By behaving well, I mean the golden rule “treat others as you wish to be treated.”
I agree that there are no doubt nuances and differences, especially between civilizations like Western or Sinic (covering countries like China, Vietnam, or Korea) or Islam or Japanese or Hindu, etc. There are fundamental universal values that transcend cultures.
The newspaper test is a great way to help you determine if your behavior is acceptable. Simply imagine how you would feel if your behavior was published in the local paper or internal company newsletter. Would you still behave in the same way? If not, then it’s probably best to avoid that particular behavior.
Below are some practical recommendations, primarily if you work in a multinational environment.
Fluency in English does not equal high quality of thoughts/ideas
While English might be considered the global standard for business, many people aren’t completely fluent. The future of business language seems uncertain now as more and more people are learning other languages. For example, Chinese is starting to take off because they’re the number two economy in the world.
Although you may be able to speak a foreign language fluently, that does not guarantee that your thoughts and ideas are of high quality. If you’re doubtful, try communicating those same thoughts in a different language. With this logic in mind, show patience towards those who are non-native English speakers – it takes more effort for them to communicate with you verbally, but respect is ultimately shown and received back. I have learned some great ideas from people of various cultures myself!
Understand and appreciate different cultural norms
With the world becoming more connected every day, it’s not uncommon for you to have coworkers from different cultures. A major difference between east and west is individualism versus collectivism.
For example, many professionals from western society have found meetings in eastern countries (especially East Asia) “puzzling” and “strange”. People do not often talk a lot or ask questions at the meeting. They do not engage in a confrontational conversation either. This doesn’t mean they are passive or don’t have a point of view. They do. It is just that culturally they conduct their business meeting or express their opinion differently. So be mindful of this and don’t assume either complete understanding or alignment if you don’t hear any objections in the meeting.
“Those who speak do not know. Those who know do not speak” – Lao Tzu (China)
“The wind howls, but the mountain remains still.” – Japanese proverb
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” from the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.
Assume positive intent first and foremost, until proven wrong
In the business world, we often come across decisions that confound us or even seem crazy at first. This problem will become more and more severe as teams increasingly operate in silos, only communicating within their own groups rather than with each other.
I believe that, given how most companies construct their interview process to test for role and cultural fit, we can safely assume that our teammates are both passionate and talented. Furthermore, in most cases, different teams within a company will share a common purpose.
With these two main fundamentals, it makes sense to start by assuming that our teammates have thought carefully about their decisions, based on what they know at that point and made the best of it. Also, there is a good chance that if we were in their shoes, given the same context, we might make the same decision. Remember, your teammates want it to work as much as you do.
“Assuming positive intent” is not easy to do at first, but it will become more natural with time. If you find that your initial emotional reaction is strong, try sleeping on it. Try to resist the urge to say something or make a decision right away. I know it can be tempting and even satisfying to release your “anger,” but the feeling may not last long.
More often than not, we can expand our comprehension – and consequently find a more comprehensive solution – by presuming that the other team members have rationale behind what initially seemed like “crazy decisions.”
There could be even trivial examples like when your team members don’t respond to you on time, instead of thinking that he/she is being lazy, you could assume that he/she has something more urgent to take care of and at the soonest suitable moment, they would get back to you.
I am not suggesting that the above is true for every organization or person. Office politics and personal agendas could sometimes lead people to make decisions that wouldn’t benefit the team as a whole. However, rather than being discouraged by this, try to understand it so you can account for it in your approach/solution.
That’s all from me. Let me know your thoughts!