Monday, August 28, 2017


We have talked in recent weeks about the various ways, from culture to culture, ideas are exchanged, business is conducted and relationships are established. In today’s global business and academic climate, understanding these differences and how to adjust to them is crucial.

There is the “American way,” where talk is direct, where “top-down” decisions are made but then are followed by egalitarian, consensual discussions to tweak and further refine the initial plan. In contrast to this, many African and East Asian cultures are deferential, with hierarchical patterns of management. And then there are emerging countries –gradually changing over time-- where in the beginning democratic, egalitarian values are desirable in theory but in fact a strong leader holds sway.

So what does someone an international background do –raised in one culture, educated in another, and perhaps working in one or more countries where still other patterns prevail? Understanding which patterns you instinctively follow and then adjusting yourself to the dominant local practices takes honest analysis and constant attention.

And what can large global businesses do, where personnel from many cultures work together at various locations worldwide? Google’s solution is to build its own unique company culture that will override any country differences. Still, they must do so carefully, lest they appear to lose respect for diversity or appreciation for each local area.

Managers dealing with a diverse workforce in worldwide locations must accommodate difference by, for example: on a conference call from America with Brazil, use one style; with Japan, another; and with several countries together, use yet another.

On global teams, where some cultures do all the talking and other not, the solution might be to give a pre-meeting heads-up with time for everyone to plan their responses. Announce what you’ll be discussing and that you’ll be asking everyone for feedback. This way you’ll give those from the more hierarchical cultures “permission” to speak up and those who may dominate a reminder that they must share the discussion time.

Multinational corporations need people with multi-cultural flexibility. There is a clear path to advancement for those whose mindsets are finely tuned to intercultural communication and ways to accommodate a range of approaches.