What is Cross-Cultural Integration?
Contributed by Mieu Phan Coaching, 14 June, 2019
The universal definition of cross-cultural integration is a "form of cultural exchange in which one group assumes the beliefs, practices and rituals of another group without sacrificing the characteristics of its own culture". In other words, cross-cultural integration is a process of integrating cultures. If done correctly cross-cultural integration maximizes the positives of both cultures and negates the negatives of each culture. This article delves into the process of cultural integration.
The steps in cross-cultural integrated project are: Select a leader, Select team members, Make an effort to understand, Craft strategies, Kick off, Allow time, and Communicate.
Select a leader.
Ideal traits for this person are:
- high level of multicultural experience - A person with multicultural experience is trained to see things in many different ways, is open to new ideas and able to turn situations to their advantage.
- high tolerance for ambiguity - Having a high tolerance for ambiguity is the ability to operate effectively in an uncertain environment. This individual is not quick to make judgment. This person asks open-ended question and look for many solutions.
- low level of ethnocentrism - Ethnocentrism is the act of judging another culture through values and perceptions of one's own culture. Having a low level of ethnocentrism means that this person does not believe one culture is better than the other. Being open allows this individual to find a third and even a fourth alternative.
- individual with a strong ability to network - Consider looking at the person's resume for evidence. Has this individual been able to retain a good number of clients and important relationships? Has this person been able to use his/her network to advance profit and perform at a high level. Besides networking to advance a person's career also consider volunteering as well. Perhaps the volunteering involved raising awareness for a cause or successfully managing an unfamiliar team. All these abilities shows a strong person-to-person communication.
Select team members.
More often than not, teams are already assembled when a project starts. The new leader may have the privilege of bringing in new workers by letting go of unproductive members or be fortunate in non-contributing members voluntarily leaving. Some aspects to consider in adding a person to a team are:
- Goals and objectives - Identify what is important with priorities that are "SMART" (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). Creating milestones makes an objective manageable and allows for flexibility in accommodating new information. A team member must be able to perform in achieving the goals and objectives.
- Understand characteristics of individuals - These are specific character traits to achieve the goals and objectives. People are a combination of individualization, culture, and background. Here are some common ways to evaluate individuals:
- Core set of characteristics - Ideally, an individual is humble, self-motivated, and has people smarts. This person is a team player is looking for results.
- Have skills and experience matching the goals and objective.
- Build a team for growth - Building a team to have others want to join also referred to as building a bench. Thus, a successful team is self-advertising and have willing participants when needed. Eventually, a high-performing team will eventually not need the leader.
- Pair individuals - Individuals support one another's strengths while negating weaknesses. One tool to analyze a person's innate strength is Strengths Finder 2.0 by Gallup. This tool analyzes individuals through a series of questions to develop the top 5 core talents. It is also worth noting that talents are also weaknesses. Consider a futuristic person. This individual has the ability to see the future and be grandiose. The negatives, is the inability to stay focused. For a futuristic person, one possible pairing is a focused person.
Make an effort to understand each cultures involved.
The cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions are what define the actions of a person. These are some considerations for evaluating cultures:
- Direct Communication vs Indirect Communication. The most direct communicators are Americans. They speak in precise, clear and explicit manners with little room for misinterpretation. On the other end of the scale are the Japanese. The meanings behind indirect communication are what is said, how it is said, and what is not said. The phrase "Hear one, understand ten" sums up Japanese communication. This means that from the ten percent concise communication, the other person should be able to figure out the other ninety percent. This means people have shared context and are on the same wavelength. Here the emphasis of the message is non-verbal such as posture, tone of voice, facial expression, body language and sounds (umm, hmm, ahh, etc).
Other contrasting communications are direct vs direct and indirect vs indirect. Surprisingly, indirect vs indirect communication is the hardest because both cultures are coming from different point of references. Also, non-verbal communication may have different meanings. It is best to take the American approach of direct communication.
- Positive Feedback. Among the most positive feedback givers are the Americans. Their positive feedback are sometimes exaggerated even when giving a negative feedback. Americans have a saying "You catch more bees with honey than vinegar." This refers to using positive feedback as an encouragement and criticism is dis-empowering. Even in giving negative feedback, Americans give a positive, negative and then a positive. Essentially, sandwiching criticism. In contrast, citizens of France rarely gives positive feedback. When they do, it is in subtle ways. They believe no news is good news.
- Negative Feedback softener vs Negative Feedback Exaggerator. Cultures that softens negative feedback softener use words such as "sort of, little bit, perhaps, just a suggestion, a little bit, slightly... etc). In countries like Thailand, criticism is delivered with double minimizing words in a sentence. In contrast, there are countries such as in France. The French believe in exaggerating criticism to demonstrate its importance. In receiving negative criticism from a criticism softener, a negative criticism exaggerator may not notice the criticism. In receiving a negative criticism from a criticism exaggerator, a criticism softener may feel attack on his/her as a person and invokes a fear response.
- Hierarchical Approach vs Egalitarian Approach - China is high on the hierarchical approach. Confucius's teachings detail the role for the higher rank and lower rank. In a work environment, the absolute authority is the boss. The boss is always right even when he is wrong. The role of the lower rank is to obey. In turn, the role of the higher rank is paternalistic. It is the burden of coaching, encouraging, and mentoring of the upper rank. On the other scale is Denmark which is high on the egalitarian approach. People regard each other as equals regardless of job title. It is common for a senior executive to have lunch with a co-worker many levels down the salary ladder. People are comfortable to voicing disagreements for others to see. This honesty may be hard to receive yet it is much appreciated.
- Types of Persuasion. There are three types of persuasion referring to practical-first, principle-first, and holistic approaches. The practical approach to persuasion is common in Anglo-Saxon countries. It starts with one approach to a problem until there is new data that counters the approach. The approach is then revised. In practical approach to projects, the initial discussion is rather short followed by longer implementation from multiple revisions. In principle-first approach, it involves in dealing with the principle to discuss all possible outcomes. In countries such as France that uses principle-first approach, they use the dialectic model of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. This is to present an idea and explore all objections before coming to a conclusion. In the Asian holistic approach, it is about exploring the bigger picture of an idea. Individuals form the practical-first approach do not see the relevance of the extra discussion from the holistic or principal-first approach. Likewise, the principle-first approach and holistic approach individuals have a hard time accepting the statements and solutions from the practical-first approach individuals.
- Confrontation - High on the confrontational scale are citizens of country is Israel. Israelis are emotional and direct. Where there are constant changes it is no surprise to see emotional eruptions almost instantly. On the other side of the scale are the non-confrontational Asians. There is an emphasis to not insult someone in order to save-face. In India, a declined invitation is cryptic. It may appears as a delay. It may require continuous delays until the host accepts a no. It is comforting to know this is confusing to Indians as well.
- View on time - In Western countries, time is viewed as linear with a beginning and an end. It appears to have a physical form that can be saved, wasted, or killed. It is tangible, absolute, and valuable. Here many tasks are performed at the same time. In England, meetings and topics are scheduled. The topics are discussed in the order as they appear with closing one topic before opening the next. The meeting ends with a recap of what was discussed with a conclusion. In some Asian countries, time is valuable and flexible like the flow of the river. In China, life is about being flexible. Tasks are performed one at a time and are focused on getting it right before moving on to the next.
- Cognitive Trust in business vs Affective Trust in business. In cognitive trust, trust is based on a person's achievement, experiences, and knowledge. Trust is from the head. In affective trust, trust is based on interpersonal and emotional bond. In Anglo Saxon countries such as UK, Canada, USA and Australia, there is a separation of both type of trusts. Having both trust in the business world is perceived as clouding one's judgment and possibly leads to conflict of interests. In Africa, affective trust is just as important as cognitive trust. Affective trust is used in place of a contract.
Craft strategies where each team can abide to for constructive cooperation and for disagreement resolution.
In discussing co-operation, some items to discuss are:
- What kind of expectations are there for the team and for individuals? For cultures with the holistic approach to decision making, allow time and space for these individuals to talk among themselves. It is comforting for them to understand the bigger picture.
- Encourage starting and ending meetings on time. Set up rules for when there is no time for unanswered questions.
- Encourage individuals to immediately report when tasks are not going to be on time. It is easy to blame a person for not reporting a delay. Perhaps, there is a pleasing person who does not feel comfortable in relaying bad news. The manager may have to ask a lot of open-ended questions to deduct the actual deadline. In reality, the manager did not realize the importance of building a strong personal and professional relationship.
- Create creative ways to ask questions. Asking questions may be confronting in some cultures. There may have to be rules in place to ask questions. Are the questions among peers or can a lower rank person ask a higher rank questions? In high hierarchical societies, it might be best to give the questions in advance to allow for colleagues to discuss among themselves.
Celebrate the new project or team with the intention of getting to know one another. It helps to create a relaxed atmosphere such as a shared meal. Encourage individuals to learn more about one another's background and commonalities.
Allow for prep time.
Allow individuals to know what will be discussed and what questions will be asked.
- People may have to learn a language and need time to prepare.
- People from hierarchical cultures may be uncomfortable in voicing their opinions and taking the time to build a consensus.
- People from Asian holistic cultures need to understand the bigger picture and will likely want to discuss how their teammates' roles fit in the picture.
Communicate and then communicate some more.
Check back in regularly and ask for feedback. Be willing to adapt. If you notice a stalling project and interpersonal conflicts, it is time to step in. Being compassionate helps prevent the situation from getting worse. Validating a person's concern and hurt de-escalates a situation quickly.
Dealing with others from another culture can be frustrating. It is like anything else we do, whatever we practice, we get better at. Be kind to yourself and others. In working with other cultures, I have come to realize the beauty of many cultures including my own. I have come to be more patriotic. I hear people complain about my American, Canadian and Chinese cultures. I agree with these complaints yet I have come to appreciate the differences.