By Tasha M. Troy
I have been very fortunate to have been raised and lived most of my life in the USA. It is rare that I am seen as less simply because I’m a woman. This is not the case in many places around the world.
However, because of my career choices, I often find myself working with men from other countries. In these situations, I have had to establish my influence myself, not necessarily starting from a place of mutual respect.
When I talk about cross-cultural communication and relationship building, one question women in particular ask me is how to navigate relationships in cultures that don’t esteem women in the same way we are used to here in the United States. In addition to the perhaps obvious suggestion of learning about the cultural values and master a few key phrases, I have three things I do to establish trust and rapport.
Respect the culture of the person you are interacting with.
I hate to say it, but the stereotype of the “ugly American” is based in reality. I have seen so many Americans interact with other cultures and feel disgusted because the culture didn’t do things the same way as we do in the US. That is no way to win trust, gain respect, and build rapport!
You have to first give respect before you can receive in these cases. Take time to learn the primary cultural values and find things about the culture that you can appreciate. Complimenting those things will go a long way towards gaining you goodwill with the people you are working with.
Don’t fight the system; work within the system.
I may not agree with how the culture views women or even how women in that culture are treated. However, I will accomplish nothing by pressuring for change or demanding an individual disavow his own culture before I can work with him. Instead, understand your role within the cultural context and work within those expectations. Trust me, it is possible to work with cultural norms, accomplish what needs to be done, and still take pride in who you are and what you do.
As an example, I spent several years working for Samsung in South Korea, training their managers in business English and intercultural communication. When I was there, the culture in general was about a generation behind the US in terms of how women were treated, especially in the workplace. To illustrate this, only about 10% of the managers in our training programs were women. And don’t get me started on the “men only” drinking clubs and “hostess bars”! It was very much an “old boys club.”
If I had decided to protest the cultural norms, as some of my North American colleagues did, I would have lost the opportunity to connect with the trainees and Korean management, removing me from a place of influence. By respecting the culture and working within the system, my voice became trusted when advice and insight was needed. Eventually I was asked to be “lead instructor,” a position similar to a program manager, partly because I was in a position to bridge differences between the management and the English language faculty.
Initially respecting the culture and working within cultural expectations can only go so far. In the end, it is your performance day in and day out that will win over the respect you desire. It is in going the extra mile – both at work and in learning to navigate the culture and language – that will help you to stand out as trustworthy.
Looking again at my time with Samsung, I committed myself to serving my students and preparing them for long-term success. By standing out in this way, I positioned myself to be eligible for the promotion to lead instructor.
Of course, this is a longer process, but it pays the best dividends!
Take It Deeper
These three keys may sound simple, but they can be very challenging to live out. They require maturity, humility, and self-confidence. But as difficult as it is, success is all the sweeter.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week. You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net
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