Having worked in a corporate setting in both India and the USA with end users in many South Asian countries, I have noticed a number of cultural differences. While it is challenging to adapt to a culture when you are trying to work (and collaborate) on a project, it is also fun. You learn a lot about different cultures and once you understand the subtle differences, it should be relatively easy working with people from different countries.
Andy Molinsky, author of Global Dexterity, states that there are six dimensions along which you should measure yourselves as well as the people of the country you are working with.
- Directness – How straightforwardly am I expected to communicate in this situation?
- Enthusiasm – How much positive emotion and energy am I expected to show to others in this situation?
- Formality – How much deference and respect am I expected to demonstrate in this situation?
- Assertiveness – How strongly am I expected to express my voice in this situation?
- Personal disclosure – How much can I reveal about myself in this situation?
In my own experiences, I have noticed the concept of self-promotion is very different in India and USA. People in India think that self-promotion is of less priority and that your hard work will show for itself. However, in US workplaces, self-promotion becomes almost a validating factor when you are making a connection with someone.
No way is the right way, it’s just the way things work in different countries.
The following statement from Andy’s book rings true:
Cultures like Japan, China, and Korea are often referred to as “high-context” cultures because listeners in these cultures depend on a detailed understanding of subtle verbal and non-verbal cues. In contrast, the United States, Australia, and Israel are “low-context” cultures, where communication is more explicit and less dependent on these subtle non-verbal cues.
Some people might argue that you are changing yourself depending on the country and hence not showing your true self. For that, I would say that, adapting to different cultures has many benefits:
- Getting things done
- Getting your message across without offending anyone
- Creating a culture of collaboration and team spirit
Overall, being able to listen to subtle cultural cues shows sensitivity on your part and its part of being a good listener. On the other hand, a cultural faux pas might be more expensive. So it is better to listen to the cues and work according to the written and unwritten rules.