Should we celebrate cultural similarities rather than focus on differences?

Cultural similarities vs. cultural differences

Do you seek out cultural similarities in business?  We talk a lot about cultural differences; identifying them, observing them, trying to work around them.  Trying to discover common ground and to use these as a basis for a working relationship can often be a more positive approach in a cross-cultural environment. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. In the workplace, everybody has common goals. They want to be rewarded; they want to be respected; they want good relationships with their co-workers; and they want some level of job satisfaction. These, for a start, are cultural similarities, not differences.
  2. Try not to perpetuate stereotypes in your own mind by focusing on a person’s ethnicity, sexual orientation or faith.  Don’t make snap judgments and assume somebody is going to be different from you; enter a relationship with an open mind instead.
  3. Do not assume that because somebody comes from a certain country that they will behave in a certain way. A study about work-related values published in the Harvard Business Review found that there were far greater differences in cultures within countries rather than between countries. Cultural similarities, on the other hand, were based on factors like education, socio-economic status, generation and occupation, not nationality.
  4. When meeting or working with someone from a different culture, think about common values; ideals you might share. Does the other person have a strong faith? It may be different from your faith, but there will be cultural similarities regardless. Are they raising a family? Have they had a similar education to you? Do you have business contacts in common?
  5. Don’t forget humor. This is one thing almost all humans have in common. Of course, there are pitfalls to avoid when telling jokes in another language, or to another culture, but finding something mutually funny is a great ice breaker.
  6. In the workplace, focus on issues that affect everybody, regardless of their situation and background, and make those issues a common goal to which all employees can work, for example, training, creating a better work-life balance, attending a company social event.
  7. Have a strong corporate diversity plan and use it to encourage the acceptance of all employees, regardless of their background. Offer diversity training to all employees, so differences are celebrated, rather than seen as barriers. Regular training, rather than a one-off session, will help to foster a better understanding of customers, suppliers, co-workers and stakeholders.
  8. Encourage employees to embrace other cultures in the workplace by celebrating cultural similarities and finding common ground; things like food. A workplace pot-luck can be a good way of sampling one another’s national or ethnic cuisine, or a small celebration of holidays other than the main Christian, Muslim or Jewish dates.
  9. Try to find a common approach to problem solving and if the other party tackles it in a different way, use this to your mutual advantage. For example, a German or a Finn may have been taught to take a very methodical in approach; perfectionist, even, whereas a British worker might focus more on creativity and an American on finding a quick solution. Everybody wants to solve the problem, so learn to use the strengths of the other cultures to work towards this common goal.
  10. Relationship in business are more important to some cultures than others; generally speaking, Asian, Latin and Arab cultures are heavily relationship-based, while British and American cultures tend to focus more on the deal. But just because you come from a culture where business relationships are secondary to profit doesn’t mean you should neglect them. There is never any harm in building strong relationships with colleagues and within your industry. Looking at the bigger picture, these relationships will ultimately benefit you.

Do cultural differences impact productivity within your organisation? Our cross cultural training tool is used by 75% of Fortune 500 companies to develop cultural intelligence. It is imperative that diverse organisations support an inclusive culture where cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity are paramount. Contact us for more information on how we can support your organisation to overcome cultural differences and turn diversity into your competitive advantage.

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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