Dealing with People from Other Cultures


You don't have to be on foreign soil to have that need; you need it right here, right in your office TODAY. Dealing with people from other cultures is more an everyday necessity than most people realize. Are you skilled at communicating effectively with the immigrants within and the foreigners outside?

We have been a ‘self-sufficient culture’ for a long time. We have had (and still do) the largest economy in the world and we export more American things – foods and movies and planes and more – for a long time. That has attracted many immigrants to America. America is a melting pot. Every company is dealing with a diverse workforce. There are more immigrants in most companies than ever before. The world is also changing with the fastest growing and largest markets being outside the United States. And, many SME/midmarket companies are exporters or importers. In other words, dealing with people from other cultures is an everyday necessity. Are you skilled at communicating effectively with the immigrants within and the foreigners out there? 

If you are dealing with immigrants as employees or suppliers, many will try to ‘adapt’ to the American way of doing things but that does not change their upbringing and their cultural nuances. Are you communicating effectively with them? What is ‘effectively’ you ask. Irrespective of you being the employer or customer, the ‘foreigner’ brings cultural nuances into the workplace. If you are able to understand their cultural nuances (and yours), you can communicate better and get better work outcomes. Sounds very theoretical, right?

I came across an interesting book review – ‘When Cultures Collide’ by Richard Lewis. If you are an American (by upbringing, ignoring ethnic origins), do you understand how you behave? Do you know how people from other cultures view you? Do you know the cultural nuances of somebody from China or Germany or India? I remember an incident in Tokyo many years ago when I lead a team from Lucent visiting Seiko. In the meeting, we were loud and outspoken. We threw names of American cities, schools and foods and watched the look of wonderment (we thought) on the Japanese faces. We carried an air of ‘superiority’. We simply thought that since we were more vocal, it made us look ‘better’ and feel ‘smarter’. And, because they were ‘softer’ and said less, they were ‘weak’. But, were they? I never thought for a moment how the Japanese hosts viewed us. They said very little but we didn’t understand the significance of that (back then).

If you don’t have the time or patience to read a whole book on cultural communications, please do read this article and perhaps print out the diagrams (and keep it handy). I am certain that you will use it. 

- Ram V. Iyer