It’s a fact.

People are working with people in other countries, in other cultures, with different worldviews. Global communications  isn’t just being able to speak a language; it’s the culture, the unspoken values, the subtle cues, the assumptions, and the way people live. For the global contact center, the business using an offshore call center, or businesses with an international presence communication can be a difficult challenge that reduces business effectiveness and productivity. A global world can be a scary place.

But it doesn’t have to hurt your business. It doesn’t have to hurt your contact center. Let’s look at 5 key ways you can facilitate cross-cultural collaboration.

This post is based on an excellent longer post written by Amy Gallo, an editor for the Harvard Business Review.

Ready, Set, Change

Remember that anytime you are faced with something new you’re going to be uncomfortable. There’s no getting around that fact. The nature of doing something you haven’t done before or experiencing something new pushes you out of your everyday routine. Embrace the uncomfortable because it’s only temporary and oftentimes the most uncomfortable, different, and unsettling experiences are the greatest opportunities for growth.

Some other key things to remember:

  1. Ask questions – You won’t learn anything if you don’t ask. Ask questions about the way people work, how they work, the expected schedule, whether teams or individuals are more important, etc. Asking good questions leads to good answers. How do they define good leadership? What are the ideal qualities in the typical employee? Observe behavior closely and ask questions to learn why things are the way they are. Figure out the cultural lense they–and you–are looking through
  2. Be human – Sit down and talk to your team, employees, contractors, etc. Try to gain their trust and be approachable so people will reveal what you are doing well and what you aren’t doing very well. Learn how people perceive you and your actions. Try to make everyone comfortable with working with you. Remember that you are working with people, not stereotypes, so treat them like people.
  3. Prepare – Take a class, read a book, immerse yourself in the culture, do research, etc. Preparing for a different culture will make the transition process easier and more effective. You can ask questions in advance about the working culture and find the common cultural assumptions and values. Formulate a model for the typical person in that culture/country.
  4. Experience teaches best – No matter how much research you do, nothing teaches like experience. There’s always going to be a gap between the theory and real life. People differ from theories because they are living, breathing humans each with their own individual differences. While having a prototypical model for a typical person in a specific culture can be useful, understand that each person needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. Don’t stereotype. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Just because you know a culture values conformity doesn’t mean that every person will be a conformist. There are norms and there are people–and sometimes they intersect. Don’t expect people to always fit your conceptions.
  5. Collaborate – Remember that communication is a two way road. You should give  information about your own culture, worldview, behaviors, and way of working at the same time you are taking in the different culture. Help people understand why you view things or do things the way you do. Different people work differently; help them understand that. Work together to find a solution–a consensus– for working together that is satisfactory to both you and the other people. Oftentimes a hybrid working environment will make both parties comfortable.

Does your global contact center or business face any communication challenges? How do you deal with them? Can working with different cultures strengthen your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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