Falling in Love with uncertainty avoidance

When I started to work in a company that recognized the importance of cross-cultural trainings (unfortunately, not every company does!), one part of my job was to prepare cross-cultural inhouse trainings for expats coming to work in the German firm. Having been fascinated with cross-cultural topics for quite a while, I had already done plenty of studying of relevant literature (I had also taken part in a cross-cultural training and had once more realized how German I was). One of the first intercultural specialists whose books I read was Geert Hofstede and there I stumbled upon the term “uncertainty avoidance”.

Now, those of you who are familiar with cross-cultural topics are also familiar with uncertainty avoidance. For those who don’t know the term yet: it’s how a culture deals with uncertainty, whether it tries to avoid it or embraces it, whether there is a need for rules and regulations. You will find plenty of good definitions everywhere on the internet.

Continue reading “Falling in Love with uncertainty avoidance”

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But there’s a sign!

In intercultural trainings, one term we work with is “rule-oriented” or “rule-based”. The meaning is simple: in a given situation, you check what the rule is, and that rule then determines your actions. Even if the rule might be a bit inconvenient, or in fact not that helpful for the problem solution, you stick to it. There is a much-used term in Germany for this: “Das haben wir schon immer so gemacht.” (“We always did it that way.”). So, there is a rule for it, we always used it and therefore there’s no reason to change it. It also means that a rule-based person wouldn’t like to bend or even break the rule, regardless of how much sense it would make in this situation.

Rule orientation often goes hand in hand with uncertainty avoidance. After all, if there’s a rule, you know exactly what to do – there’s no uncertainty. So it might not surprise you that Germany is a rule-based country. We have official laws for almost any imaginable situation (and some you wouldn’t imagine…) and one could say that they’re mostly adhered to. People might even tell you if you break a rule, even if it’s not an important one.

Continue reading “But there’s a sign!”

An Evening in Spain

After I had successfully established inhouse cross-cultural trainings at work, some of our European colleagues from international assignment departments were interested in adopting my model. In those cases, I adapted my training presentation to the respective country, checked it with my European colleague and then went to the country to discuss the training with my colleague there and do the first training in co-training with her or him.

It was always fun to do this. The fact that my model was of interest to other countries was of course very rewarding. Traveling and seeing new locations was interesting and the colleagues I worked with were all very nice. Usually, we went out in the evening after work and that was enjoyable.

The time I went to Spain was also a good learning experience for me. I already knew and liked my Spanish colleague, Laura, but I didn’t yet know how our cultural backgrounds would influence our working together. Continue reading “An Evening in Spain”

Cross-cultural aware-what?

Most people grow up among others who have similar patterns of behaviour, concepts of what’s polite and what isn’t. You don’t need to wonder about whether a five-minute delay requires an apology, is an acceptable time or is even early. You know the traditions on holidays, when to give a gift and when not, how to address others and whether to greet someone with a bow, a handshake or a cheek kiss. In short – you know the rules, and everyone around you plays according to the same rules. When you go on vacation, you might chuckle about the behaviour of the locals or utter in frustration “That’s so typical for the British/Italians/French…!”

Many people can get through their whole life like this, never having to think about the rules because they always live in cultural surroundings they know. More and more people however spend some years of their lives in other countries or even move there permanently. Others travel abroad for business or work in international teams. Chances are, if you are one of those people, you at one time thought, “Whoa, they’re playing by different rules! And I don’t know them!” And there you are, right in the middle of the wide field of cross-cultural awareness. Continue reading “Cross-cultural aware-what?”