When Intercultural Knowledge Gets in Your Way

What we know can get in our way. This is true with intercultural knowledge too. We tend to assume that everything works exactly as it does in our home culture. And then we experience the opposite.

It could be that a train is not running when we expect one. The definition of „morning“ could be different than “roughly between 7 and 10 am”. Machines for petrol, for parking or for payments could be running in another way than what we are used to. Locks could turn the other way round.

It could be common to have a net price for a meal on the menu, a charge for the cover, a charge to open a bottle and the VAT added at the end of invoice. Maybe the tip is a lot higher or lower than what you are used to.

Crossing cultures you could be confused by words, by language, by habits, and by standards. It could be that your expectation of „normal“ is absurd in the other context. It could happen that you drink water from the tab and it is detrimental to your health.

Intercultural crossings have been as old as Europe. We (Europeans) never had to go far to hear a language that we do not understand. We know the feeling of being in a place where you have a different currency, different plugs, and different rules. We enjoy these little challenges as long as we are tourists. We enjoy our incapabilities in the language. When we have crossed many cultures and lived abroad, we tend to overestimate our intercultural competence. We tend to think that we are good at communicating with people from other cultures. This might be easy on holidays but it could be a challenge when we are managing a global and virtual team.

As managers, we then often ask our team members to follow our cultural dominance. We assume that we create the rules because we were chosen to lead. We assume that we can become irritable and impatient with our staff if they do not „get it“ right away. We assume that we don’t have to change, but the others have to.

Think of your last week.

Did you think to yourself „Why don’t they get it?“. Have you been annoyed or even angry with one of your team members from another culture? Have you said „…this process is not efficient“? These could be signs that you are not yet a global leader and that your intercultural competence has not evolved yet. It could be a sign that you still have a lot to learn in interactions with people in general but especially with people from other cultures.

Tell me what you remember.

Kind regards,

Angela

PS: This post is about a related theme on aggression at work and five methods to reduce aggressive and annoying behavior in the workplace.

 

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