizing, realizing differences and adapting to them, my co-workers saw my dedication to learn and adapt to their culture so that we altogether would function as a team. By doing so, I was able to gain their trust and respect which enabled a high level of cooperation and eventually led us to success on the market.
So, how do you prepare yourself to encounter multicultural situation?
Any questions? Let’s keep in touch on Instagram @danang_dann