FIVE TACTICS FOR IMPROVING CULTURAL ADAPTABILITY
In today’s global world, cultural adaptability is a crucial component to success. Anyone seeking work in a new setting at any level needs to realize that developing adaptability to new surroundings is a major cornerstone to success. People with a high level of cultural adaptability focus on deepening awareness, embracing challenges, and learning from mistakes. In other words, they eliminate their fear of failure by viewing it as an essential component of active learning.
Andy Molinksy, an Intercultural Relations scholar says, “You don’t need to have lived in five countries and learned five languages to be successful across borders. You do need to be thoughtful and self-aware, and you need to be willing to take that leap into the unknown.” If you are taking that leap by applying for or accepting a position in an unfamiliar country, here are five tactics to help ensure your transition to a new environment is successful.
The first tactic to master is greetings. I have lived and worked in many different countries and the best advice I can offer is, when in doubt, wait two extra beats before you do or say anything. Individuals in a business setting will most often model the behaviour they expect from you. If you enter a room and pause before shaking the hand of your colleague, you might find they reach out to tap you on the shoulder or lean in for a hug instead. Also, be aware of personal space as some cultures avoid touching while others use physical contact to create a connection.
The crucial element to remember is when you are unsure of how to react, don’t rely on your default settings but rather sharpen your powers of observation and let others show you what they are comfortable with to avoid any cultural faux-pas or miscommunications.
A large part of traveling, whether for business or for pleasure, involves eating and food culture. Relationships win business and one of the easiest, most natural ways to build a relationship is through the ritual of eating and socializing together. However, many business people often experience challenges when eating unfamiliar foods either with hosts that may or may not appreciate dietary restrictions, allergies, or a certain squeamishness towards a dish, such as a local delicacy of grilled sheep entrails. With the exception of allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s absolutely imperative that you at least try a couple of bites to show respect. If you are not sure how to eat it, watch your hosts take their first few bites and follow suit or be upfront and ask as most hosts will enjoy the experience of teaching you.
You need to understand communication styles in your new workplace if you want to be culturally adaptive. If you are working with several cultures in one workplace, you may even need to learn how to manage several culturally distinct behaviours. The rule of thumb cross- culturally is to always defer to the more experienced or higher level person in the group or situation. It is important to also consider whether you work in a culture that is egalitarian or hierarchical. For example, in Canada, which is an egalitarian culture, if you’ve been invited to a meeting with a new manager in your company, you may be tempted to launch into a conversation that is strictly business; whereas they might wish to warm up the discussion with a conversation about family or hobbies to try to get to know you better. In times of conflict or dissension, observe whether concerns are brought up publicity in a meeting or privately through e-mail. Observe and tailor your own communication style to one that is harmonious with the work environment you are in.
Businesses and employers on a global scale look for a culturally adaptive employees because these are the types of workers that can anticipate and respond to change. A person who is is unable or unwilling to adopt company values and expectations will have a direct and possibly negative impact on the company. A crucial component to improve your cultural adaptivity as it relates to work environment is to understand etiquette as it relates to working with others.
Small talk, participating in company activities, and eating lunch with your colleagues are personal exchanges that contribute to a better understanding of your new work environment.
Global standards of timeliness means that most business people today respect the idea of arriving at a meeting when it is scheduled to start or responding to an e-mail within 24 hours.
You might conduct business in a different way, but it is of upmost importance to respect and follow company values and to recognize your own cultural characteristics and tendencies and how they fit into your new business context. A culturally adaptive worker is open to minor fine tuning and receptive to constructive criticism as it relates to improving the overall work environment for everyone in the company.
The experience of working in a new country or environment will test the boundaries of your comfort zone, but the challenge is also inherently what will make your new work experience exciting and rewarding. The key to successfully navigating outside of your comfort zone is increasing your willingness to learn and to make mistakes along the way. Adopting a positive attitude and creating a network of connections with your colleagues will provide you with much-needed support when the feeling of being uncomfortable arises, which is natural. Remember that under pressure, we all tend to revert to our culturally-based behaviour and communication styles. The act of improving your cultural adaptability means integrating everything you have learned about culture and incorporating them into your attitude and behaviours reflexively so that they become automatic.