Nowadays, most organizations and leaders collaborate with teams across borders and cultures on a regular basis, whether you work in a home office or abroad. Successful businesses in a globalized and virtual world requires knowledge and skills about the new culture(s) that they are operating in, as well as empathy and understanding about how to manage situations in a multicultural environment.
Based on my experience being abroad for more than eighteen years as well as coaching international leaders with cross-cultural responsibilities, working and living in a different country can bring you so many challenges and this time can also foster invaluable growth. Stepping into an unknown environment - one with a different language and behaviors - can make you feel uncomfortable and maybe out of place.
To best work harmoniously with your worldwide team, curiosity, flexibility, and open-mindedness are the three important soft skills to have. When you work with people from other cultures, you shouldn’t make assumptions about individual traits based on where the person comes from, to work successfully with people from around the world, you need to have an appreciation for cultural differences as well as respect for an individual’s differences.
Communication is one of the main issues when we are connecting with people from a different culture; misunderstandings are very common when we’re simply unaware of a culture’s communication style. Asian cultures, for example, are less direct when speaking than those in North America. They are very careful with the way they communicate, where the messages are both spoken and read between the lines rather than through direct or blunt expressions.
According to Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map, you may be considered a top-flight communicator in your home culture, but what works at home may not work so well with people from other cultures. The best way to reduce confusion and misunderstanding in a multicultural team is to put everything in writing and make sure to explain upfront why you are doing so. When interacting with someone from another country, listen more and speak less, be curious about them, and observe and learn before you act.
Formality is also another important framework that differentiates the work environment, how deference and respect people demonstrate in their relationship at work. In countries like Japan and China, for example, it’s crucial for employees to apply different levels appropriately when communicating up and down the hierarchy. However, Brazilians are quite informal at work, where people can call each other by their name or nickname. Relationships are also so important in Brazilian and Latin American culture; before starting a business meeting, it’s common to start creating connection and networking with the people in the team. Projects are also approached in a fluid manner, where many things are dealt with at once and interruptions are accepted.
In order to be a successful global worker, according to Andy Molinsky, author of Global Dexterity, it goes beyond acknowledging cultural differences, it means you are able to adapt your behavior conform to new cultural contexts without losing your authentic self in the process. Your culture, background, and experiences make you unique and this is your gift, your authenticity. The key to your success in a multicultural environment is flexibility and adaptability, and knowing your strengths and potential amongst your different peers.
Andrea Fleischfresser completed the yearlong Co-Active Leadership Program and now utilizes experiential leadership techniques with her clients to design and foster their leadership skills. Working with cross-cultural leaders continues to be a significant part of her work as a leadership coach. Currently, she works with clients from different nationalities supporting them in their personal and professional journey abroad. Using her personal experience as an expat, she blends her intuition with the ability to help her clients to discover their greatest potential so that they can create a positive impact in their own lives regardless of where they live or work and shift their perspectives allowing them to enhanced effectiveness and greater success.