The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Going Global: The Secret to Crossing Cultural Divides

20ad21e“The key to bridging cultural differences is not to compromise on principle, but to compromise on form.” – Dr. Taira Koybaeva, Cultural Expert and Founder and CEO of Go Global Fast

Cultural clash: On a campus outside the U.S., a professor has started his lecture. Running late, an American student slips quietly through the door and into a seat at the back of the classroom to avoid disrupting the class. The professor is offended.  Why? Because in his culture, a tardy student shows respect by standing at the door and waiting to be invited in by the professor. Although their actions reflect their unique cultural perspectives, the underlying principle for both the professor and the student is the same: to demonstrate the proper respect for authority.

Focusing on the principle rather than the action is at the heart of bridging cultural differences, according to Dr. Taira Koybaeva, who spoke in October at CUPA-HR’s International Symposium. So how do you know which principles are at work? You start by understanding the other individual’s cultural matrix. These were some of the points Dr. Koybaeva made in her thought-provoking session:

  • Each culture has a cultural matrix, a system of reality by which we are bound that consists of our world view, beliefs and values. These systems are identifiable and predictable.
  • The key to navigating these systems is to understand whether cultures place higher value on individualism or collectivism, and to what degree. Generally speaking, cultures that place a higher value on individualism emphasize democratic process, individual responsibility, achievement through competition and freedom of thought. Cultures that place a higher value on collectivism emphasize “father knows best,” collective responsibility, obedience to authority and loyalty to the collective – be it family, community or country.
  • These cultural distinctions often play out not only between countries, but also between regional and ethnic cultures within those countries, including the U.S.

But how do you get things done when working with a country – or individual – whose cultural matrix is different from your own? The secret, says Dr. Koybaeva, is creating a Third Culture – finding cultural synergy that takes advantage of each culture’s unique expertise and perspective.

How does this play out in your own work team? Are there ways you leverage the cultural strengths of individuals to improve your team’s overall effectiveness?

Dr. Koybaeva will be a keynote speaker at CUPA-HR’s Southern Region Conference in New Orleans, April 6-8, 2014. Her topic will be “The Cultural Matrix: Leveraging a Diverse Workforce.” Register now to attend.