How Two Cultures Can Work Together Successfully
I recently traveled to the California HR Conference to talk about using my SASS formula to communicate effectively with someone whose first language isn’t English. While I was there, I met Desiree Perez, who was giving a presentation on working with different cultures. Her background is in educating about how different cultures can better understand each other and, thus, work more effectively together.
Since then, we’ve been collaborating to help multicultural workplaces that have two main cultures. These companies want each culture to better understand and communicate with the other so they can improve all aspects of their work: talking with clients, talking with colleagues, productivity, customer service, in-house training and overall daily impact.
These companies come in a variety of shapes, sizes and nationalities. A couple of examples:
- A German-owned company opens shop in Dallas, sending over a German president to lead the U.S. office, bringing over about 35 percent German employees to work in Dallas and hiring 65 percent locals (i.e. Americans).
- A Japanese-owned company decides to begin manufacturing goods in Chicago and Dallas. It hires an American president (who used to work at the Japan office) and sends over several Japanese executives to communicate directly with Japan, with everyone else being American.
The idea for this blog came from one of our clients. She wanted to do a presentation or year-long course that celebrated and educated about the company’s German roots. She sought our experience in putting it together, writing the curriculum and delivering the material.
She also really wanted Desiree’s take on it, since she has 20-plus years’ experience in training and customer service and she just happens to be a German who’s worked in the U.S. for the past 10 years. Who knows Germany and America better than someone who’s worked in both countries, married an American, studied the two cultures and educates others about culture?
Desiree Perez On The Multicultural Workplace
Micah Bellieu: What holds companies back the most when it comes to two culture groups working together?
Desiree Martinez: Aside from any language barriers, the biggest challenges and pitfalls arise from different communication styles. Communication is so important, but we don’t all communicate the same way. Misunderstandings already happen in the same language, so now imagine with different languages or someone not speaking the native language. This is closely followed by the power relations. For example, some countries follow a hierarchy, where questioning and brainstorming with a superior is out of the question. Other countries, like the U.S., have a more egalitarian culture, where speaking up is desired and expected.
What is the biggest challenge they face?
Oftentimes the biggest challenge is that these differences are not immediately noticeable to clients, and it is a frequently missed component. It is also very difficult to understand different cultures and what that actually means. So oftentimes, it takes the pointing out, sharing and brainstorming about ideas and ways to improve the current situation when these differences really surface. Once the differences have been identified, it is a lot easier to address these and to figure out how to turn them into a competitive advantage that brings high employee engagement and loyalty, as well as an advantage in the marketplace.
What are they not seeing that you always see after a consultation?
I usually see those cultural differences very clearly, because I have experienced them and have been trained to identify them. With that said, it is not always a cultural difference, but it could be a generational difference as well or just a different way of thinking. Seeing those time and time again, no matter in what setting, clearly defines the need and always teaches me something new as well. After all, every situation is unique, yet so similar.
What’s the best way to tackle a “challenge,” and not call it a problem or an issue when it comes to two cultures communicating? We want to focus on that competitive edge rather than saying it’s SO HARD to conquer, right?
My key question to all my clients is “What is the opportunity in this?” Seeking the opportunity allows my clients to focus on the positive, the immense potential that they have with such diversity and to move away from the “problems.” I do not ever approach any of the work I do with my clients as “problems,” but as a challenge that can be mastered, if we put all our efforts toward it and are open minded to approaching situations with increased cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment and courage.
Can you tell us a story of a company you’ve worked with, what challenge they had and what you did to help them overcome it or turn it into a competitive advantage?
In working with one of the largest tech companies in the U.S. and working with some of their leaders, I was able to uncover some of the cultural differences that they were unaware of. Bias oftentimes gets in the way, and so pointing out those differences and showing them that this is not a disagreement on a personal level is very powerful. I then help leaders create a path to overcome those. In one of the cases, I worked with a leader who was unable to establish a fruitful working relationship with his employee from Spain. With the help of me pointing out the difference and inviting him on a thought-provoking journey that allowed him to craft his way to overcome the barriers, he was able to completely turn around this relationship and even get positive feedback from others. “What did you do with this guy?” people would say to me. “I’m finally able to get through to him!”
Can you think of any more questions you’d like to answer that would be pertinent to Fluency Corp blog readers?
One other thing to point out here is the power of coaching in this. While pointing out the differences alone helps a lot, it is incredibly powerful to invite clients on a thought-provoking, honest and reflective journey where they can craft their own path to success. Designing your own way of doing things is much more effective than me telling someone what to do, because the buy-in is immediately created and it resonates with the individual.
I’m so grateful to Desiree for taking the time to answer these questions. If you’d like to learn more about working with us, get in touch for a free consultation.