Archives For Cross-cultural Interactions

Last week we began by discussing how “Mind The Gap”  is used as a warning by transit systems worldwide – just as “Mind The Gap” can also be used as a cautionary statement that could be critical to alerting leaders of  oncoming chasms that may derail the organization on its journey toward excellence. One aspect of organizational life that has great potential for derailment is  cross-cultural interactions – functional and interpersonal. In any cross-cultural interaction, customary evaluations and interpretations are more likely to be off-base, because there is less shared meaning and experience to draw on. People think differently, have different concepts of time, space, work, etc. –  if we are not careful to appreciate and value the contributions and knowledge that may be different from our own, we may never reach our destination!

In this era of globalization, many companies are expanding into multiple countries and cultures. However, no company should take a “one size fits all” approach to business management  and leadership styles. Because we are aware that many aspects of organizational behavior – such as teams, leadership, and conflict – vary by culture, it is important to understand that it is virtually impossible to fully understand all aspects, of all cultures, for any diverse group of people in our complex environments. At the same time, as a global leader, it is also absolutely critical to know and understand what you can do to ensure everyone feels validated, acknowledged, understood and valued.

Instead of focusing on individual cultures, it can be beneficial to focus on some key cultural orientations. Everyone has specific orientations, or ways of perceiving the world around them, primarily derived from our cultural background and the way we were raised.  These orientations, or world-views, combine to determine who we are and how we see the world around us. From that basis, we can observe several critical differentiators that specifically affect the way people view the world and the assumptions that are placed on interpretations in communication. Here are some orientations that are extremely helpful in working across multiple cultures simultaneously:

1.  Time Management:

A)  Scarce vs. Plentiful – Does an individual see time as scarce or plentiful?

B)  Monochronic/Polychronic – Does a person focus on one task at a time or do they concentrate simultaneously on multiple tasks?

2.    Identity & Purpose:

A)  Individual/Collectivist – Does someone emphasize individual attributes and accomplishments or focus on their affiliation or belonging to a group?

3.   Organization:

A)  Hierarchy/Equality – Does an individual  believe organizations need to be stratified for healthy functioning or that all people are equal and just happen to fill different roles?

B)  Universalist/Particularist – Does a person believe that common processes should be adopted for consistency and economies in scale or  favor tailoring to specific circumstances, decentralization, and custom solutions?

C)  Competitive/Collaborative – Does someone promote progress through competition or through  mutual support, sharing of best practices, and solidarity?

4.    Communications:

A)  High/Low Context – Does a person rely on implicit communication and appreciate the meaning of gestures, voice, and context or do they rely on explicit communication, preferring clear       instruction?

B)  Direct/Indirect – Does an individual favor clear and to the point communications or prefer not to address tough subjects directly?

C)  Affective/Neutral – Does someone display emotion and warmth when communicating or favor conciseness, precision, and detachment when communicating?

D)  Formal/Informal – Does a person observe strict protocols and rituals or familiarity and spontaneity?

5.   Modes of Thinking

A)  Analytical/Systemic – Does an individual separate the whole into its constituent parts or assemble the parts into a cohesive whole, focusing on the whole systems and it’s connections?

Although we have covered only a limited number of orientations, an understanding and use of cultural orientations communicates a sensitivity that will facilitate faster, more effective, results in a fraction of the time than a “one size fits all” approach can ever hope to achieve. If we can use orientations to better understand our own perceptions, as well as help us to understand the complex network of cultures surrounding us, we can then begin to leverage cultural orientations as a communication tool for discovering creative solutions to problems – increasing the human potential of everyone involved, from every culture, and achieving success on a journey toward high performance and fulfillment that will far exceed everyone’s expectations.

How can you leverage cultural orientations to discover new options, shift perspectives, and leverage differing worldviews as you move between and amongst different geographical locations and cultures?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you mind the gaps in your organization. Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.