+44 (0) 7777 682 618 Info@CreativeVectorsCoaching.co.uk

Poor Jean Baptiste Bernadotte! When the Swedes asked this Napoleonic General to become their King in 1809, he thought he would be magnanimous and address the Swedish Parliament in their own language. But to his horror, his new subjects laughed at his efforts. Hofstede et al. (2010) cite this example of a disastrous collision of a high power distance culture (France) with a low distance one (Sweden). Drawing on their own and others’ research into cultural differences Hofstede and his colleagues prepared league tables identifying the relative positions of 76 countries in six cultural dimensions, among them power distance. They suggest that leaders in France expect to be accorded respect and deference and to not be publicly criticised or challenged. Swedish followers, in contrast, see leaders as existentially equal and fair game for criticism, expect to be consulted in decisions that affect their work and dislike displays of rank and privilege.

An awareness of cultural norms and relative differences between nations can be invaluable for anyone in business working across cultures, be that in working in a company in foreign ownership, as or alongside ex-pats or with overseas customers and suppliers. But it is really only a first step. Your cross-cultural partner will also be influenced by regional, class, corporate, professional, family and personality factors beyond national culture. And even when you understand where they are coming from, how do you decide to act yourself? How do you get the best out of your relationship?

Understanding this in the context you are working in and in relation to your strategic objectives, you can begin to do the analysis that will inform your crucial choices:

When to fit in and

 When to stand out

Here are some suggestions:

Improve your cultural awareness

Hofstede et al.’s six dimensions offer a useful model for you to start to notice how your cross-cultural partner behaves and how your own behaviour and values might differ. Other useful writers include Rosinski and Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars. Or find a training course. These can often be tailored to target the particular culture-combination you are interested in.

Identify the contexts where cultural differences might be important for you,  for example

  • Influence: using communication, presentations or negotiation to make a sale, get approval for a project, get your ideas across
  • Getting co-operation: across multi-functional teams, partner companies or in a supply chain
  • Getting performance: in target achievement or employee appraisal.

Analyse the dynamics

Learn about what and how to notice and evaluate differences, including awareness of your own cultural programming. A cross-cultural coach can help you with this.

Actively choose how to behave

Evaluate the pros and cons of alternative actions. Do you want to fit in or stand out? What are the costs and benefits?

Monitor and evaluate your experiences

Maintain your focus and be prepared to re-evaluate your decisions.

The art of cross-cultural working requires the balancing of three potentially conflicting goals:

  • Respect for the other – acknowledging that there are other ways of seeing the world
  • Respect for yourself – question your values but stay authentic
  • Achieving synergy – leveraging cultural differences to get the best results

See www.Creative Vectors Coaching for more on cross-cultural working.