Consulting on cultural diversity is inspiring. My aim is to make people curious about cultural differences, to allow them to see that it can be energizing and fun to explore different perspectives on the same situation.
I started giving talks about 25 years ago, and within a year I was speaking to large groups from organizations that needed their staff to learn about working in different cultural environments. Since then, my clientele has expanded to organizations all over the world: companies, universities, government departments in places as different as China, Australia, western and eastern Europe, the United States and South America.
Companies often call me in when they are in a crisis, when management sees that misunderstandings between staff from different cultures blocking people from working together. My company’s research on cultural competences has revealed that there are four areas of competence necessary to those working well with different cultures. Our analysis comes from many years of working with the Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC), an assessment tool we developed together with international universities and through which we gathered data from 45,000 respondents from all over the world.
The first of the four areas is that of Intercultural Sensitivity — the ability to see and describe different points of view, to give equal value to different points of view, and to pick up the signals of people that have different expectations, for instance about meetings and deadlines, about giving feedback, career development, etc.
The second area is Intercultural Communication skills: are you able to listen for different signals, to adjust to the different styles people use for giving you information, sometimes being more indirect, sometimes leaving more important points for informal discussions, sometimes working with silences to convey information and show how they feel about the project. Do you find different ways to convey the same message? You might have something in mind that you would like to tell your own team, your own board members, but in different cultures there are different styles for conveying the same type of information. In other words, Intercultural Communication is about your repertoire of styles.
The third area, which we call Building Commitment, has two parts: building culturally diverse networks, and reconciling stakeholder needs (or resolving tensions between different stakeholder groups). As you have been working internationally, have you used that time to build up a network of people from very different cultures, so that they can give you input on how they would see a particular case? Are your networks culturally diverse, challenging you with different viewpoints, or does your network mainly confirm what you thought from your own cultural perspective already? The other part of Building Commitment is your ability to reconcile stakeholder needs: are you able to create value from different points of view, or more simply, are you able to resolve tensions within your network, arising because people have different values, expectations, styles?
The fourth and last area we call Managing Uncertainty, which is to say, do you get enough energy from the international environment, do you enjoy it, does it inspire you and make you creative, does it give you new ideas on how you would like to conduct your business, how you would like to manage your team — is this experience of working internationally something that gives you energy and fun? Can you accept a certain degree of uncertainty, and are you able to make that uncertainty a source of inspiration rather than a source of tension?
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