Overcoming Cultural Barriers

MENTOR MEMO             June 2009
Overcoming Cultural Barriers

    Do you remember the first time you went swimming?   First, you may have tested the water with a hand or a toe to see if it was going to be “too cold” or “just right!”   Then you may have eased yourself into the water “to get accustomed to the temperature.”   It wasn’t until much later that you may have learned that the sudden jumping in, though uncomfortable for the moment, was much better than the longer process of getting into the water a little bit at a time and extending the discomfort as the water rose up your body!

    Entering or dealing with a different culture is often times similar to the swimming scenario.   If we think that we can ease into it and that it will change according to our needs, we may have a long wait in getting accustomed to the cultural “temperature!”

    If you think that your adjustment to the culture is a great effort, just place yourself in the host nation counterpart’s shoes, who is trying to figure you and your culture out!

    Here are a few tips that may make the cultural barriers a bit easier to overcome, both for you and for your counterpart:

          1. Use a positive attitude and look for similarities, rather than differences.   Find out what is important about the job you will do together and how to accomplish it.   This will help show that both parties are united in their goal and focused on how to accomplish the goal through a series of intermediate objectives.

          2. Listen and learn about the other’s cultures and traditions.   Don’t hesitate to ask questions about each other’s background and culture.   Both partners are proud of their country and their traditions.   Find out what aspects of the culture is of most interest.   What elements are unique and important above all others?

          3. Recognize that their culture has worked for generations, just like yours.   History and tradition can be determined by the experiences...