What makes an American an American? What makes a Spaniard a Spaniard? What are the characteristics of culture of all of us? Let me outline my experiences and how different cultural components shaped who I am. I was born and educated in England, but moved to Spain in my late teens and started to work. I restarted further education there and then returned to the UK in my thirties to continue further education. After, I moved and worked in Italy and Germany where I have stayed for the last 8 years.So what cultural characteristics am I carrying?
Personally, I now feel and demonstrate a real cultural mix which, for some, is quite hard to understand and, for others, quite impossible to pinpoint.
Characteristics of culture include the following aspects:
Basic education, further education and political-social trends of a country
Religion, morals, societal behaviour, legal systems and language
To fully utilize different characteristics of culture, stereotypes and prejudices must be avoided. With humor or without, it is extremely dangerous to assume that someone we meet from a different country necessarily acts and behaves as we expect the common stereotypes of that country to act or behave.
On the one hand, it is wonderful to recognize and embrace diversity in our world and to acknowledge that we really are all different on a cultural level, with traditions and behaviours to be respected by us all. On the other hand, however, it is also important to realize that, underneath all those layers of culture, we are all, in fact, human beings with the same needs and desires; that is the base line of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In the business arena, we must bear in mind and respect cultural aspects and characteristics of different clients, employees, peers, superiors, and so on. As a rule, if you are starting to do business with or starting to work with someone from a different culture than your own, then always do some research and find out if there are any behaviours, traditions, and even language issues that could hinder or affect the business relationship.
For example, if I have to telephone Spain or Italy, why do they answer the phone and say “Digame” or “Pronto”? Why do other people from other countries answer the phone and automatically say their name? What about the famous French cheek peck kisses when introduced to a French person? What about the famously reserved nature of the British who are not so forthcoming in information about themselves but excellent at small talk and especially weather speak? If you need to negotiate with counterparts from different countries such research into differences will definitely give you an insight into cultural aspects to look out for.
Also, look into the language aspects of the other culture, especially if you are not an expert in the other language and the business deal/negotiation will be carried out in English. This research will give you insights into why the counterpart perhaps makes short, direct sentences, formulates questions in strange ways, or uses inappropriate vocabulary that you should be agile enough to interpret. Always stay alert to the fact that, potentially, there may be different ways of thinking and behaving that affect the deal. Always be patient with language difficulties and remember the other side is not speaking in their native tongue — respect that.
Additionally, if you have cross-border or international teams within your company, it is an extremely good idea to have off-sites together where the members can get to know each other. If you can arrange these off-sites as cultural coaching days, even better. A cultural coach can bring more awareness to all the members regarding not only the other people’s cultural characteristics, but some of their own cultural nuances that even they had not even realised as well. This is because we are not always aware of doing something as a culturally learnt habit or behaviour that may be rooted in cultural aspects.
On a final note, even though at times there may be difficulties working with different characteristics of culture, just think of the cultural richness and potential that such mixes and integrated working streams can actually bring to business. We have unique opportunities nowadays to work closer than ever before, so let’s iron out those differences and bring out the best from each and every culture.