Cultural Turbulence: Are you a pilot or a passenger?

You could be a pilot with an attitude of the passenger or a passenger with an expertise of a pilot – whoever you are, practice sufficient emotional and ethical sophistication to stay calm when facing cultural turbulence.

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Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash
Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash

We live in challenging times of disintegration. Human beings find it difficult, even impossible, to see the world beyond their formal group membership. Surviving and thriving a cross-cultural turbulence requires a deep understanding of the world that is beyond our borders, especially at the workplace. 

As someone who was raised culturally neutral, my observations of both global and local realities are also objective. From Warsaw to Rome, London to Singapore, Istanbul to Almaty, I’ve learnt that the further the distance, the more likely the turbulence may occur, whether it is up in the air or among the members of various cultures.

Speaking foreign languages and being a globetrotter might not be enough for a successful cross-cultural interaction. In order to avoid cultural turbulence or rather manage it effectively one needs much more than a mere language. One might be fluent in a language but not be able to navigate successfully in cultures where it is spoken as native. Learning another language, however, lays a foundation towards becoming culturally fluent. So does traveling. Whether business or any other negotiation, here are a few other steps that will build you lasting relationships across cultures:

Step 1: Start the small talk from similarities we share as humans. Dwelling on differences from the beginning will create more confusion and collision later. 

Step 2: Over-communicate. Chronic problem of the world and cross-cultural conversation is, obviously, a lack of communication. Send a clear, concise and consistent message. When needed, over-communicate and over-clarify. Communication brings closeness and any closeness requires courtesy, remember about simple acts of politeness. 

Step 3: Discover the differences and how the smoothness of the interaction is likely to be impacted. Try to see the picture through another’s side’s lenses as you may never be able to walk in their shoes. 

Step 4: Do not react on the table. Remind yourself that any emotion is healthy if managed correctly. Three Cs on top of communicating clearly for successful intercultural emotion management: to be calm, composed and collected.

Step 5: Integrate, don’t imitate. Finally, such an interconnected but a disconnected universe sells culture as a brand. Sometimes, there is a tendency to copy another culture’s so called “cool style”. It is truly achievable to integrate with people who were not born at the same place as you. Imitating will bring an element of dominance towards the side who is being a role model. Therefore, be who you are, stay authentic with willingness to adapt and evolve. 

Nevertheless, conflict is inevitable and the cause is never a culture but the complexity of human psychology and perception of the world and about the world, which then may be linked to the environment we grew up in, and many other factors. I can expect a colleague in Frankfurt to be sharp on time for the meeting or a classmate in Seoul to be overly studious, but that does not liberate me from thinking outside the box and expect the opposite of my expectations.

We should remember that there is nothing much wrong about stereotypes (they will always exist), although they make one story become the only story. Developing awareness that some people belong to their native cultures, some are bi-cultural, some are culturally ambiguous, while others do not identify with any culture at all would be an epitome of the multiculturalism our globalized world needs.

We can live in a more open-minded and peaceful universe if each of us practices understanding of not only the language but also the culture and its occasional irrelevance in predicting another human being’s behavior.

You could be a pilot with an attitude of the passenger or a passenger with an expertise of a pilot – whoever you are, practice sufficient emotional and ethical sophistication to stay calm when facing cultural turbulence. 

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