How To Overcome Cultural Misconceptions

Americans are perceived by Europeans as too abrasive and disrespectful by our colleagues. How can we overcome that perception?

1/ by asking how our own culture has moulded us and what has influenced the way we show up, behave and react to situations. What adjustments can you, as Americans in this case, make so that Europeans do not find you abrasive and disrespectful? Is your way always the best way when dealing with other nationalities?

2/ by taking time to research how you are perceived by other nationalities and how you can adapt your own way of being to ensure there is effective communication and deeper understanding. How would a business conversation with a German national differ from one with a Spanish national for example?

Case study:

When working as an executive coach for Airbus I was coaching a German national who was managing a team of 20 direct reports. In his office there were 10 members of this team. Four Spanish, two French and four Brits. He was the only German and was very concerned that his colleagues were not reacting to his ‘way of being’ and objected to the way he managed them. He was very directive, did not enjoy small talk and was very much needing to, in his own words, ‘get things done’ Of cause he was right but the way in which he went about things was having the reverse effect.

We considered his own cultural background and how he was influenced by the high value placed on time, tasks and accomplishment. I drew his attention to the extent to which personal identity is defined in terms of individual or group characteristics. He realised that in the US individual goals and achievements are more important than personal relationships. Also that in short term cultures such as the US, more value is placed on immediate outcomes than long term benefits.

We then explored how in Spain greater value is placed on building lasting relationships and trust. Also that the preference is on long term planning and discussion. Sometimes when dealing with the French it can take longer for decisions to be made, due again to the high value placed on ensuring all aspects are covered and decisions viewed from different perspectives.

After talking through these cultural aspects and often hidden preferences my client was able to adapt his behaviour and achieve more collaborative and effective results from his direct reports.

3/ by asking and delving into the question ‘Is the way I am being and behaving appropriate for the situation I find myself in?” How would other nationalities approach this situation?

4/ by researching the nationalities you are in contact with to see how they approach both business, social and personal situations that may be different to your own.