Cross-Cultural Connections

Cross-Cultural Connections

November 30, 2010

Chapter 6 – Staying Close When You’re Far Away

Being remote means it likely that you will be working with people from different cultures. You may have coworkers from around the world or just another part of town, but they all have disparate backgrounds and cultural expectations. It is always important to be culturally sensitive, but you have to do a little more. Work hard to create personal connections across cultural boundaries.

Getting to know someone’s culture helps you start to understand them. Most people are happy to talk about where they are from. Keep your questions very open-ended and let the other person talk for a while. Did you grow up near London? What is it like to live in Provo? Are there many good restaurants in Brisbane? These questions may seem bland, but they are a good safe way to get conversations started.

You should also share something about your culture. Small and noncontroversial details are best. Do you live in the city, suburbs, or country? Do you like to spend time outside, or just play shooting games until your eyeballs feel like they will fall out? Where are you from originally? Have you had other careers in the past?

For example: I live in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I have always dreamed of living out in the woods. I like container gardening, cooking, and playing Go. Many years ago I spent one doomed night as a French pastry chef.

These small details give you a little piece of the picture of who I am. They also give you places to start conversations. They make it a little easier to talk to me.

Religious and social differences are also an issue. For example, in some areas of the United States it is inappropriate to take the Lord’s name in vain and in others a full range of four-letter words are OK in the workplace. You need to be conservative about the jokes you tell or details you give until you understand their background and expectations. Many practices that are acceptable in some cultures are taboo in others.

Along those lines, there are specific controversial topics of conversation you should avoid when talking with your coworkers: religion, politics, intimate relationships, ethnicities, and gender differences.

You don’t have to be a boring person. Just be a little careful when you are meeting someone new in a work context. It is better to be a little bland than offend someone.

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