Bridging the differences: intercultural communication in business

Romania-Insider.com starts a series of articles on intercultural communication, focusing on practical aspects that will help you deal with your Romanian business partners as well as with partners in the Eastern Europen region, while bridging the cultural differences between them. Read the introductory article of this series below and feel free to send us your ideas or examples of actual situations where more knowledge on intercultural communication would have come in handy.

By Irina Budrina

Where the cultures meet

Let’s imagine that somebody has asked you to dance and you are moving on the dance floor with your partner in the belief that you know this dance. But it takes you a few steps to realize that something is wrong. Your movements do not match your partner’s movements as a result you both do not follow the music and each other’s expectations. Your partner’s rhythm is different from yours and you feel that you are often about to step on each other’s toes. But you do want to dance together, and neither of you leave the dance floor and you both take the initiative to find a solution. Your body is super-attentive in the attempt to find steps that will allow you to move together with the music. Finally you both succeed in creating a pattern of a joint dance. It isn’t the dance that you both first expected and probably not the one that your partner imagined either.

This situation on the dance floor is very similar to the Intercultural Communication (ICC) where doubts and misunderstandings arise because parties have different views and expectations of what should happen. The response you get may be different from the one you expect, and it makes you uncertain about the other party’s intentions. If a cross-cultural environment is to be constructive and fruitful, both parties must bring their cultural intelligence into play and this is very similar to what happened during dancing.

Intercultural communication has become a very important part of our life. Globalization is rapidly breaking down our vision of a world with well-defined national, cultural and linguistic boundaries. Not surprisingly, Intercultural competence has taken on an importance that no one could have imagined even 20 years ago. We’ve shifted into a new mode of living where transnational contact is almost a daily occurrence. The very nature of Intercultural communication — different languages, behaviour patterns and values — pushes us to avoid assumptions of similarity and to stimulate appreciation of differences.

Thus, intercultural skills – the ability to understand the values and beliefs behind behaviour and reconcile them with your own- are basic, necessary tools in today’s world.

Cultural diversity in business

Culture and cultural differences have a greater influence on business effectiveness than we think and it is therefore important for companies to develop the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) of their employees. As organizations become more global, mergers and strategic alliances become more common, developing the skills to get the best from different cultures become a necessity rather than an option. Innovation, knowledge sharing, and creative problem solving demand collaboration across boundaries of different professions, job functions and organizations, and these activities depend on people’s ability to work with other people who think and act differently from themselves.

The cultural challenge faced by companies 20 years ago was often simply to prepare individuals to go abroad and work and negotiate effectively in a foreign national culture (“Do’s and Don’ts” training). But today international companies are faced with a much more challenging cultural complexity or diversity.

The challenges and problems of culturally complex organizations cannot be solved using the thinking of past generations. We need to develop new mindsets and models. We need to see differences in a new way, where interdependence is a given and where working with differences is a competitive advantage rather than an obstacle.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to act appropriately in situations where cultural differences are important and the ability to make you understood and to establish a constructive partnership across cultural patterns.

Bridging the differences

Bridging the differences can be achieved in several ways:

Culture management in an organisation- advising the management on how to improve collaboration among people who think and act differently and how to successfully handle the increasing cultural complexity. This is highly relevant to prevent problems and create good performance in cross-national collaboration, in M&A processes, in innovation processes and in cross-disciplinary projects.

Leadership development- designing training programmes and advising managers of cultural complex groups in cultural intelligent leadership. Developing managerial skills to bridge differences in groups and to release the synergy arising when diverse approaches meet. This is relevant for leaders of international groups, of research and development, of innovation projects, of cross functional teams and of strategic HR development.

Analysis and evaluations. Evaluations of strategies and outcome in the field of intercultural collaboration and/or diversity management. Analysis of the organisation’ ability to bridge and benefit from the relevant differences in the company based on the unique CQ model.

Managing diversity. Revitalising the diversity strategies and activities in the company. Do we achieve the outcome we wish and in which we have invested resources? Are we working with the right groups of people? Do we have a powerful coherence between our diversity strategy and our activities? Do we work with the most effective questions and do we use the most relevant tools? Helping the company to energize and focus the next steps.

 

 

Irina Budrina has a degree in Psychology from Moscow State University (Personality and Cross-cultural Psychology, Psychology of Advertising, PR and Marketing) and Institute of Psychoanalysis, Moscow. She holds a Master’s degree from EMBA program (Temple University Japan-USA).  Irina has worked with INSEAD Global Leadership Center and professor Manfred Kets de Vries on Case-studies about Russian leaders.  She is currently working and living in Bucharest, Romania. She is a doctorate student at ASE.

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