Learn from Other Cultures
Every year I have the opportunity to travel and conduct business around the world. Learning from other cultures is something I treasure.
The world is getting smaller. When I run into someone I know halfway around the world, I’m no longer surprised. And I’m reminded daily that social media is an exercise in global communication.
Getting a team trained, no matter where they’re located, can be a daunting task, even without cultural differences. Add in the need to think globally, and it can be overwhelming.
That’s where Donna Steffey and 15 other authors can help, with their book Destination Facilitation: A Travel Guide to Training Around the World. As someone who has conducted training in 25 countries, Donna is someone I was eager to talk with about developing a global mindset.
Donna Steffey, MBA, CPLP, president of Vital Signs Consulting, is an international trainer, author, facilitator of the ATD Master Trainer™ Program, and adjunct faculty member at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
The Impact of Globalization on Training
How are the major trends in technology and globalization impacting the field of training?
The traditional face-to-face classroom training is now less than half of all training done. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) 2017 State of the Industry report, that means that 51% of training is delivered via webinars, mobile, self-paced online, or other methods like DVDs or Podcasts. This represents a 10% change in the last 5 years away from traditional classroom training. With over 300 multi-national organizations employing over 35 million people around the globe, online technologies really do become the best method for reaching remote employees.
We see a trend toward mobile learning with 67% of people saying they now use mobile devices to access learning. What is interesting is that only 20% of organizations have formal mobile learning programs.
A trend known as micro-learning is becoming popular to shorten the path from learning to succeeding. Micro-learning is a bite-sized chunk of learning lasting 3-10 minutes and only covering 1-2 crucial points. It often includes interactivity and testing. According to the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, micro-learning improves retention by 20%.
Talk about the future of talent development.
The trends will give us an idea of what the future looks like. The amount of instructor-led training deliveries will continue to drop slowly, but it will never go away completely. Participants want and need that human touch.
Learning management systems (LMS) are an essential part of any learning department. They are so multi-functional—including registering participants for courses, generating emails, distributing pre-work assignments and quizzes, and housing content. A learning record can now follow a student and give insights into training engagement and performance.
A Few Surprising Cultural Differences
As someone who does business all over the world, I am fond of collecting cultural differences, and you include many of them in your new book. Would you share a few customs from around the world that may surprise readers?
Three areas of greatest difference are time, food, and gestures. Of course, all differences are generalizations, and we want to be sure not to stereotype any cultures. This information is meant to be a guide. The key is to be prepared to adjust when situations dictate.
Consider gestures you might use during a face-to-face meeting or a presentation.
Chinese generally don’t like exaggerated gestures. However, Latin America and Japanese expect you to be high energy. While working in the UK, use gestures sparingly and keep your emotions in check, but don’t put your hands in your pockets or you will look too laid back. Showing the bottom of your shoes in the Middle East is considered very offensive. The solution: keep your feet flat on the floor, hands out of your pockets, and keep your gestures between your shoulders and waist. After people become comfortable with you, it is OK to allow yourself to be more natural but never do the OK gesture in Brazil.
Japanese considered it late if you are not 10 minutes early. In India, if you arrive within 30 minutes of the announced time, you may be the only person at the venue. Germans will be precise about the time. Canadians and business professionals in the US value time, so never arrive late or you may damage your credibility. Check with your meeting planner or a trusted colleague of that culture to know what to do about time.
We learn so much about other cultures through food and laughter shared at meals. The Japanese appreciate after-dinner business and drinking to build relationships. Brazilians view lunch and breaks as a time to chat, learn, and team build so allow time. Keep in mind in India people are passionate about the mind-boggling range of their cuisines. Sharing food and food habits will immediately make you accepted with Indian colleagues. OH, If working in Turkey, expect to extend lunch to enjoy Turkish coffee!
What are some of the biggest cultural blunders you’ve witnessed from ignorance of these customs?
People don’t always make blunders out of ignorance. While in India I knew the importance of not using the left hand to pass items, shake, or eat. I made three blunders in two weeks. That was a case of thinking about it so intensely that I did precisely what I was telling myself not to do. People in India are very forgiving, but I felt foolish anyway.
Passing a business card in Asia has rituals attached to it. The card represents the person you are being introduced to. It is important to accept or pass a card with both hands, study the card you receive for a while and then place it carefully in your business case or on the desk next to you. The blunder that westerners make is to take the card and stuff it into their back pocket then sit down on it which is offensive.
Biggest blunders probably happen around food and food etiquette. Asking, “What is it?” with a frightful look on your face is rude. One time while in China I wiped off the table with my napkin. My host was mortified for the sake of the waitress. Dropping eating utensils, refusing to eat something, and figuring out to tip or not tip are all common blunders. On my first trip to China in 2001, it was customary at the time for the guest to order wine for lunch. I blundered and ordered juice. I did not make any new friends during that meal!
Assess Your Global Mindset
How do leaders assess and develop their “global mindset”?
A global mindset is having an openness and awareness of cultural differences and being able to work effectively across borders and cultures. It is about having the desire to work cross-culturally. It is about gaining the knowledge of other countries’ norms, taboos, and to-do’s so you can create a strategy for working with people who are different from yourself. It includes translating that plan into workable actions.
- Assess Biases
To assess if you have a global mindset, start by asking yourself about your own cultural biases. Social scientists believe children acquire prejudice as toddlers, so inherent biases can seem automatic. Take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) free online.
- Get out of your Comfort Zone
Try new ethnic restaurants so you can experience the spices and textures of cultural dishes for the first time when you are not with business colleagues. Say yes to global projects.
- Do research
Read newspapers and magazines with international news to help increase your global awareness in general. Learn a few words and phrases in new languages.
- Practice Mindfulness During Intercultural Situations.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. During any cross-cultural work, remain calm and recognize and identify feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Resist the impulse to speak or act until after you have analyzed a situation and considered the correct actions. That process is often referred to as “reflection-in-action.”
- Create a Plan to Develop a Stronger Global Mindset.
A global mindset cannot develop accidentally; it develops intentionally with your commitment to increasing your cultural awareness and experiences. Plan to keep a journal about interactions you have with people from other cultures. Reflect on your success and failures during those interactions. Your efforts will benefit you, your global organization and your new colleagues.
For more information, see Destination Facilitation: A Travel Guide to Training Around the World.