5 Tips for Working with a Different Culture

Are you working in a multi-cultural setting? These tips are for you.

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Globalization is key in many different fields, so there is always a decent chance that you’ll be working with employees that hail from a different culture or country than you. These cultural differences often go unnoticed, but there are some instances where they’ll be front and center. How should you handle cultural differences in the workplace?

Build a professional relationship

There are many cultures in our world that put a lot more stock in interpersonal relationships than we do in the United States.

Many cultures find the way we talk to each other disrespectful, especially when we have never met. When you are working with someone from a different culture, take more time to ask him about his experiences, even if you never stray from professional topics. Ask him about his education, about his other employment experiences, and about how he likes working for your current company, then explain your own experiences. Judge how far to go based on his answers, and if it feels acceptable and welcomed, ask him about his life as a whole. You will part company feeling more comfortable with each other, which will foster a better working relationship.

Ask questions

One scenario that is likely to happen is that holidays will fall at different times in the year than what you are used to, which will cause your normal work schedules to be temporarily incompatible. When this happens, ask him what the holiday is celebrating, and what kinds of festivities take place.

Once you already have a working relationship, these questions will be welcomed, and he will likely be happy to explain things to you. Then, when you are celebrating a holiday that is not celebrated in his culture, he will feel welcome to ask you the same types of questions. This will continue to build an open and inquisitive working relationship.

When you don’t understand, ask for clarification

Nothing is more awkward and uncomfortable than when you and your coworker can’t understand each other. This could be caused by an accent, by a difference in verbal syntax, or simply by the distance in general. The best way to handle this type of situation is to simply apologize and say that you don’t understand, then ask for clarification. Since you will have built a working relationship by this point (hopefully), he will most likely be glad to rephrase or explain, and the misunderstanding will be understood.

If times zones are vastly different, compromise

There are times when you may have to hold virtual meetings or have phone calls with coworkers or clients in another country, sometimes a country that is on the other side of the world. Scheduling such meetings can be a nightmare, so be sure that both sides compromise. For example, if you have a coworker in India (which may have up to a 12 hour time difference) that you need to have a meeting with, offer to come into work early so that he or she does not have to stay at work so late in order to meet with you. Both sides will appreciate the accommodation.

Participate

Some of the most fun can occur when people of other cultures bring their culture and celebrations to you.

If you are ever invited to participate in a celebration in your coworker’s culture at work, and you’ve built that solid and open working relationship, you should join in! Experience a little slice of something different, and have some fun! You’ll come away with a new understanding of your coworker, and your working relationship will be solidified.

Working with people in other cultures and countries can be challenging, but they can also be some of the most rewarding types of working relationships. If you’re willing to put in a little extra effort, it will go a long way. Be open to learning and understanding, and you can’t go wrong!

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