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Community QA

Community Q&A: Overcoming Cultural Differences with Crucial Conversations

To help more of our readers with their crucial conversations, confrontations, and behavior change challenges, we recently introduced the Community Q&A column! Please share your answers to this reader’s question in the comments below.

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

What can we do as a company to optimize our cross-cultural performance? As a multi-national corporation, our employees live in different countries and time zones, have different cultural backgrounds, and speak different languages. The situation is further complicated because we usually don’t have the luxury of face-to-face contact.

Can you share tips and examples for using Crucial Conversations to handle cultural differences?

Cultural Balancing Act

5 thoughts on “Community Q&A: Overcoming Cultural Differences with Crucial Conversations”

  1. I’m struggling with the location and time as well – most of my colleagues are on another continent and there is a 6 hour time difference. Face to face interactions are not possible, and with busy schedules it is difficult to interact in real-time, even with tools like LiveMeeting and Office Communicator. Tips would be really helpful.

  2. Some things we have tried with some success include:
    adjusting work days to overlap more between sites
    holding video conferences both with professionally installed equipment and as simple as hooking up a webcam and some speakers at each site and using Communicator video
    regularly scheduled one-on-one conversations between manager/employee and key colleague to key colleague and be sure to discuss communication and cultural difference concerns during these calls

    Actually I have a crucial conversation call coming up next week where we will discuss the reactions to requested input. A manager in another country requests “pulse of the organization” input but then appears to over reacts to the input. This is driven by cultural differences in how we interpret such info here (pretty normal discussion in the US) and there in Germany. I have set up this meeting as a video chat so we can both read each other’s reactions to what is being discussed.

  3. In India we have a joint family and heirarchy driven culture. Children tend to live with their parents (particularly the male child/children) even afte their marriage. Now this system has its own advantages – in terms of emotional support, sense of togetherness etc., still it does put pressure day to day pressure routine dealings bwtween different family members. A friend of mine is stuggling with three parties – his motheer vs his wife and also his son vs his wife. The issues are normal – in the sense – general family situations but the stakeholders have taken a strong positions. What should my friend do and how?

  4. Aside from the complexity of language, time zones and physical separation by distance, cross-cultural communication is often something we work-around vs. dialogue-through. Especially regarding work it is tempting to remain focused on the results and tangible outcomes (ex. sharing content, executing on deliverables, completing an agenda etc.) while not pausing to take note of the health and vitality of the relationship that connect us to our work. I find that conscious attention to talking about “how we communicate” always pays dividends. Using Crucial Conversations skills in daily interactions is a powerful strategy in assimilating the nuances offered by different contributors.

    In 2000 I was facilitating a community dialogue in Texas between community support agencies and a group of Albanian families fleeing the persecution of Slobodan Milošević. The meeting proceeded with the help of translators as we provided information and direction to our guests. At one point a participant stood up and in his native tongue with a voice filled with emotion said: “Pas ankthit aq shumë që ne jemi tani këtu me ju dhe ju po i trajtojnë si foshnje na!” Our translator repeated the comment in english: “After so much anguish we are now here with you and you are treating us like infants!”

    I will never forget the silence in the room that followed. How tragic it would be if our attempts to join hearts with our brothers and sisters from this war-torn area of the world were only adding insult to injury. Fortunately an inspired member of our panel stood up and walked across the floor with the translator in tow and said: “Please offer my thanks for the honest and heartfelt words.” He continued: “Please ask our guest what he was hearing when he firsts had this thought about our way of communicating with him and the other participants. Ask him what he concluded about our intentions and how that contributed to his feelings . Please share that we want to insure that we are always providing useful information with the utmost of respect and honor.”

    With tears freely flowing down his cheek our neighbor from Kosovo explained: “We have suffered many losses over the past several months. We have been stripped of our identities, our homes and our land. This is the first time in many days that anyone has shown such caring and love for us. I have not felt such comfort and security from another person since I was an infant.”

    I believe that we often are more guilty of “wasting our talking time” than of “wasting our time talking”. The systemic use of Crucial Conversation skills in the work place offers organizations the permission and skills to balance results and relationships in the pursuit of performance.

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