The world is a small place nowadays and we invariably tend to meet people from many cultures and various nationalities in day to day life. Although we would accept that it would be refreshing to meet a person with a completely different cultural background, it would be equally daunting due to the cultural differences.
I have personally faced these problems when i had to communicate with people from various countries for work. I have had times where i desperately wanted to express what i felt but due to nuances in culture it turned out to be difficult or even impossible at times!
Eventually though, i was presented with an opportunity to work with Americans, Chinese, Finns, Norwegians, Germans, English, Japanese and Indians. And, here is what i learnt working with people from various cultures. I have tried to generalise as much as i can, but as we know, it is impossible to generalise cultures based on a handful of events. But anyways, this is my shot…
India has evolved a lot in the past decade or so due to a number of Multi National Companies that have set up base looking for cheaper development costs. Through these changes, there has been a definite shift in work attitude although i should say, the management style hasn’t changed drastically from the past.
I see that some young managers are better than their older counterparts due to their exposure to various styles of management around the world. But predominantly, it is a very strong hierarchical management style that is followed. Superiors are held high and subordinates are treated sometimes like cheap chips!!
The manager holds the final say – if he is not satisfied then the job is incomplete. This frustrates the employees but works very much in the clients favour. Most Indians work long hours and i think most of them are happy to work long hours without expecting much returns.
Indians are of highly socializing type and would openly discuss issues at work that westerners deem highly personal. Overall, it is a good experience to work with them but it is challenging to work for one of them.
Contrary to the Asian style of “small talk first, business next”, Americans get straight to business and leave the small talk to the end. What might be seen as a very arrogant gesture elsewhere is seen as straight forward business in America.
This is because Americans have a very strong and forthright style of management and are at ease to question people if they think something is not right. They are extremely sincere at work and never mix personal time with official time.
America was built from scratch due to hard work and passion and that can be seen in every day behaviours and attitudes. There is a huge emphasis on equality and at the same time freedom and choice – both at work and off work.
I was lucky to have travelled to Norway for a few weeks where i had an opportunity to work very closely with the people there. Norwegians tend to respect others a lot and there is an emphasis for individualism. But what is not there is the concept of “one man show”.
They do delegate a lot of work and at the same time give enough respect for the individual and expect them to complete the job given to them.
They trust people very easily and i have seen them get quite disappointed when the person doesn’t stand up to what he committed.
Although Finns are a completely different lot and cannot really be associated with any other culture, they have some similarities with Germans in terms of planning and executing things on time and efficiently. Almost all the Finns are surprisingly introverts and would not speak out even if there is an opportunity to do so.
From some of my Finnish friends i understood that a talkative person is trusted much lesser in their society. I even remember my Finnish colleague trying to recollect a name of a person explaining “That tall, talkative guy”. It is such a distinct feature!
The Finns try to be experts in their fields and generally do not take up an job if they don’t know how to do it and that i think is the secret of their success. They also have an amazing work-life balance and take off at least 4-6 weeks every year to reflect on things and to get them back on track.
They are very passionate about saunas and a lot of official meetings tend to happen there. They think they can take better decisions when they are relaxed enough.
Japanese are very helpful once they see you as a part of their ‘group’ or ‘society’. It is very difficult to build a reputation with them but once that is done, they trust and respect what is said.
The Japanese like to please others and their strongest concern might sound like a weak acceptance to one who has been used to western cultures. Patience is paramount when dealing with Japanese and any aggressive action is not seen very favourable.
The Japanese tend to live very close together – which explains the population density seen in Japan, and are highly social when compared with the people in the west. There is also a very strong ‘customer is the god’ attitude that is prevalent in the work environment and i have seen people go to great lengths to satisfy a customer requirement.
So if you deal with a Japanese company just be aware of what you are asking for. The answer will generally be a ‘yes, we can do it’ and they would work really hard to ensure that is done.
I have spent a good amount of time in the UK and have worked with a number of them. The English as anyone would say are extremely polite in whatever they say. The first tip to work with the English is learn to say ‘please’, ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ . These will be of good use during a conversation.
The English are very eloquent and they get to talk easily to strangers. They are brilliant in management and they generally have a co-ordinative style of management when compared to their American counterparts who predominantly have an authoritative style of management.
They like to work with people and get things done rather than pushing them down a bureaucratic route. They generally make people welcome and comfortable while doing business and are definitely better in socialising than any other Europeans i have worked with.
As you can imagine, one cannot write about various cultures in a few lines and be done with it. I hope these tips come in handy while doing business with people from these cultures. Good luck!