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Example of multicultural teams

Communication between multicultural teams

The country’s culture is directly linked with the way they sustain a dialog, and there is an exciting thing about a discussion: Silence.

Let’s imagine we are having a conversation and you ask me what I think about your brand new t-shirt, and I take 8 seconds to answer you. It would sound weird if you lived outside of Japan, China, or any other Asian country and didn’t realize I was showing respect and consideration to your question before giving my answer.

If you are a Western, you would be expecting my answer in about 2 seconds. It shows I’m interested, care about you, and have a good relationship.

There are three categories to represent the silence time between conversations:

The three categories of silence in communication

Category 1 – Simultaneously talks

Person A talks, and person B starts talking, overlapping person A and so on.

Simultaneously talks illustration

Cultures in this category: Latins (including Brazil), Mediterraneans, Arabians, Africans.

Category 2 – Perfect timing

In these cultures, a conversation sounds like a ping pong game. They don’t like overlap or silence.

Perfect timing illustration

Cultures in this category: Anglo-Saxons (including the US) and Germans.

Category 3 – Paused talks

If you put all cultures to talk together, this group will “lose” because they will wait for their moment to speak, which never comes.

Paused talks illustration

Cultures in this category: East-Asians.

So, to make it work in a global team, you should have it in your mind and recognize these groups, inviting and giving them a clean moment to speak.

The context approach

It is known that different people from different countries need different approaches. But how to do it properly? How should teams interact and work together amid this hurricane of unwritten rules? Have you ever realized, for example, how hard it could be to be in a meeting with Asians, Americans, and Europeans to create something or to do business?

I’ll show some helpful tips to help you when facing those situations. Yes, “when,” not “if.”

It is all about context. Some countries are high-context and others low-context. I will explain those two concepts in a bit.

If you draw a line and start putting the countries with high-context cultures to the right side, you’ll start with Japan, Korea, Indonesia, China, etc.

Between these two extremes of our line, we have Brazil, Spain, Poland, Argentina, and many others.

And going to the left side, the low-context ones, we have the US, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, and so on, as we can see in this image below.

Low context vs High Context example

Now, let’s look at the main characteristics of high and low-context cultures.

High-context

They are implicit, layered, nuanced, less direct, and emphasize humans relationship. On the other hand, they used to be more sensitive to non-verbals and the felling of others. Do not say precisely what they want to mean; let things “in the air” so they used to understand it unconsciously and learn how to do it when child-ages.

Japanese people can even “read the air.” They are the most high-context culture globally, and they know how to communicate with each other just by reading expressions or looking into their eyes.

If you want to go further with the high-context concept, there is a good article relating the seven ways Indian programmers say “no.”

Low-context

Usually are explicit, simple, straightforward, specific, and precise, but poor at decoding unspoken messages and body language.

They used to say exactly what they wanted to mean. For example, in US schools, kids are taught to do presentations in this way: First, you need to start saying what you are about to present, then you’ll show it, and after, you must say what you have just given.

The US is the most low-context country in the world. There are not so many implicit things, and people used to be direct and make sure they were understood; even with jokes, they usually need to clarify it was just a joke.

Negative feedbacks

Now that we already know about the context approach, let’s talk about a new item directly linked with this: The way cultures give negative feedback.

There are two ways to give negative feedback: you go straight to the point (the direct one), talk carefully, and avoid a discussion (the indirect one).

Direct negative feedback is when you tell your teammate precisely what you are thinking without any concerns, of course, to help and make your colleague grow up, but to hurt his feelings.

In contrast, indirect negative feedback (or improvement feedback in high-context countries) is when you care about your colleague’s feelings, avoid any possibility of conflict, and measure your words before you start saying anything, but in a way to improve your colleague’s life or career too.

We can see below where your country is on the scale of direct to indirect negative feedback.

Negative feedback example

 

When we summarize the feedbacks concept with the context approach, we get these groups:

Sector A – Low-context & Direct negative feedback

Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Australia

Sector B – High-context & Direct negative feedback

France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Russia

Sector C – Low-context & Indirect negative feedback

UK, US, Canada

Sector D – High-context & Indirect negative feedback

Japan, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Thailand

Culture Map for multicultural teams

Styles of reasoning

We know about the context approach and feedback, so why not improve our parameters? Let’s make it happen.

Reasoning is the act of thinking about something logically and sensibly. It is about logic, reason, and things that need to make sense for you before taking action.

With this definition in your mind, let’s separate it into two big groups to make it easier to understand:

Principles-first versus Applications-first

The principles-first reasoning countries tend to be oriented by the theory first, what is known. They will not start putting their hands to work without a solid basis or explaining why they are doing something.

If you ask a principles-first person to do something for you without saying the reasons, expect the question “why?” and have you be disrespectful to them in your mind.

On the contrary, the application-first reasoning countries usually start working on that without many questions because they yearn to see the results, however small they may be. They are practical and sometimes could see the theory as a waste of time. Therefore, take care with your timing starting a meeting because they will become bored quickly.

You must have in your mind how to use this in your favor to make yourself understood and, if you need, be persuasive. For example, You have a task to work with your principles-first team. Now that you know, you will spend more time detailing, making everyone understand why your team is working on this, and ensuring every member is at the same step.

Only after a heavy briefing phase, your team will get its hands dirty. However, if your team is applications-first oriented, it is better to make just a quick briefing phase and start working on that to avoid an uninterested team.

Take a look at this image below to figure out how your country is disposed of on the scale of reasoning.

Principle first applications first

Leading

Here we go again. Let’s try to add one more element to our setup of parameters. How does it lead to feeling — and make your team feels — you are part of the team?

To help with this question, think about how your team prefers to see the leader figure.

Hierarchy x Egalitarian

There are two main groups of organizations: Hierarchical and Egalitarians. If your team is hierarchical-oriented, you need to understand the company’s chart and respect the degrees. Probably you’ll not even be able to send an e-mail to anybody two steps under or above your position in the company chart.

Hence, it would help if you scaled things until you reached your target. In China, for example, it is widespread to have specific seats in a meeting based on company position and experience. You’ll even have an order to speak in a meeting respecting the company chart.

But, if you work in an egalitarian-oriented team, it probably doesn’t matter, and you’ll not have any problem sending an e-mail to the CEO or the janitor. Roles tend to be viewed with equality. For instance, try to identify the CEO in a meeting in the Netherlands. It is an almost impossible task because they are egalitarians. They will dress in the same way, from the internship to the CEO.

Retake a look at the scale and how countries are disposed of.

Egalitarian vs hierarchical example

Of course, there are different cultures and different people worldwide. We can’t just generalize, and I’m not telling you this analysis is 100% correct. But when you have parameters to set up the right strategy to deal with people, knowing their habits and tendencies and mainly their culture, you’ll undoubtedly perform well with your team and, consequently, make your team have a good performance.

There are many other parameters you can set up, and if you are curious about this topic, I would like to suggest Erin Meyer’s book called “The Culture Map.” Or research this theme on the Internet, and you’ll be fine too.

Bibliographical reference

Meyer, Erin. The culture map: breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business / Erin Meyer

Carlos Ferreira | Business Analyst

DB1 Global

 

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