Cultural Difference – Wot? No cream?

Cultural difference is everywhere. How can we spot it early and work with it, rather than trip over it at a later stage?

For me, cultural difference starts with a feeling. The first moment when you notice that something is different.

It can be like a jolt or a shock to the system, when you realise that it’s not what you were expecting.

In our holiday to Normandy last month, we noticed that chocolate eclairs did not have cream in with them.  There was more chocolate instead. Also, in restaurants, it was the salt shaker, not the pepper, which had many holes at the top. Both these are different from what we expect at home.

I suggest that you use something feeling different straight away. Call on the jolt to:

  • Raise awareness. Acknowledge that things are different, the culture is not the same as usual.
  • Ask questions. Find out more how things are done in this new environment.
  • Pay attention to how you are with people. Pick up on interpersonal clues and choose your behaviour from there.

This approach will help you succeed with your goal.

Chocolate eclairs and salt and pepper are small examples to illustrate our assumptions and expectations with organisational as well as national cultures.

My global soft skills roll out training work has taken me recently to Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev. It has widened my experience about the shades of meaning possible when working in business English across cultures worldwide.

How can you find out what someone is really asking for?

Cultural difference in communication is rife. When someone make a request or issues a demand, how do you find out their priority, their definition of success?

All of this can be more nuanced than you think.

Cultural awareness, inter-personal skills and the courage to use your communication skills well are ALL ways you can improve your confidence when working with requests from different organisations and nationalities.

These things can help you to spot difference in assumptions and expectations early on, and work with them straight away.

Gill is a National Training Award winner and Master Executive Coach who loves to help ambitious people in organisations achieve results from developing their international leadership and professional skills. She is interested in interim and associate work where she can join an innovative team.

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