3 March 2021 by Marjoleine van Sinderen, 4c Unity
“Individual differences have more impact on the international working relationship.”, is what I hear from time to time. “We should judge people as individuals and not as cultural ‘products’!” I partly agree.
Personality traits as a starting point?
We are human beings and unique, in that sense we differ individually. At the same time, we have so much in common. Seeing each other as human beings and not just as Italians or Americans gives us the chance to understand each other. To look beyond nationality. Maybe we don’t understand a certain reaction in a certain situation (Why does he raise his voice? How unprofessional!), but we can understand and acknowledge the behavior (sometimes I raise my voice, but not at work). You may want to use personality traits as a starting point and get to know someone from there. Let’s save you time, energy and avoid hiccups.
Understanding differences unbiasedly
If you ignore the fact that there are cultural differences, you will have a hard time understanding the other person without bias. You will look at him/her through your own cultural and colored glasses, which you may not be aware you are wearing. You risk misinterpretation. (She is weird, isn’t she?! Why doesn’t she just…)
Your ancestors still have impact
Your norms and values and the values of Americans are based on a long history. It has its beauty to see that your ancestors had to deal with certain situations, found solutions and that this has an effect to this day. ‘Like the first people who arrived in the US in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to start a new life. There was unclaimed land. It was first come, first served. No time to waste, because others were coming too. If it worked, you did it before anyone else did. We still see the pace of Americans today. Time is money. They have to get there first’. (R.D. Lewis).
Each group of people had its own challenges, stemming from its environment and its circumstances. Dutch ancestors had different problems and needed different solutions. They were concerned with fighting incoming water or sailing to distant places to do international business. In Belgium, people had to deal with changing leadership and power, making most of them more cautious in sharing their opinions. Of course, it is much more complex than this, with many more aspects playing a role. But these aspects still influence the way you were raised, think and act.
Can you see it?
When you are on vacation, do you recognize your fellow citizens? I don’t just mean by their clothing, language or height, but also by their mannerisms, their attitudes. How often is your expectation correct?
Have you worked abroad and have you experienced the differences? Did you notice certain behaviors, habits, norms and values that are typical of the people who live there? Did you also suddenly see what is typical of your culture? Was it suddenly more apparent by being outside of your own culture? Is it perhaps more difficult to see culture and cultural differences when you are in your own environment?
No labels, please!
Let’s not put people in boxes and yes, we are unique in some ways, but we also have clear similarities with our fellow citizens. Perhaps more than you would expect at first glance. We recognize ourselves and others as belonging to a certain group based on certain characteristics. It is crucial not to label them, but to take off your French or Finnish or German glasses and to look at them neutrally, so that you can start to appreciate them or know how to deal with certain aspects with which you have difficulty. This is where my expertise and skills come in handy.
Decode cultural differences and find ways to deal with it
Let’s see each other as human beings and try to decode the cultural differences and respect each other. By understanding Americans, their message, their way of doing things, their values, you will be able to understand what they mean and interpret that properly. You will understand what kind of message or ‘package’ they need to understand you well. To raise the chance that they will interpret it as you intended. Cultural knowledge and skills are essential to meet your objectives, to convince people who think differently. Persuasion is an indispensable business skill to achieve your common goals.
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