Help, I can’t work with these people!

  • I hear this a lot.

Not just here in Asia, but also in every country I work.

In Greece, Spain, France, everywhere I go – it seems there is no shortage of ex-pats wrestling with a new culture. This struggle will often manifest into a despair driven telephone call with the all too familiar phrase “Help me BJ, I can’t work with these people”

You are a leader. And one key area in leadership is multi-cultural flexibility. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to be comfortable and successful managing teams from different parts of the world.

The good news is that multi-cultural flexibility is a trait that can easily be developed.
A powerful first step is to better understand yourself.

    • Who are you, what are your hot buttons?
    • What behavior style meshes with yours? (and which bring your blood to a boil)

From this understanding of who you are, we can then make strides to understand the archetypes of others.

And here is the good news – there are some basic proven tips that you can immediately incorporate to your behavior to smooth out your interactions.

Sure, there are some idiosyncrasies found in each culture. Usually we find the qualities we love, can also be the same qualities that drive us mad. The passion of the Italians, the organization & efficiency of the Swiss and the pleasant easygoing manner of the Thais.

The key lies in not trying to change others, but more in understanding and then increasing your flexibility. The Siam society has as it’s mantra, “Knowledge gives rise to friendship”.
This can be modified somewhat to fit in your workplace. Knowledge gives rise to increased productivity and results.

Since moving my home base to Thailand, I have had extensive opportunity to practice this concept over the last ten years.

Often foreigners in Thailand have failed to understand the deeper meaning in some traditional Thai behaviors.

Perhaps a report is late arriving on your desk. When you inquire as to why, you are greeted with a smile. Now there is a good chance that back in your homeland that smile would be interpreted as indifference. But not in Thailand. Over time you will begin to learn there are literally dozens of smiles and you have just witnessed a smile of embarrassment. A little different than the downcast eyes and shuffling feet you would get back home.

Another classic mistake is made when we are told  ”mai pen ray”. Many foreigners here that as not caring. It is in fact the antithesis. It is caring enough to not make a mountain out of a molehill. It is to let an incident pass today so the relationship can be preserved for the long future.

Even after ten years in Thailand I am sometimes caught off guard by a new response or behavior. The secret lies not in trying to change others or trying to figure out all attributes of a foreign culture.

Instead the solution lies in remaining curious and flexible.
This will have more positive effect on your bottom-line, corporate culture and overall performance. A stressful mistake is to try and force your style onto others.
All great leaders are able to demonstrate a high level of multi- cultural awareness and flexibility in this global world. With this flexibility we are able to gain rapport and respect. It is from this solid base we may then begin to share and shape those we work with.


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