Communicate on the Same Wavelength



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How to solve the problem of cultural differences in teams?

Culture explains to us the rules that govern the world – and most of us are convinced that these rules are universal. There could be no greater mistake.

What are cultural differences?

With cultural differences, the problem isn’t what we can see or observe i.e., different types of clothing, food, music or customs. These are just expressions of culture. The biggest problem with culture is understanding what we can’t see, this is its essence. The essence is usually the way a specific culture perceives fundamental issues e.g.:

  • Time
  • Social hierarchy (who has power over whom)
  • What’s considered offensive and what’s flattering
  • What’s taboo and what is acceptable 
  • Fun
  • Problems
  • Networks of friends
  • An individual’s role in society 

By adhering to the rules of one culture, you can inadvertently break all the rules of another.

Culture is like an operating system. Running Windows applications on Unix or iOS isn’t easy, to put it lightly. Something is required to translate one behavior into another language on an ongoing basis. Alternatively, you have to write a program for a specific system i.e., for a specific culture. With humans, it’s about teaching and learning new rules.

Some of these rules may be completely at odds with the ones we’ve already encoded. Some rules can blow all the “cultural fuses” we carry inside of us. This can happen, for example, when someone in a business relationship grabs our hand. In one culture, this is a sign of trust, while in others it is behavior reserved exclusively for romantic relationships and/or parent-child relationships.

Why is solving problems that arise from cultural differences so important?

The differences in the way things work between different cultures sometimes turn out to be one giant trap. For example: both parties mean well and want to finish a project. But they both communicate in completely different ways. In cultures where saying “no” is associated with the risk of losing credibility, it is replaced by a “silent no,” or a “yes” which actually means “no.”  If you don’t understand the differences, you will feel lied to and deliberately misled.

Similarly, a conversation between an Englishman and a Norwegian can be full of misunderstandings. “Oh, by the way…” in the language of the British will mean: “and now let me get to the point – I have a criticism”, which will be understood by the Norwegian as: “it’s nothing important, just a minor matter”.

Nobody’s to blame. There was simply a lack of knowledge and an absence of cultural interpreters. Unfortunately, such misunderstandings can generate real losses for businesses and organizational culture.

The consequences of the poor management of cultural differences

Conflicts and misunderstandings are the least of the problems that can result from cultural differences. Cultural differences can affect a person’s professional career, if only because of the misinterpretation of another person’s behavior.

For example, in an individualistic culture, self-presentation is emphasized. Interrupting others is not polite in such a culture, but it’s acceptable. Similarly to talking loudly, showing confidence, etc. However, this behavior is the polar opposite of what is expected of people in Asia.

As a result, a talented person – despite their competences – may be very badly assessed and thus lose the chance for further career development. The company, in turn, loses cultural diversity, talent, and discourages and demotivates the most skilled Talent. What could possibly be worse?

How can Empatyzer help?

It’s worth noting that simply being born and raised in a given country does not necessarily define a person – every person is indeed unique. This is why Em checks the actual cultural differences between specific people and then gives out the appropriate advice. Users will no longer make easily avoidable mistakes.

Empatyzer is also the safest way to learn about cultural differences. Instead of learning from mistakes, we learn good behavior by being aware of the mistakes we might have made. The special added value of Empatyzer is that it improves communication from day one.


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e-mail: em@empatyzer.com
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