To date, there is no substitute for in-person meetings to solidify trust. A firm handshake and a genuine smile are indicators of a leader’s sincere effort to build connections and trust in North America. When working across borders, managers must determine the gestures, words and protocol to use to establish and maintain trust.
High-trust relationships build confidence between partners and produce easier conversations, win-win propositions and greater productivity, innovation and engagement. Low trust can cause tension between collaborators and usually can be traced back to a miscommunication, misunderstanding or gap in behavioral expectations.
To build a trusting working relationship across borders, a leader must consider his or her character and competency. Character is the demonstration of integrity, good intent and clear expectations and can be exemplified in the phrase “doing the right thing.” Competency is the manifestation of one’s talents, skills and abilities and is about “doing things right.”
Cultural competency is about enhancing self-awareness and creating “other-awareness”: acknowledging that differences across cultures exist, can be understood and can be used to bridge differences in a respectful, non-threatening way and to form operational agreements that reflect mutually beneficial adaptations.
The four skills of cultural competency are:
• Cultural due diligence: Adequately assessing and preparing for the possible effects of culture in preparation for a venture or engagement.
• Style switching: The ability to use a broad and flexible repertoire of cultural behavioral skills based on the situation.
• Cultural dialogue: The capability to illuminate cultural underpinnings of behavior and performance, close cultural gaps and create cultural synergy through conversation.
• Cultural mentoring: The ability to advise, teach and coach individuals in one’s sphere of influence to recognize the cultural underpinnings and consequences of their behaviors.
A leader must master these skills and use them appropriately to promote trust and identify and defuse potential sources of conflict in the workplace that could derail a productive collaboration. These skills can be developed by engaging in dialogue with members of other cultures, reviewing materials to build cultural knowledge and asking non-judgmental questions of members of the community or solidifying their agreement to serve as cultural mentors.
Miscommunication often occurs when the intended message is not received or perceived by the recipient in the same fashion. Asking open-ended questions to confirm the message was received as intended is critical. When an interaction feels like it is failing, check assumptions and pay attention to the recipient’s body language.
It is important to be prepared for cultural impact and to be respectful of different ways to do business in different cultures. For leaders to manage effectively, they need to consider how to include all members of their team despite cultural bias or assumptions. Leaders need to learn how to manage and motivate multicultural teams and overcome gaps in verbal and non-verbal communication.
Leaders with strong cultural competency skills will strengthen credibility, communications, relationships and collaboration.
As organizations look to attract and manage global talent and develop global leaders, cultural competency becomes a fundamental skill required to build an inclusive, globally integrated organization that drives innovation and growth.
Deborah H. Barrett is executive consultant for Training Management Corp. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.