During a TED talk a few years ago, Derek Sivers said “What is true in one culture , the opposite can be true in another.” Living and working overseas the last several years I have seen this reality up close and personal. When working with and discussing cultural intelligence with others, I often get the question “Does cultural intelligence really matter? Can’t you be successful with common sense and social intelligence?” To some degree, common sense and a decent dose of social intelligence can get an individual through many inter-cultural interactions. But where this topic becomes most relevant is when stress hits. Suddenly, we no longer find ourselves amused by the idea that different cultures have different time orientations. And simply knowing that some people are more direct than others isn’t enough.
This is why we must become culturally savvy. Becoming culturally savvy means gaining the ability to perceive culture not as a list of differences, but as the added value that expands one’s worldview and cultural perspectives. Born and raised in the USA, I automatically approach each and every intercultural interaction with an unconscious bias. Americans are dreamers and money drives most things. For American’s (generally speaking) work is their identity, value and purpose. So, when I am doing business in China and I come across a client that I perceive as “lazy” or not respecting my wishes to complete a project on time; Being culturally savvy helps me realize that maybe this individual possesses different cultural values than I do. He/she may be “being” oriented rather than “doing” oriented. Realizing this allows me to Respect this person and learn from them. Which in turn impacts the other R’s: Relationship, Recognition and Rewards.
I believe that no matter what cultural background that we possess or cultural values that we prefer, we can all learn from each and every culture in the world. By doing so, I believe we will all grow as individuals and throughout our respective organizations.