The other day I was having lunch with a friend who wanted to understand what my recently founded company Cultural Bridge is about. After walking her through the cross-cultural development programs we at Cultural Bridge offer, she asked me “But is this really necessary? I mean isn’t dealing with people from different culture all about basic human respect? We are all human at the end of the day and deep inside we are all the same.” There was a big portion of truth in what she said, deep inside we are all the same. We all hate injustice, we all want to be rewarded for our achievements, we all share similar fears.
As I wanted to bring wider perspective into the conversation I shared with her a story of a leader who I met the other day.
An HR leader from France who was managing a global HR team and was well known for his human approach to management and respect to other cultures traveled to Japan to meet his team based in Tokyo. During a one on one meeting with a team member who was one of the top performers of his global team, the leader expressed directly that he was not happy about the way this team member led a specific project. Right after this meeting this top performer from Japan brought a resignation letter to his boss from France. The leader was in shock as he didn’t want to lose the top performer. The top performer couldn’t stay any longer as he had disappointed his boss and lost his trust. Both sides lost.
Neither the leader’s we-are-all-humans approach nor their common goal to manage effectively that project were enough to avoid the loss. Had the leader known that the French way of delivering a negative feedback directly means a very strong message in the Japanese culture that prefers an indirect communication, he would have most probably adapted his way of delivering the message.
Learning to understand the cultural differences and to adjust our behaviors accordingly is not a simple task. But it can be developed through specific education programs. The benefits are priceless.