Sigve Breeke, CEO and President of Telenor Group - one of the world's largest mobile telecommunications companies - was recently asked for his best career advice for young people. And without missing a beat, he emphasized cultural and global skills and experience: "I would advise young people to travel abroad, take up a job in a foreign country and try something completely different."
In my book Global Dexterity, I provide a six-dimensional approach that helps people just like Sigve is describing diagnose cultural differences in challenging situations. These six dimensions represent key aspects of communication that differ across cultures, and that psychology research has consistently shown to predict important personal and professional outcomes. These dimensions are:
- Personal disclosure
Directness has to do with how straightforwardly you're expected to communicate in a particular situation. Are you expected to say exactly what you want to say, or are you expected to "hint" at something in a more indirect manner?
Enthusiasm has to do with how much emotion and energy you are expected to show when communicating.
Formality has to do with the level of deference and respect you show.
Assertiveness captures the extent to which it's acceptable to speak your mind.
Self-promotion is about whether or not it's acceptable to "toot your own horn" and speak about your accomplishments.
And personal disclosure captures the extent to which it's appropriate to reveal personal information about yourself in a particular situation.
Want to test drive the idea? Let's take the situation of describing your achievements to your boss. And for simplicity sake, we'll look at 2 cultures (India and the US) and 3 of the dimensions:
US: Moderately High. You are expected to show excitement for what you have done and accomplished.
India: Low. American style enthusiasm is inappropriate for such a serious and formal discussion.
US: Moderately High. You want to be seen as a "go-getter." You don't want to appear weak or timid.
India: Low. American-style assertiveness is way too aggressive. Instead, you need to show deference and composure.
US: Moderately High. Within reason, you are expected to promote yourself. After all, that's the whole purpose of the discussion.
India: Low. Speaking openly about accomplishments is taboo and comes across as conceited.
What's particularly useful about this approach is that you can use it to compare any two cultures in the world in workplace situation. If you're interested in learning more, download this cheat sheet guide for the cultural codes of 10 major countries around the world.