Archives For Global Culture Series

Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity I had to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, swimming in The Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick in my hand and a pre-brief on lion behavior in my head, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

Here is just a bit of what I was reminded of through my encounter with the lions:

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As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! This past spring I had the opportunity to return to Turkey for pleasure instead of business… Here is what I was thinking about:

I returned to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I was observing the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I began to think (once again) about how there are unique leadership lessons in every environment.  It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that Turkey is a beautiful country with beautiful people and there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and deploy. In the western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings that are focused solely on getting know one another better, I am always reminded how the Turkish people, in general, only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I made a visit to the world famous Spice Bazaar, I was reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stopped to chat with a shopkeeper and was invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chatted for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchanged contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

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Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular, understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice, tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Please feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Be sure and check in next Thursday as we begin a series on Leadership Lessons From Around The World!

Globalization and rapidly changing technology continue to sweep the world. Organizations working across international and cultural boundaries face significant challenges as they seek to reach and maintain market leadership – however, inherent in those challenges are often unrealized opportunities. One such opportunity, Multicultural teams, offers a wealth of leverage to the discerning global leader. Our research repeatedly identifies the following advantages when multicultural teams are leveraged effectively:

–       Global economies of scale and scope are realized

–       Effective global learning & knowledge transfer takes place

–       Global strategic capabilities are enhanced

–       More innovative products and services are developed

–       Better understanding of customers across multiple geographies is achieved

–       Strong cultural intelligence fostering competitive advantage is accomplished

In today’s complex global marketplace, success depends on a company’s ability to work effectively across different geographical locations and cultures in order to drive innovation and capture market share. Leaders must go beyond motivating people from very different cultural backgrounds, experiences and leadership styles – they must create an environment that facilitates multicultural teams to collaborate effectively across boundaries and borders. There is simply no better better way to understand and strategically exploit the global marketplace.

The truth is that most organizations under-utilize their multicultural teams as strategic assets. When properly developed, such teams contribute significantly to the growth and success of the organization and to its bottom line. In fact, multicultural teams are one of the most consistent sources of competitive advantage for any organization who deploys them – they are effectively the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace.

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There are several hundred national and regional cultures throughout the world. The enormity of the notion of deciphering the cultural norms of each of these diverse cultures is incredibly overwhelming. A dose of cultural intelligence goes a long way toward facilitating better relationships and reducing misunderstandings across boundaries and borders. Ideally, armed with some valuable information and tools, the global leader can acquire insight into the diverse cultures within which s/he must interact – making it possible to adopt a cultural stance toward teams/colleagues/clients designed to fit in appropriately with the orientations of the other.

If we are open to similarities versus differences, we can begin to see that it is possible to view all of the variant cultures through three lenses. These differing orientations will greatly increase the ability to successfully interact across cultures:

1) Task-oriented, highly organized planners (Monochronistics)

2) People-oriented, extroverts (Polychronistics)

3) Introverted, respect-oriented listeners (Reactives)

In a world of rapidly globalizing business, the ability to interact successfully with foreign colleagues is seen not as optional, but as essential.

Monochronic, or linear, cultures, such as the Swiss, Dutch, and Germans, prefer to devote their attention to one thing at a time – focusing hard on that one thing and achieving it within a scheduled timeframe. From a monochronistic perspective, devoting full attention to one person or group at a time is the professional, or polite, thing to do. Processing of tasks is sequential, rather than parallel. In this type of culture, people feel they are more efficient and get more done by segmenting their time, tasks, relationships, etc. into compartmentalized units.  By virtue of this compartmentalization, monochronistic people are less likely to view their activities within the context of the whole, or “big picture”.

Polychronic, or multi-tasking, cultures, such as the Greeks, Portuguese, or Italians tend to interrupt a task or meeting in order to attend to another important task or relationship at the same time – they are the proverbial multi-taskers.  Polychronistics are not too interested in schedules or punctuality and prefer to remain flexible. They do not like to leave conversations unfinished. Completing the human interaction, versus observing monochronistic time constraints, is the best use of their time.  They consider it professional and polite to juggle different projects and people at the same time. In Mediterranean polychronistic cultures, for example, an executive interacts with multiple people at once. Everyone feels acknowledged through having access to an important person, which is seen as a significant advantage. It is accepted that several meetings may take place in parallel in different rooms. While the senior person is sharing his/her time across several meetings, it is common practice for the other attendees to continue the meeting until s/he returns.

When people of differing orientations work together, irritation often results on both sides. Unless someone adapts – and they rarely do – they are in constant crisis. For example, a German may wonder why a Mexican won’t arrive on time, work to deadlines, or follow a plan. At the same time a Mexican may ponder why a German seems so regimented, why s/he insists on sticking to plan if circumstances have changed, or why a German may be willing to sacrifice quality to meet a deadline.

Reactive, or listening, cultures, such as Japan, China, Turkey and Finland belong to a group of listening cultures, who rarely initiate action or discussion. They prefer to listen and establish the other’s position first, then react to it and formulate their own response. Reactives listen carefully, concentrate solely on the speaker, and do not let their minds wander. Interruption is not an option, and they will not respond immediately. A period of silence after the speaker is finished shows respect. When a Reactive does respond, do not expect him/her to demonstrate any strong opinion immediately, but instead s/he is likely to ask questions to clarify the speakersintent. Reactives are introverts by nature and are quite proficient at nonverbal communication through subtle body language.

Although adaptation to an alternative culture may not be an easy task, it is nevertheless critical to global business success. The reserved, factual Finn must navigate toward common ground with the loquacious, emotional Italian to facilitate common business requirements. American, as well as European, global leaders have the opportunity to turn over many more billions of dollars in trade if they learn to communicate effectively with the Japanese and Chinese. Observing and respecting the above cultural orientations goes a long way in the right direction toward building solid partnerships across a diverse world to achieve exceptional results. After all, whatever mode of transportation is chosen – all roads do lead to Rome….

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.