101. Interview with Gigi de Groot on intercultural management

Autor: Michał Zaborek

Below you can find the first part of the interview with Gigi de Groot on national cultures, cultural differences and on what you can benefit from understanding other cultures. Part two will be published soon. Gigi de Groot is the managing partner at itim international – global network of intercultural management consultants. More about itim: http://www.itim.org/

Michal: What is intercultural management?

Gigi de Groot: Intercultural management is the ability to cooperate and manage people from other cultures.

What is the starting point of getting this ability?

If you want to have insight into what is peculiar, strange, funny, annoying about other cultures, you need to be able to compare it. You need to understand how others view you. Because only then you could understand why you yourself react in the way you do. You should start with insight into your own culture, before you could move on in understanding other cultures.

Suppose I’m interested in this subject. What can I do to be to be “interculturally fluent”?

Usually there are three stages. The first phase is being aware that there are differences. And it may sound logical, but many people are not aware of this. Especially if they never worked abroad or lived abroad. I’m not talking about going to holiday it’s different situation when you really stay somewhere for a long time.

It can take half an hour, to a couple of days of training on this – before people will call themselves “aware”. It depends on the individual’s background. The next step is to make sure that people will be able to identify and understand the differences. Again, it requires at least 2-day training and some follow up activities, usually a couple of months after the training.

The third step is to find a balance between adjusting behavior to the local culture and being effective. It’s really difficult, as you can’t learn it during the training. It’s more about the process that you have to go trough in your life. For me, even thou I work in this field, I continuously go through it and still learn it. You always can be astonished about other cultures.

What’s the most important about understanding other cultures?

The most important part is not to judge others. What is human is to judge, including your own norms and ideas – what is “normal”.

People need to understand that being different is not about being right or wrong. It’s about looking at the same thing from different points of views. Both can be useful to reach goals, because both are preferred by different people. If people got this in their picture they are already far. If you are able to be neutral and put your emotions in fridge for a second then you are much more open towards the fact that there are different ways to reach the same thing. If you understand that “your way” is not equal to “best way”, you are already going towards being cultural competent.

How often people get themselves in troubles due to not knowing cultural differences?

Many people are not even not aware of the fact that they could be in trouble. Because if you continue to look at the world though your own glasses, like you always done, you will not be aware that others will judge you as strange, funny, annoying, irritating. It happens to everyone, regularly. We continuously bump into issues where people do things in different way that you would yourself have chosen to do. It can happen as a tourist, business travel, when working from your own desk, emailing or calling colleague in another country.

Who can benefit most in the business world from becoming more culturally aware?

Actually – everyone. One can think of companies doing business with other countries and markets. You can think of recruitment agencies – where people from different countries are applying for job. And the list can go on and on.

Intercultural management is focused mainly indeed on business and aimed at people working in international environment, cross-border. It can also mean doing business only with one country – for example your neighbor country which can be completely different. It’s crucial importance, because in each company you can hear similar stories: we want to sell more, be more efficient, cut our costs and cooperate more. In all those points culture plays important role. You need to know where culture comes in. You need to know how to improve the effectiveness. If you work internationally, you need to know how to motivate people from different cultures.

When a person goes to training or ICM process – what can she expect?

If we focus on training – the process always starts with awareness. Awareness is easiest explained by going trough simulation which can create so called “shock effect” – what it means to cope and cooperate with people who think and act differently that yourself do.

In our approach we introduce the participants of the intercultural management course to the 5-D Model, that was developed by prof. Geert Hofstede. The model is the most scientifically valid models that exist in the field of culture. Of course you can’t explain everything with the model, but still, up to 50-60% can be explained. We explain this model in such a way that they will understand each dimension and to understand the cross over effect – of the combination of dimensions.

To give you an example – a country can have a very hierarchical way to look at the world in organizations. And there’s a need for that. In the same time people in that country could be very individualistic. Now when those two factors are present – as in Belgium, France, and to some extend Poland – the tricky thing is that for example, if you’re a boss you need to tell your people what to do. But if you are not around, not controlling to some degree what they are doing – they will do their own way. If you come from a culture that is opposite to this – you don’t know this. From countries like UK, USA, Sweden, Germany – you’d assume that if you ask someone to do something and you come back one month later the thing has been done. In their culture it’s not very motivating to check and control. If you control in their countries, is you ask too much it means “you don’t have faith in me”. In Poland, Belgium, France, asking many times means “I care about this outcome, it’s important”.

Back to the training. Once we feel that people are competent with the model, we work with participants-specific situations. Like negotiations, project management, specific countries.

Our final step in the process to become cultural competent is to look at participants own experiences. We are aware that you’re not able to learn during one or two trainings everything that will happen – it’s impossible. What we can teach – is to understand the concept, the model, the process, so that they can reflect later upon own behaviors and situations that they go through in everyday life.