CULTURE MYTH #3: I lived abroad for a semester in college, it will be easy to adapt.
This is the third blog post in this mini-series on cultural myths which focuses on assimilation to other cultural norms and perspectives.
While having prior experience living, working or even traveling abroad can open our eyes to the many differences of people and their ways of living, it is not enough to think that one experience – or even a series of experiences – is a predictor of future success. There are just too many variables concerning situation and context.Intercultural problems arise from differences in behavior, thinking, assumptions, and values between people with whom they associate. These cultural differences often produce misunderstandings and lead to ineffectiveness in face-to-face communication. A deeper understanding of the nature of cultural differences would increase the effectiveness of anybody in intercultural situations.
For example, let’s say you are an accountant and have risen through the ranks within your organization. Because of your expertise, you are selected to go to Chile to work on a partnership with another company. You figured that you would easily adjust to Chilean culture because you enjoy the Latin culture overall – you had studied Spanish in high school, spent a semester in Seville, Spain during college, and now enjoy vacationing in Mexico with your family. However, once you get to Chile, have to set up your household, get your family settled, and have to learn to adapt daily to another way of thinking and behaving as you manage a team of junior accountants, you realize that what you signed up for was not what you expected. Your expectations for efficiency, consistency, and accuracy are not the same as your employees or colleagues. It becomes harder and harder to accomplish the goals of the joint venture because of the day-to-day struggles to communicate and fit in with your counterparts.
In order to reach our goal of understanding others, we must first become more conscious and knowledgeable about how our own culture has conditioned our ways of thinking and planted within us the values and assumptions that govern behavior. Becoming a cultural detective by taking time to reflect on what are your own personal values, beliefs and attitudes and where/from whom you developed these, will help you to understand your own behaviors and reactions to certain events and situations. Values are the things that are important to you and are reflected in how you live your life; a belief is something that you consider to be right or wrong; and an attitude is a state of mind – what you think about something. When you reflect on these core aspects of who you are and try to connect with why you do things the way you do, you begin to see identifiable patterns which you can then compare to those of others.
- What are my core values, beliefs and attitudes? How are these reflected in my behavior?
- How has my culture (family or nation) influenced who I am?
- How do these values, beliefs and attitudes affect the way I interact with people? Do business?
- What assumptions do I make about others on a daily basis? What drives these assumptions?
- How flexible and adaptive am I in ambiguous situations?
Why is this important?
Constant reflection on your thoughts, beliefs, values, and even feelings as you act and interact in unfamiliar environments, will help to move you toward greater intercultural competence.
In our fourth and final mini-series blog post on leading intercultural teams, we’ll focus on the idea of who should adapt to whom?