SMT007 Magazine

SMT-Oct2016

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56 SMT Magazine • October 2016 sees ignorance of the "rules" as bad and/or rude behavior. The person from the low-context cul- ture doesn't have a clue that what is acceptable in his or her culture is not acceptable in every culture. In team situations this can lead to lack of communication, open friction or employee grievances. In selling or negotiation situations, it can lead to loss of a sale or an inability to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution. Eliminating Culture Clash As a manager, how can one best eliminate culture clash in cross-cultural teams? First, learn a little about the cultures of the people on your team. That may be easy if the team membership is limited to a couple of cultures, but a little more challenging if several cultures are involved. Sec- ond, create an environment where team mem- bers feel comfortable discussing what is work- ing and not working in the process. Many times issues that arise from conflict in perceptions of the "right way to do things" go away when peo- ple discuss the differences between their percep- tions and reach a mutually agreeable solution. For example, when I worked at an EMS pro- vider in Mexico, we had a problem with pro- gram managers overcommitting to customers. We held an internal team meeting with all pro- gram managers to discuss the issue. The answer the program managers gave was that in Mex- ican culture is considered rude to disappoint anyone. So if a customer asked for something that wasn't achievable, the culturally correct re- sponse was to agree to it and try one's best to make it happen. When it didn't happen, the culturally correct response was to explain how hard you tried and have a really good reason for why it didn't happen. And in Mexico, a per- son hearing that reason would understand that it was unavoidable and be appreciative that the program manager had tried really hard to make it happen. We then discussed the likely perspec- tive of the U.S. customer and how an affirmative commitment followed by a really good excuse put them in an embarrassing position. From the U.S. cultural perspective, the program manager failed to deliver on a commitment. Conversely, telling the customer immediately that their re- quest was not achievable and offering them res- olution options that were achievable, enabled the customer to pick what option would work best. Once the team realized that failing to fol- low through on a commitment created an em- barrassing situation for the customer at their place of employment, it was easy to drive ap- propriate changes in "commitment" behavior. Going through the process of openly exchang- ing perspectives built stronger team relation- ships between Mexican and US team members. Negotiation or Arguing? In negotiations, cultural conflict often aris- es in regions where arguing is considered rude. Mexico and most of Asia are culturally very po- lite. In Asia, disagreement can lead to loss of face. Often the solution is avoidance of the dis- cussion of the issue in order to eliminate the pos- sibility that the other party will lose face when proven wrong. In Mexico, there is little differ- ence between criticism of a behavior and criti- cism of the individual, so any disagreement po- tentially insults the other party's judgment rela- tive to the feasibility of the request. In cases like these, the sign that there is a problem is often lack of a response. If emails go unanswered or the person seems to avoid the issue that is gen- erally the signal there is no desire for further dis- cussion of the issue or that the individual does not see a path to discuss it without appearing rude. I've found that the best way to approach that type of impasse is to work to build a strong enough relationship that the issue can be revisit- ed and explored in casual conversation. In some cases, reassignment of personnel may be neces- sary. For example, in one case in Asia I found a program manager assigned to work with Euro- BUILDING BRIDGES WITH CROSS-CULTURAL TEAMS " So if a customer asked for something that wasn't achievable, the culturally correct response was to agree to it and try one's best to make it happen. "

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