Managing Across Cultures: Thinking Global (without leaving the US)

Managing Across Cultures: Thinking Global (without leaving the US) defines culture as the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. These values and perceptions are formed in childhood and come with us to the office every day. As we can all attest, managing teams can be difficult on a good day, let alone when you factor in these cultural differences which can only compound the complexity. However, effectively managing across cultures can mean a more productive workforce, one in which all teams members are engaged and motivated to meet your department and company goals.

How do you go manage multiple cultures in your day-to-day? Julia Ferguson of JAFA Life Coaching Services ( offers these tips for working with other cultures:

  1. Remember, people are people, regardless of where they grew up, live or what language they speak. We all want the same thing: to live, laugh and love with our families and friends. It isn’t about you vs. them or one culture vs. another.
  2. Make an effort to learn a bit about everyone’s culture(s) in your group. Remind yourself that your cultural approach and views are only one way of looking at things and not necessarily the right way or only way. If you work with a variety of cultures – have a sincere curiosity in their language and find ways to celebrate everyone’s rituals, holidays, and cultural differences.
  3. Remember that the language spoken may be someone else’s 2nd, 3rd or 4th language. Learn to listen at all levels – allow the other culture the time to share their thoughts and express themselves. Check-in with the person or group and see if anyone has questions and that they understand your message. Don’t assume they understand just because no one asks a question!
  4. Address confusion in working styles immediately – remember that meeting structures, decision-making processes and the chain of command will most likely look different from culture to culture. Be willing to try another cultures’ approach and be prepared to discuss how your culture differs. As an example, in the US, looking people in the eye is a sign of trust and honesty. However, in South Asian and many other cultures, direct eye contact is generally regarded as aggressive and rude.
  5. 5. Accept that humans make mistakes – avoid the trap of assigning a mistake to a culture. In other words, if you have a co-worker who continually does the same thing wrong, help them resolve it instead of internalizing it. As an example, avoid generalizations such as: Grrrr…(insert nationality) people don’t know how to do their jobs.

Jack Keogh, the Managing Director of Keogh and Associates Consulting LLC (, offers insights in his article on International Teams: Beyond Cultural Differences on how to manage international and multi-cultural teams. He contends “there is more to understanding an international team than being aware of the diversity of national cultures represented by the members. Over-emphasizing the national cultural differences found in a team can sometimes be too one sided. Understanding cultural difference is key but, alone, is not sufficient to achieve a highly performing team. Other critical factors include: the purpose for the team’s existence, the influence of personality differences, the impact of culture, professional identities, the level of emotional intelligence, and the importance of a robust support system for the team.”

Remember, cultural diversity opens up a world of possibilities and options as you tackle problems in your workplace. The time and energy you spend making sure everyone’s voices are heard and managing the various cultures in your workplace, the more you’ll get accomplished and the more fun you’ll have!

Any other tips you’ve found to be effective?

3 thoughts on “Managing Across Cultures: Thinking Global (without leaving the US)”

  1. Janek John Pawlik

    Learn to say Hello, Goodnight and Thank You in the language in which you are working.

    Listen and learn to say colleagues’ names properly.

    Speak slowly and ask short questions.

    Engage in conversations outside of the office as if you are using a Dale Carnegie book – ask about family, marriage, pat wok experiences, etc. You will need to understand the business and cultural hierarchy in order to determine the proper line of conversation.

  2. Val, some good comments but one major interaction that was left out was room for “Staff Meetings”. Seriously, i have found that after work or out of office ventures were where I made the most progress but it Japan, Europe, Brazil/Chile, or Russia people like to loosen up a bit and a “Staff Meeting'” approach works wonders. Face to Face contact is one thing is lacking in our social networking.


  3. Thanks Janek – GREAT suggestions! 1st word I learn is “thank you” in the local language as it makes me feel a little more connected.

    Rifster, HOW could I forget “Staff Meetings” (aka happy hour)?!?! Hard to believe for sure. Breaking bread (or cocktails) is a great way to eliminate barriers of any kind! Another great suggestion.

    Great feedback from you both! Thanks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking to UP Your People Leadership Skills? Learn about my private program here. Tell Me More!
Scroll to Top