August 1, 2015

Learn From Scratch - Tips For Cross Cultural Trainers

The eighth tip in a series of tips on How to Broach Delicate Topics is to:  
Learn from Scratch



As adults we already “know” how to do things. Because of this, if we have to adapt to another culture because we move or our job requires us to work with foreigners, we may have to relearn what we thought we already knew. 

While there will be many new things to learn or adapt to moving abroad, it's not imperative to change 100%. It's a case of seeing the forest though the trees. While we may want to "cut to the chase" and learn only what we need to change (the details, or the trees), it is often a better idea to look at the bigger picture, or the entire process (the forest). When we start from scratch, rather that only focusing on the differences we won't feel as overwhelmed, and it will build our confidence because some elements will already be familiar to us. 

The Do's and Don'ts of Professional Dressing 

When we discuss what to wear onsite in the US, we often compare the dress code of the company in India with the company in the US. We also talk about how all companies regardless of being in India or the US have different cultures, and hence different dress codes. Often, in this comparison, dress code changes tend to be a little easier for most Indian men to adapt to in the US, while it may be a bit more challenging for many women depending on which part of India they are from and their comfort in Western clothes. 


When we learn about dress code differences from scratch, we learn: 
  • Some Indian companies have stricter dress codes than the US companies (some Indian companies require their employees wearing Western clothes to wear plain colored button up shirts and plain, dark colored formal pants. Addtiionally, men are required to wear a tie). 
  • Women and men in companies with relaxed dress codes tend to find that US dress codes are 'boring,' lacking colors and patterns. 
  • The importance of wearing an outfit before using it at work. For those buying new clothes or different styles, it's important to wear them in advance - walk around, sit, stretch, bend, reach, etc. No one wants to come on the first day of work, bend over and the pants rip (happened to a client of mine)!
  • To purchase only one or two outfits from India, then buy more onsite, especially for those going on long assignments. The reason for this is that really good quality Western clothes (that require less ironing) are avialable in the US, often at a fraction of the cost.  
  • For training programs where time is not limited, we may go to a mall to identify appropriate clothes that can be taken to the US for onsite visits.  
Learning How to Handle Conflict in another Language and Culture

The ways of interacting vary from culture to culture. While some cultures are informal and people can be easier to approach; in other cultures we must be more formal and go through certain channels to approach people regarding our complaints. We would need to learn who to approach, how to approach and how to use our language (verbal and non-verbal) in the most appropriate way so that our complaint will not be taken offensively but as an opportunity to try to resolve the problem

When learning the skills to handle difficult stiuations, how to say yes, how to say no, give feedback or question politely in English with US counterparts, how to reschedule meetings, we compare Indian languages to English, look at how to effectively structure statements for collaboration and how to handle group discussions on difficult topics with more confidence. Here, it's not only the language differences that are important, but the mindset. We explore the holistic view of language use in professional settings in cultural training programs.

Starting from scratch, doing the A to Z method of teaching cultural etiquette can be coupled with other tips in this series including: Learn by Doing, Reference Points, and Same Gender Trainers.

Thank you for this tip, Scott McCall.

End of Tip 8
<--Read Tip 7 - Same Gender Trainers

Thank you for reading this cross-cultural teaching tip series.


Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural business trainer specializing in USA-India business interactions. Contact her to work with you global, virutal offshore team today.



Photo credit (blocks):Michael Verhoef @flickr

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