This blog post is written by Annika Hoeltje, a senior consultant with Lamson Consulting:
The training room in Bangalore is full of Indian employees and managers who want to learn about cross-cultural teamwork and how they can more effectively cooperate with their colleagues around the world.
I ask them to discuss in groups and then share their experience on how it is to work with their colleagues from other countries. What does it mean to work virtually across cultures? The Indian participants have many interesting observations, examples, and also some concerns. We talk about the reasons behind their experiences and what can be done to better handle the different situations.
Then one guy asks me “Why do the French and the Germans never say ‘Thank You’, or something like ‘Great Job’ when someone finishes their work?”
“That is a good question.” I answer. “I’ll try to answer it with some facts, which are common among French and Germans. For example in their cultures, efficiency is more important than friendliness.”
The room looks perplexed and I go on to say, “Europeans focus more on what’s realistic to accomplish than being optimistic about what could be done.” “They are always looking at ways how to improve, so you can’t celebrate what you’ve already done so far – at least not too much.”
I also tell them what the French told us: “Please tell the world, that if we complain, we are not really unhappy, we are just trying to prove our existence.”
“Ahhhhh…” My Indian peers don’t seem to be totally convinced.
It’s so important for people in India to celebrate successes and to be rewarded for their hard work. Additionally, they believe optimism will make you more productive in business.
Being a German myself, but living in the US, I had to learn, similar to India, how important it is to smile more often, say thank you, praise, make compliments and small talk at work. For a western European most of these things are not as necessary and make us feel rather awkward.
“Hm…, so if I don’t criticize, isn’t that praise enough?” I asked when first working outside Germany.
“No” my American coworker answered and I soon realized, it’s not enough in many places in the world.
In almost every book on Indian business culture and communication style you can read about the “problem” Indians are having with the word “no” and with giving negative feedback, because it is considered rude and can cause loss-of-face.
Many Indians do learn Western-style communication and how to voice negative feedback directly, but they most likely will not get used to the lack of positive feedback or an absence of “thank yous” from their European colleagues after work is completed.
And why should they? Does it hurt to say something nice once in a while, especially if you mean it? No, it doesn’t, and it will for sure mean a lot to them! Work relationships can be improved immensely.
Many times the burden of adjusting is on the Indian team member (and they’re quite good at it) but it doesn’t mean that Europeans are off the cultural hook. Quite the contrary, when working with Indians, and Western Europeans such as French and Germans, have to adjust as well.
In a globalized world everyone has to adapt a little when working across cultures. If you take on this task, it can be a fascinating and exciting experience and it can bring you many pleasant surprises, even inside your own country.
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