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10 things you need to know about cultural differences

I guess it is no surprise that we have cultural misunderstandings. Perceptions are influenced by our “cultural lenses” and we often do not even know what those lenses contain. As any global manager will tell you – people (and companies) are often sadly mistaken about the impact that cultural differences make in the workplace, and too often dismiss such mistakes as not important.

  • Asian Indians think that because they have over 100 languages, that they understand cultural differences, yet Indian call center agents often do not seem to be able to help US American callers to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Companies seem to think that because people in the Philippines can speak English that Filipino call center representatives understand the needs of the US American customer
  • US Americans think that because there is appetite for the US American training gurus or leadership theories that everyone should just behave like “us.”

If we are smart, we should be asking ourselves, “…How can I be more effective when working with or managing my counterparts and colleagues from other cultures?” (After all, work is really about productivity, isn’t it?). Then the question is, “How can I be effective in order to get that productivity from my team/department/colleagues without demotivating them?”

Here are 10 things you need to know about cultural differences
  1. They are real and deeply embedded.
  2. People won’t (and often can’t) change how they do things if it is based on their cultural understanding.
  3. People won’t (and often can’t) change how they do things just because you want them to or because you tell them to.
  4. Most people want to do a “good job” – they may just define that differently than you do.
  5. People don’t usually wake up and decide to make it difficult for their colleagues at work that day.
  6. It is more about the end result and less about how one gets there.
  7. Your unconscious biases may be negatively impacting your colleagues and demotivating them.
  8. It does not take much to disrupt the ability of others to do their work effectively.
  9. Appreciating and being open to cultural and behavioral diversity is the first step to being an effective co-worker or leader.
  10. Focusing on “common ground” (like success of the team or the company) is more effective than focusing on the differences.


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