Do you ever feel impatient when communicating with different cultures in business? You might have a tight timeframe and need to get the deal done quickly. There is no time to take a step back, reflect on your language and whether it might contain judgement and prejudices.
When I was working in Ireland I often heard sentences like: “Oh Germans you know they don‘t have a sense of humor. They all wear dirndl’s or lederhosen and eat strange food.“ What was I supposed to reply in this case? Although it might have sometimes been meant as a joke it wasn‘t funny because it alienated me from my colleagues and friends. I also got the impression that the other person might not like me. On the other hand, do you think this kind of judgment and observation might be helpful information for visitors to Germany? Probably not.
Why do we use stereotypes especially in connection with other cultures?
They give our brain a “first orientation“ when it comes to meeting strangers. This is perfectly normal because we need to process information about strangers. But this should be about it really. It is because stereotypes don‘t give a realistic picture about the other person because they are generalizations. That’s why it is important to try and see the individual person.
As our brain is a lazy organ, we need to make a bit of an effort and reflect before we speak to strangers. But generalizations are more convenient than reflecting for our brain - so what should we do?
We should remember the aim we want to reach e.g. when negotiating with a business partner. This could be, for example, get a deal done. In that case, we would try to avoid expressing negative feelings about other cultures or judging them.
Let’s have a look at an example. You are a punctual person and have scheduled an appointment for a business meeting for 9:00 am with a foreign business partner. At 10:00 am you have another important meeting. Your business partner arrives at 9.30 am for the meeting and you are stressed because you have only half an hour to negotiate. Nevertheless, it is important to remain positive and polite in your conversation and not to let the stressful situation get the better of you. It might be perfectly normal to arrive 30 minutes later in your business partner’s culture and it is not impolite for him. It happened to me with some English-speaking business partners/ clients and it is easy to make assumptions about their work ethic or even jump to conclusions about the whole culture.
It is important to get past the frustration that comes from not having your expectations met and see what is guiding the person’s actions. People who are less time-centred are often more relationship/people centred. There might also be a thing or two that we can learn from them.
Dealing with prejudice and judgement – a mindset shift
In order to remain positive and polite in business – especially in stressful situations – it is important to remember what you want to achieve e.g. a business deal, start a good business relationship etc. Prejudice as well as judgemental language isn’t helpful in this regard.
So try and reflect before you start the conversation. It is okay to use fillers like “you know”, “in other words”, “well” etc. They slow us down and give us a little time to think before we speak. Let’s take the example of your business partner being late.
Instead of saying:”You are late for the meeting. It was supposed to start 30 minutes ago”, you want to reflect on whether this sentence would be very helpful for your business partner. How would he feel? If you say: “Well, we might need to skip a point or two on our agenda due to our timeframe”, your partner gets the message without feeling hurt.
One of my favourite exercises to help clients is to hold a roleplay situation to help deal more diplomatically with culturally sensitive situations. Once my clients have experienced different ways of expressing themselves in a roleplay they notice the difference and appreciate the more diplomatic way.
If you require more help on the matter you are welcome to get in touch.