Advice for someone planning to working abroad?

Acknowledge from the outset that if you go abroad there is a chance (or risk) that you might never return. If you eventually do go home you might experience that life has changed and it may never be like it was before.

I think the experience of working overseas allows you to see your own culture more clearly and put it into a larger context. It gets you away from local, immediate points of reference into more universal ones. You might be in the midst of explaining something about your home culture and all of a sudden it might strike you as a very odd custom because you are seeing it for the first time through the lens of your host culture. It affects who you are as a person, not just what you do!
Life may well feel more vivid, as if the sense of being alive is intensified. This is perhaps because you are having to pay attention to a lot of things you would normally take for granted in your home culture.

“Living life in technicolour, vividly " is exactly why I love working cross-culturally. And I encourage people to be more open to that vividness, rather than just training them on "skills".

Be mindful of the other culture; do not to go to the other country with any beliefs of superiority or inferiority. Be willing to learn. Suspend judgment. Instead of reacting negatively, ask WHY they are doing things that way?

The most important thing is to keep an open mind. This may sound banal, but it is not. When we keep an open mind, we also concomitantly accept that we are guests, and must do our best to identify, understand and, if possible, respect alternative, perhaps very different patterns of thinking and doing. Keeping an open mind does not mean we must tacitly accept all that we perceive. It does mean that we broaden our scope, that we learn about others (and ourselves), and, in some cases, adopt new behaviour patterns. When we keep an open mind, we let go to the power of inquiry, and we learn. Knowledge gained as such is unique, and, in the long run, extremely valuable.

Be ready to find out who you are, culturally, and to begin to understand where you are from. This is the first step to understanding where you are. 
This may sound trite, however living in a different cultural milieu brings out certain culturally influenced attitudes and behaviours that we don't notice when we are "at home" because they fit into a norm.

Keep an open mind and develop a multi-perspective ability this will allow for the development of the necessary vision to develop your career and add value to any organisation. The experience of another culture is a boon for the international manager that adds immense value to the career and growth of the person so get ready to take their sight to the next level which can only happen with an open mind.
I would say foremost to develop and be mindful of the need to to take in multiple perspectives before making decisions , making assumptions or taking actions in a multicultural environment.

Check out Edgar Schein's definition of culture because it makes it clear that groups develop culture over a long period of time and that this is what helps them survive. Read more here.

For me, the most important part of any intercultural encounter is to go into it realising that a person's or group's culture meets certain needs for them (possibly consciously but in any case subconsciously) and therefore makes sense to them. "They" do things the way "they" do them because it works for "them". If you want to get along with people from different cultures, you must work on that assumption and negotiate what might work for the two (or more) of you rather than imposing your ideas of what works. The disadvantages--lack of trust, de-motivation, and the absence of commitment--of not basing your actions on that assumption are otherwise too great.

In short :

  • Be enthusiastic, open and aware.
  • Do not assume anything and approach the new culture with respect; always to "ASK" if you don’t understand.
  • Keep a sense of humour and let down your guard go at times!
  • Be curious. Show you are really interested in finding out and understanding more about the other country/culture.
  • Expect the unexpected, and expect that the reasons behind the unexpected are different from any expectations you have ever had!

100 ways to know you are Estonian

Working in Estonia?

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of speaking in Estonian. The organisers BECC of the events shared these tips - number 1 to 10 are below and you can download the full Pdf here. You may find them useful if you too have the opportunity to visit this warm and welcoming country. 

1. You use the word ‘normal’ if something is ok.
2. When visiting friends abroad you bring along a box of Kalev chocolate.
3. You know that going to the sauna is 80% about networking and 20% about washing
4. You are nationalistic about Skype (it is actually an Estonian company)
5. ‘Kohuke’ belongs to your menu
6. You declare your taxes on the internet like all modern people
7. You actually believed for a while that Latvians had 6 toes per foot when you heard that as a child
8. You spent at least one midsummer in Saaremaa, Hiiumaa or one of the smaller islands
9. Words like "veoauto", "täieõiguslik" or "jää-äär" sound perfectly pronouncable to you
10. There can never be too much sarcasm

Travel with Culture Awareness, Put The Diversity Dashboard in Your Pocket

Travel with The Diversity Dashboard in Your Pocket

Upskill your cultural awareness

It emerged that Usain Bolt, Olympic 100m champion, was been quoted as saying that the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow were, ‘a bit shit’. No doubt Glaswegians are used to such language, but coming from a globally renowned athlete, this hits below the belt. We can sympathise with Bolt, who being from Jamaica, perhaps isn’t used to the traditional Scottish weather that has been especially atmospheric and representative of the Games’ host city.

Nevertheless, with over 70 nations competing this year, it would seem that Bolt’s cultural compass is a little off course. Luckily, our book, Diversity dashboard by Dr Deborah Swallow and Eilidh Milnes, offers excellent advice that we hope Bolt will take on board in time for London 2017 :)

Ten strategies for clear, cross-cultural communication:

  1. Speak slowly and clearly
  2. Ask for clarification or summarize your understanding of what has been said
  3. Frequently check for others’ understanding
  4. Avoid idioms, metaphors and other colloquialisms
  5. Cut out jargon
  6. Clearly define your business concepts – e.g. what does ‘as soon as possible’ (or ‘a bit shit’) mean?
  7. Be specific
  8. Choose your medium of communication effectively
  9. Provide information via multiple channels
  10. Be patient

Diversity Dashboard order

Share on Twitter

How to understand the Indian head bobble

Does it mean “Yes!” “No!” “Maybe?”

Watch this BBC video to help you decode the mysteries of the complicated Indian head nods and bobs.

A lot of people might find it strange," says Paul Mathew. "But if you are born in India, as you grow up, it becomes a part of your character, your personality, that as you talk you tend to move your head in different ways." Mathew, originally from south India but now working in the film industry in Mumbai, is the writer and director of Indian Headshakes - What Do They Mean? which has garnered more than a million views on YouTube since it was uploaded last week. "If we had known that this video was going to get such awesome viewership we would have shot it better," he says.

The clip presents an array of headshakes and shows how subtle variations in velocity, vigour and amplitude of wobble denote different meanings, including: "yes", "no", "maybe", "what's up?" and "carry on". 

Mathew admits that his headshakes have been somewhat exaggerated for comic effect, but maintains that it's a true picture of a national trait. The response on social media has been broadly positive. "Oh the accuracy! Love it :)" reads one comment on YouTube. 

Other comments are a little more sceptical, with some saying that Indian headshakes are more prevalent in the south than the north of the country. BBC Monitoring's Vikas Pandey says that most Indians shake their head unconsciously, with many only realising they do it when foreigners ask them if they mean "yes" or "no". He believes the popularity of the video within India is a sign of the country's growing internationalism. "Indians are becoming more self-aware," he says.

Read More 

Check out the above links and in our latest book, The Diversity Dashboard. Tune in to our highly popular animation, The Little Pilot.

Feminism suffers a setback in Japan - The Diversity Dashboard

Courtesy of our publisher:

Infinite Ideas

We’re all familiar with the British MPs’ expenses scandal, which shocked tax payers, revealing that duck houses were more important uses of our money than improvements to the NHS. Two of Japan’s ministers have stepped down today after it was revealed that they had taken advantage of the claims system. However, this is not merely a blow for the government, but for feminism and women’s rights in Japan.

One minister to resign was hotly tipped to be the country’s first female leader, which would have bolstered the feminist movement in Asia and promoted gender equality in a country slightly late to that party.

Eilidh Milnes and Dr Deborah Swallow’s book, The Diversity Dashboard, offers advice to women wishing to do business in Japan and how to avoid the pitfalls of working in an unfamiliar culture.

Culture crash

Starting a new job is always daunting; moving to a new country even more so. Else, a middle-aged Danish lady, has made the move to Tokushima, Japan, in order to experience a new culture and progress her career. Before she moved to Japan, she was the general manager in a popular soft-drink company. Else led by example and encouraged her staff to work in an inclusive work environment where each member of the team was treated equally and each role was viewed as just as important as the next. She was more like a mentor than a manager and this put a spring in her step each morning.

On the first day at work in the company in Tokushima, Else was greeted by three well-dressed men: not a woman in sight except for the girl at reception. Instantly she sensed the male-dominated environment and over the next few weeks she began to feel insignificant. Although no one said anything directly to Else, she found her points of view were shunned, her self-esteem bruised, and she felt put down. Her management style was achieving nothing and she was getting nowhere.

Culture tip

In Japan, hierarchy is an all important feature of management. An English male colleague who had been working in the firm for two years explained, ‘The work culture in Japan makes a clear differentiation between male and female roles. It is a rigid structure and although multinational companies are more used to women in the workforce, the traditional Japanese companies still only have men as senior managers.’

Cultural insight

A recent survey suggests that: ‘Gender inequality causes resentment, anger and reduced life satisfaction more among European and American women than among Chinese women, who value gender equality less. Chinese women consider gender inequality to be less unjust and less unfair.’

One hopes that this does not harm the feminist movement in Japan and that social progression continues apace. We may have to send over Germaine Greer!

Cross-cultural Differences in Business Strategy


Cross-cultural Differences in Business Strategy and Objectives

Cross-cultural differences usually show up in the workplace as different working practices, but the importance placed on specific organisational objectives differs with national culture as well. No wonder we may be confused when working in a global corporate business over how things get done or when working with enterprises on the other side of the world; cross-cultural differences in strategy are at play.

In our book, The Diversity Dashboard, we highlight: Typically, in ‘Western’ companies the approach is goal-based, where you’re thinking about the big picture or your ultimate goal. Goal centric cultures share the "big picture" with employees, work with them to set challenging, yet attainable goals, encourage employees to be innovative, put systems in place for measuring productivity and give feedback, both formal and "real time." However, not all cultures share this ‘formulaic’ focus.

National culture does influence our thinking on financial objectives, but it’s how we drive financial performance that differs mostly.  Research over a number of years is beginning to confirm what experience has already taught many of us: national culture has a greater influence on the importance placed on non-financial goals than on financial goals. Added to that, national culture influences our interpretation of organisational success.

So, what are these cross-cultural differences in business strategy and objectives? Notably, the comparison showed: the US is driven by financial performance as a goal in itself, The UK and Australia have compliance constrained financial performance; Singapore and India have customer service driven financial performance, Japan looks to compliance constrained customer centric service, and Sweden, Norway and Finland are driven by ethical/green financial performance.

Our colleague, Brain Howe, states: “In the end, it probably comes out roughly square; just a different way of getting there.  But in the process of getting there you have all sorts of potential for misunderstanding, breakdown of communications, and break down of mergers and acquisitions.” 

National culture can be identified as an important component of the makeup of an organisation and these cross-cultural differences in business strategy and objectives give us an insight to how success can be differently interpreted.

Confidence Booster: When trying to influence and persuade people from other cultures, remember that you have to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of your listener first. It’s like the two blades of a pair of scissors; one blade always cuts sharper.

Culture crash? Is Scotland ready?


Is Scotland ready for the outcome of the big referendum decision today? Does it have tolerance?


Cultures that have a tolerance for risk-taking and ambiguity create organisations that embrace initiative and encourage their employees to take risk; enabling an environment for creativity. The Danish are able to ‘do risk’; they are innovative, open to change, believe in allowing others to take on projects that are exciting and new.  

Where do Scots figure when it comes to tolerance? There certainly has been turbulence.

 

A common trait in Danish culture is curiosity; something that has been encouraged and nurtured from a very young age. For Danes, what is different is attractive. On the other hand, Chilean culture is more cautious about risk and has a strong need for structure in the workplace.  Chileans tend to rely and promote existing employees, as they know that they understand the structures in place. They are uncomfortable with change and uncertain or ambiguous situations. 

International perspectives

 

In Germany, Scottish independence is being thought of as mainly for its potential effect on the EU. China's official line is that the referendum is an internal matter. But it has not missed the parallel with demands for autonomy or even independence for Xinjiang and Tibet. Until the yes vote surged Australians were more likely to be talking about rose-growing season in Greenland than the faint possibility of Scottish independence. In India on the other hand, a vast and diverse union of scores of different linguistic, ethnic and religious communities, and lots of separatist movements, commentators have been watching the Scottish referendum with interest. Policymakers in Delhi have long feared "fissiparous tendencies" that could lead to fragmentation of the 67-year-old nation, according to the Guardian Newspaper.

Gain insights 

 

On how to deal better with diversity issues such as risk, leadership, productivity and management in The Diversity Dashboard.

 

A culture crash? Upskill with the Diversity Dashboard

Thanks to our Publisher, Infinite Ideas

"England cricket fans, administrators and players already reeling from their drubbing in the latest ODI series that ends in Leeds today should consult The Diversity Dashboard by Deborah Swallow and Eilidh Milnes. Whatever today’s result England have already been hammered by an Indian team that oozes confidence, aggression and commitment. Captained by M S Dhoni, arguably India’s best captain ever, it is likely that India will inflict a humiliating whitewash on a troubled England one-day set up today. They have their eye on next year’s world cup of course but they are looking much further ahead than that. Perhaps the difference is essentially cultural. Here are Swallow and Milnes on one difference between British and subcontinental mindsets:



Culture crash


Patrick was surprised there hadn’t been more changes since the takeover. He had expected that at least a few heads would have rolled, but here they were, all the old senior management team, waiting for a meeting with the new CEO. It seemed the new Indian owners of the British steel works had a real laissez-faire attitude to their take over. Patrick presented his new business plan and spoke about the investment needed over the next five years. He was prepared and ready for questions – except for the two he got: ‘Why have you only planned for five years?’ and ‘What would the plan look like if we doubled the investment?’"



Free e-book

Grab your copy of our new e-book, The Diversity Dashboard. It is currently FREE to clients, friends and visitors to this page. All we ask is that assuming you like the book you might consider leaving a comment on Amazon...

The danger of a single story

..."Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn't finish my dinner my mother would say, "Finish your food! Don't you know? People like Fide's family have nothing." So I felt enormous pity for Fide's family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my "tribal music," and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.

I must say that before I went to the U.S. I didn't consciously identify as African. But in the U.S. whenever Africa came up people turned to me. Never mind that I knew nothing about places like Namibia. But I did come to embrace this new identity, and in many ways I think of myself now as African. Although I still get quite irritable when Africa is referred to as a country, the most recent example being my otherwise wonderful flight from Lagos two days ago, in which there was an announcement on the Virgin flight about the charity work in "India, Africa and other countries." (Laughter)

So after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate's response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide's family.

This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature. Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Locke, who sailed to west Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. After referring to the black Africans as "beasts who have no houses," he writes, "They are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts".

Read the full transcript of the video here.