Authors: Jeremy Comfort and Peter Franklin

Publisher: Kogan Page, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0749461973, 176 pages

Globalization and technology are making a small world even smaller. Yet cultural differences still exist. International managers have to recognize those distinctions and harness them to get the most out of their global employees. Consultant Jeremy Comfort and professor Peter Franklin provide basic pointers on how to become “mindful” of aspects of culture that, if ignored, could derail your business. The authors practice what they preach: Their plainly written guide is free of jargon and accessible to non-native English speakers, and it provides an essential overview of a complex, multifaceted subject. Seasoned international executives may find the book’s contents to be old news. Nonetheless, getAbstract recommends its concise and informative tips to frequent business travelers, expatriate employees, managers leading culturally diverse teams and anyone looking to get a better grip on doing business globally.

Small world, big differences

Understanding the cultural differences among the people you work with is not enough; you also must use those differences to reach your business goals. The ability to move from awareness to performance requires “mindfulness.” Derived from Buddhist teachings, mindfulness allows you to recognize and intentionally use the “knowledge, skills and attitudes” you bring to a cross-cultural situation. This self-awareness opens the doors to understanding how others behave and communicate. “Mindful international managers” share the following characteristics:

• They recognize that “context and process” can be as important as results.

• They help interactions with culturally diverse people flourish by listening, simplifying speech, “paraphrasing,” verifying what’s said and noticing “nonverbal behavior.”

• They acknowledge their own “cultural and individual assumptions, values and norms.”

• They understand that different cultures present alternative ways of doing and behaving.

• They notice the culturally diverse aspects of the people with whom they interact.

• They perceive others’ perspectives and feelings.

• They allow for divergent viewpoints when considering a response.

Working with culturally or ethnically diverse staff members adds another layer to the already complex task of managing human beings. Assumptions you normally would make when dealing with people from your own culture might need more explanation when addressing people from another environment. For example, an American manager emails her Italian co-worker, “I’d like that report by Monday.” She assumes he understands this to be an “urgent request,” but he interprets it to be “a wish, not a request.” Explicitly and clearly communicate what you need from your international teammates. Don’t take anything for granted.

Icebergs, dead ahead

Specialists liken cultures to icebergs: You need to venture beneath the surface to discover cultural truths. For example, when you first enter a firm’s building, you notice what’s “above the surface”: Work spaces can be open clusters or private, closed-door offices; staffers may dress informally or in business attire; employees may work all hours, or punch in or out at the same time. “Just below the surface” lie the accepted standards of conduct and corporate philosophy you soon must learn: What is the emphasis on client needs? Is there a team ethos? Do authority figures run the business? Living “deep below the surface,” you’ll find the widely understood, but rarely verbalized realities that you’ll come to know about only with the passage of time…

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