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6 Ways To Flex Your Style When Working Across Cultures - Part 2

Cross-cultural barriers can send you into a downward spiral of confusion, frustration, and despair. Knowing how to adapt and change when working across cultures has become a vital component when it comes to succeeding in international business. Managers are becoming increasingly recognizant of how important it is to empathize, understand, and learn more about their global partners. This article aims to explore ways you can communicate and collaborate better when working internationally.

Understand Pace And Sense Of Time

Considering pace and sense of time is critical when working with diverse teams. The issue is that many global workers are so focused on the pace of speaking during a business conversation that they become unaware of the actual pace of the conversation itself.


In some countries, there could be up to a 6-hour customary wait before a decision has been made, even if the decision is obvious to everyone from the very first minute. In other countries, there may be fewer formalities and less bureaucracy surrounding decision-making processes. 

Before doing business with foreign cultures, learn about how long decision-making processes typically take, but also why they take that amount of time. What’s the reasoning behind it? What are the pros and cons of doing business this way? What could you potentially use within your own organization?

Differentiating What ‘Yes’ And ‘No’ Mean Across Cultures

Having instructions interpreted correctly is always very hit and miss in the global workplace. The way in which we understand and interpret tasks and directions completely differ from one culture to the next. 

In a lot of Asian cultures, no doesn’t always mean ‘no’ like yes doesn’t always mean ‘yes’. These cultures have been taught that the word ‘yes’ means that they acknowledge something but not necessarily understand or agree with it.

Managers are often driven up the wall by ‘thinking’ their subordinates are in the know, only to discover on deadline day that their instructions were actually as clear as mud.

Clarifying, asking open-ended questions, and having your team repeat the task back to you are ways to ensure constructive crystal clear discussions. 

Knowing When To Be Direct Or Indirect

Knowing when to be direct and indirect, particularly when giving feedback, is something every global leader must master.

Some cultures champion direct feedback as they believe it to be the slayer of vagueness and ambiguity. Regarding more direct cultures, be careful to not mince your words and beat around the bush; instead, deliver your most important (and negative) points first. 

In other cultures feedback is often given in private or even not at all; direct feedback can be considered offensive and invasive. Such cultures prefer to bury the negatives among the positives in order to not offend or demotivate others, but also to not risk ruining that strong professional relationship that they’ve spent years on sculpting.  

As indirect cultures tilt towards a ‘read between the lines’ approach, lots of clarification and open-ended questions are needed, but you must also learn how to become more accustomed to reading the air and knowing when to probe for further information and details. 

In Short

Over the past 8 years, I’ve seen how these struggles and frustrations of not being able to communicate cross-culturally have derailed relationships, jeopardized prosperous business opportunities, and wipe out any motivation and enthusiasm. 

Learning more about other cultures and how to ‘flex your style’ when working with diverse teams breeds positive and constructive discussions, fruitful relationships, and an uplifting and happy global workplace.  If you're planning on doing business abroad and need some advice or tips on ways to communicate better across cultures, book a free consultation with me here: https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=16729726&appointmentType=8272187