Case study: Cross cultural adaptation in action

In a previous blog post, I introduced you to the five phase Cultural ADAPT Cycle.  Below is how one manager used the process when preparing for and attending a business meeting in France.

Sophie – a marketing manager from the USA – is going to visit Alphonse, a senior product manager in Paris. Previously, Sophie had spent a short time working in Germany, but she is not going to fall into the trap of thinking Germany and France are in Europe and, therefore, cultural adaptation must be similar.

In preparation for the trip, Sophie has accessed the online Country Navigator and completed her Worldprism cultural profile; she has also compared her own profile with the general one for France.

The first thing Sophie notices is that there are some significant differences between the two profiles. In particular, she identifies the following as being
potential challenges:

Phase 1: Analyse

  • Relating: Explicit (Sophie) vs. Implicit Communication (France)
  • Regulating: Tight (Sophie) vs. Loose Use of Time (France)
  • Reasoning: Linear (Sophie) vs. Circular Problem Solving (France), and Facts (Sophie) vs. Thinking (France)

Phase 2: Decide

Based on the significant differences she found in the Analyse phase, Sophie decides on the following adaptations:

Relating

  • Explicit vs. Implicit Communication: She will soften her communication style and become less explicit. She will make suggestions rather than telling.

Regulating

  • Tight vs. Loose Time: She decides to show up for the meeting on time, but not take it personally if Alphonse shows up a little late. She also decides not to look frustrated if the meeting is interrupted by others, or if it runs over time. She builds some extra time in her schedule before her next meeting.

Reasoning

  • Linear vs. Circular Reasoning: She decides to be very patient in the meeting and not drive toward a solution too quickly (linear approach). She wants to give the French manager time to explore the problem in depth and not feel rushed into a decision (circular approach).
  • Facts vs. Thinking: She has gathered lots of data about the problem, but decides not to push it too hard at the beginning of the meeting. She will present a sound argument first. She will mention that she has brought some data, but wait until the timing feels right – or when Alphonse asks to see it – before presenting it to him.

Phase 3: Apply

When she first meets Alphonse she decides to start slowly. She has done her preparation, but she knows what really matters is learning about Alphonse (the individual).  Before she left the US, she suggested to Alphonse that they meet for lunch before the meeting; that would give her time in a relaxed atmosphere to gain some insights about him. This helped a great deal because she learned that Alphonse had been an engineer before becoming a marketing manager, and that he had worked for three years in New York. From what she learned about him at lunch, she decided that her planned adaptations might not be totally appropriate. If she didn’t listen and observe and adapt quickly, she could easily impose a misleading stereotype on Alphonse and create a false impression of herself.

Phase 4: Process 

Communication:  By letting Alphonse take the lead, Sophie learns that while not as direct as many German managers she has known, Alphonse is as explicit as most of her American colleagues. She decides to match Alphonse’s style – speaking respectfully, but honestly, avoiding overly polite and vague language that could cause confusion.

Time:  The meeting is interrupted several times by phone calls, but Sophie has prepared herself for this. The meeting also runs over the allotted time, but again she is prepared, and doesn’t allow herself to show any sign of impatience. She uses the time during the interruptions to gather her thoughts, and reflect on the meeting so far and her performance.

Problem Solving:  Sophie was prepared for a more circular approach to problem solving than her own, but she was surprised initially by his linear (engineering culture) approach. He suggested a process of five clear steps, although his approach to discussing the steps was free-flowing which was more of what she had expected. Again, she looked to match his style and ‘go with the flow’, but occasionally she guided the discussion back to what she considered to be the main issue. At one point his body language suggested that she had been too assertive in trying to bring closure to a discussion, but she recognised this quickly and asked a question to open the discussion again.

Her prepared strategy for mentioning that she had data, but holding off on introducing it, was the best one. It became clear very quickly that Alphonse wanted to engage in a logical, well-thought out argument in the meeting. From the energy he put into the debate, it became clear to her that Alphonse wanted to be persuaded about the robustness of her ideas rather than the validity of a data sample.

Phase 5: Tune

Sophie had been flexible, and she left the meeting feeling she had accomplished what she came to do – begin a productive working relationship with Alphonse. She had slowed down her normal pace of interaction, and by doing so had allowed herself to listen and watch carefully for signals that she was adapting appropriately.  She would reflect more on the meeting, but didn’t feel the need for major adjustments.

 

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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