Working in another country or with colleagues and clients from other cultures is incredibly rewarding. However, it can also be a challenge, requiring some extra effort to make things run smoothly. English born designer William Chaumeton, shares his experience and some tips on how to improve your cross-cultural collaborations.
Over the years, living and working in different countries, I’ve learned how truly unique English culture is. Carpets in bathrooms, our obsession with tea, our deep-rooted respect for queues, our kisses on the cheek to new acquaintances, our hatred for small talk on the tube but love of it anywhere else, our staunch desire to hold doors open for people, no matter how far away they are. (This one has gotten me more than a few odd looks in Norway – where I now live and work.) The list goes on and on.
I could probably talk about the quirks of the English for hours, but that is not my goal today. Instead, I wish to share some insights with you that I have gathered through my experiences living and working in different countries. They’ve helped me navigate new cultures and gain a newfound respect for my own. I hope it can help you do the same.
Alike, yet very different
It’s been almost two years since I packed up my bags and headed North to the land of the midnight sun. In that time, I have noticed a considerable change in my approach to personal and professional relationships and development. While the cultural differences between the UK and Norway can seem slight on the surface, there has been a subtly steep learning curve, which has forced me to reflect on my own cultural practices as an Englishman, as well as my approach to business with other cultures. As a design innovation consultant working with global businesses, building strong relationships is key. That’s why I wanted to share some interesting insights which have helped me cultivate trust, build strong project teams, and lasting client-customer relationships.
10 tips for boosting your cross-cultural collaboration skills
1. Develop a cultural self-awareness. Before learning how to approach new cultures, you must first learn about your own. Take some time trying to understand what makes you British, Norwegian, American, etc. The more you learn about your own mannerisms and quirks, the better you can adapt and apply them to your advantage.
2. Work on your cultural intelligence. Every culture is different, and there are numerous online and physical resources available on how and why a culture may be different from your own. Small talk is important for Americans, the English appreciate humour, the Chinese value hospitality. Spend some time getting to know who you are working with and what they appreciate. It goes a very long way.
3. Establish reliability and credibility early. Don’t just show people why they should trust you, using past work and references, prove it. Trust is the key to a strong, long-lasting client relationship, no matter what cultures you are working with.
4. Pay attention to body language. What you perceive as a commanding posture in a meeting could be perceived as laziness by another. Learn how to read body language and non-verbal cues to establish the correct respect with a new client.
5. Be prompt. Be predictable. While all cultures place different values on punctuality, it's crucial to always be on time, prepared, and structured, even if others aren't. Be the consultant that the client can rely on, always.
Strength lies in differences, not similarities, so keep your eyes and ears open, and you are sure to learn from the people and cultures around you.William Chaumeton
6. Establish a clear and appropriate line of communication. I have found this is conducive to a much stronger relationship with clients. Norwegians value humility and transparency, the Danish value directness and brevity, professionals from India can be more indirect and nuanced in their communication. With these things in mind, make sure you explore options for a clear and appropriate communication method, then find a channel that matches. Don’t be afraid to suggest less traditional methods. Slack or Whatsapp can be more useful in a professional context than you may think.
7. Never underestimate face to face interaction. Obviously, with the exception of the current coronavirus restrictions, face to face contact is always better than remote, especially when meeting for the first time. Spend some time on building face-to-face relationships, whenever possible, before switching to virtual communication. Once you have identified the cultural differences that could lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding, find common ground, and establish the right way to work together in the long run.
8. Maintain formality. An adaptation of one of my dad’s nuggets of wisdom: 'always wear a suit to an interview, no matter what the job is.' Every culture has a different approach and view of formality, so it’s best to weigh on the more formal side. Present yourself formally and address everyone formally unless you are invited to do otherwise.
9. Be thorough. Everyone appreciates a clear and understandable narrative. Always present a clear story with in-depth details and data/evidence to support your claims and process. Offer physical or digital copies to leave behind so that people can digest your work at their own speed.
10. Be yourself. It’s important not to alter your personality when learning how to collaborate with other cultures. Your culture and background made you who you are, so wear your quirks like a badge of honor. Be genuine. Be honest. Be yourself.
This last point is perhaps the most important. After all, it’s the sharing and mixing of our cultures that allows us to learn from each other, build strong cross-cultural relationships, and create genuinely innovative platforms, products, and services. Strength lies in differences, not similarities, so keep your eyes and ears open, and you are sure to learn from the people and cultures around you.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m going to have a cup of tea and finish my Bolle (Norwegian bun).
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