Take, for instance, when I decided to get married. As a good Shona son, I couldn’t just tell my parents that I was getting married. No, I had to follow a communication protocol involving aunts, uncles, and cousins. All of this was to ensure that my father received the news from a person of the appropriate standing in the family. This was normal to me.
My Shona culture showed up at work in a way that I neither expected nor understood. My boss treated me as a peer every day we worked together. He put up no barriers between us. Yet, I put up my own barriers because that was the only normal I knew. This is cultural friction at work.
Talent acquisition teams the world over are working overtime to recruit diverse talent to our teams. By working with people who don’t think like us, we can get better at solving complex problems.
When we talk about diversity, however, we often miss the fact that the diverse perspectives we seek are often rooted in national culture. And that culture not only informs our perspectives and values but also how we behave. All this can happen outside of our awareness.
“Culture hides more than it reveals and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.” — Edward T. Hall (Silent Language)
That’s what happened to me. I say that not to make an excuse for my failure, but to point out that as we build diverse teams, trust and effective collaboration will not happen by default. Team members will experience cultural friction rooted in cultural misunderstandings, which may not be easy to diagnose.
Understanding very different biases in different cultures
But there is hope. In her book “The Culture Map,” Dr. Erin Meyer gives us a simple but useful framework to understand how cultural differences show up at work. Meyer suggests that regardless of your role, your work involves some of the following: deciding, disagreeing, scheduling, trusting, giving negative feedback, communicating, persuading, and leading.
Erin’s framework lets us understand the biases in different cultures when it comes to these activities.