Trainers in intercultural issues experience intercultural issues too (Pt II)

Sunday, October 18, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

In my last post, I spoke about how I’ve gotten involved in an international education project involving one Colombian, one Indonesian, one Singaporean, one American and one Australian. Like me, they are all teachers and trainers. The American has Greek roots and the Australian is, well, Australian. The Colombian is married to the Indonesian and they’ve been living in the Netherlands for more than 40 years.

Getting our project’s website done has been a challenge, to say the least. Expectations and timelines are perceived much differently between cultures. Someone from a task oriented culture would go crazy in such a situation. And when it comes to you, you really need to take distance and handle it the way you train people to handle it.

People from collective countries (Colombia and Indonesia), they will always trust and work with people from their family or with very close friends.  Also, they will take their time to have things done and always think that someone else will do it because they are all part of the same group.

My background as a business person makes it difficult to me to be so patient because we are in a competitive market, and we are addressing mainly task oriented cultures for potential clients and these people will not wait for us. But my colleagues don’t see it this way. They will always say that if it didn’t happen now it is because it was not meant to happen now. It was the wrong opportunity to take, will they say.

And I am just in the middle. I understand why they behave this way, but I always see the market evolving and us missing opportunities because we are not reactive enough. I need to have things done, but cannot criticize or be upset. I need to keep my temper and think about solutions for all the problems without showing my disappointment and anxiety. They will take it personally and it would be very difficult to work together after that.

And it is remarkable that even after 40 years living in a punctual and task oriented country such as the Netherlands, they would still keep doing things their way. Just like they were used to doing back home. They have partially acculturated, but whatever they would do would be with family and friends, and delayed. Always.

On the other side, the Greek colleague behaves just like an American. Quick responses, few words, and concerned about legal terms of contracts and agreements. He would not trust any of us and would not join in without making sure there were no risks in getting involved in the cooperative.

The Australian did it his way. He informed us that he was sick which was his indirect way of saying, you can deduce that I won’t be part of it. He never said he wouldn’t and of course never sent his letter of intent. In any case, his response would always be the same – ‘You know that I am sick’.

My latest experience makes me think about all these people I’ve been training who don’t believe in cultural differences in business. This is not the first time I am experiencing it myself and despite all I’ve been hearing about globalization in business I can tell you – cultural differences and their impact on business are real. We are all in business and yet, we don’t practice it the same way. It just confirms what I’ve been always preaching – cultural differences exist and they make us wiser people.