Demonstrating a Global Cultural Competency

A quick Google search reveals numerous resources for achieving global etiquette. But is learning all you need to know to be able to interact with other cultures as easy as reading a few articles? Probably not.

The truth is that cultures are vibrant, growing representations of human life around the globe. They’re nuanced by their different regions or political climates. To know what’s expected in different cultures requires constant learning. As companies expand across the globe, HR teams and leaders should be prepared to embark on a learning journey.

“You can’t just check off a box and say you’re culturally competent,” says Kira Nurieli, CEO of Harmony Strategies Group. “Cultures are constantly shifting and evolving. And you can’t make assumptions about individuals from that culture — no one is 100% a product of their environment.”

So what can HR teams do to establish a globally appropriate culture? Here are some steps you can take to set the stage for global cultural competence at your organization.

Don’t Just Memorize Taboos — Foster Cultural Intelligence

It’s great to read up on different cultures before engaging in business relations, but no single primer will make you “competent.” Learning is a process, and it takes much more than learning “do’s” and “don’ts.” “Cultural intelligence is about recognizing your own cultural context, and understanding the lens through which you see other cultures,” says Annalisa Nash Fernandez, intercultural strategist at Because Culture. “It’s about taking emotional intelligence a step further to be empathetic to other cultures.”

For example, time is approached differently in different cultures. But simply knowing this doesn’t prepare you to respond. “Cultural intelligence in this realm is about adapting to the values of the host culture, which may not mean ending meetings on time,” Fernandez says. “It may mean not looking at your watch and dedicating your time to the issue at hand until it's resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Develop a Cultural Humility — and Be Inquisitive

It’s impossible to know all there is to know about any culture, and especially with each individual person’s intersection with their culture. “It’s important to be humble about what you don’t know when approaching intercultural relationships,” Nurieli says. “You have to understand that people are more multifaceted than you think.”

Company culture, like cultures around the world, constantly change. Learning from each other and approaching differences with respect and curiosity will form a more holistic and globally appropriate company culture. “It’s time to move from treating others how you want to be treated to treating others how they want to be treated,” says Jennifer Brown, president and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. “This necessitates a cultural humility and shift in perspective.”

Listen and Develop Intercultural Relationships

Cultural humility means acknowledging what you don’t know and understanding the many aspects of culture that can only be learned through interactions with people of that culture. “Relationships power the business world, and those are often built not just at work, but in recreational and social time,” Brown says. “If that's limited, we have to work extra hard and be very vigilant about listening a lot and adjusting our communication style to learn what’s important to them.”

One way to achieve this, Nurieli says, is by integrating circle conversations into work interactions. These conversations allow different voices to be heard and connections to be made on a deeper level. “The methodology around circles builds a sense of connectivity and invites people to have a deep sense of inquiry about each other,” she says. “They build a sense of empathy and foster a sense of community around the people you work with, so when there's a misunderstanding, people are a lot more forgiving.”