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Working Across Cultures

Culture is a key element for defining the conditions under which people are enabled to release maximum energy at work, and the conditions under which an organisation can most effectively channel that energy to achieve maximum results. This ‘soft’ side of the business often explains what distinguishes the best performing companies from those that lag behind. High performing companies fine-tune business operations, organisation, strategy, people and culture, to achieve maximum compatibility and inter-connectedness leading to the best performance possible.

Dealing with the difference

Customs from different cultures, especially those foreign and unknown to the observer, are often perceived as “not normal”. And it’s no mystery why this happens. Most people, often subconsciously, label something unfamiliar as odd behaviour. Everyone does it to some degree, and that’s a perfectly normal reaction when seeing something unusual to your own views and beliefs. Where it can go wrong however, is by placing a value on the cultural aspects that make everyone different. Not one culture is better or worth more, simply because its defining traits fit into a certain label. The key to working out the differences and coming to mutual acceptance, is by understanding and acknowledging that it is OK that some cultures are indeed different.

Dutch vs. Japanese

A simple, and maybe a little cliché example, is that when you have a meeting with an international client, there are different ways to start when it comes to multiple cultures. Think of a meeting with a stereotypical Dutch person, they’re probably going to start with a complaint about an external aspect such as the weather or the public transport. Also, it’s very likely that they are very direct in communicating. This can come across as rude or you might even feel attacked. Yet they also expect you to be very direct with them.

On the complete opposite side there’s Japan, which has one of the cultures with the least amount of direct communication. When you ask a closed question to a Japanese person, their answer will often be ‘yes’. Even at times when they want to say no, or if they mean maybe. In Japanese culture, most people can tell the difference between these answers (don’t ask how). When it comes down to cross-cultural persons communicating however, it’s very common for miscommunications to occur because of it.


We get it. Understanding all the intricate little aspects of cultures that are not yours is difficult. However, it’s very important to understand other cultures when it comes to business. One small handshake gesture to a Japanese associate and your relationship could be over. To have a deeper understanding of culture, and to get knowledge about the opportunities of working across cultures, you’re invited to learn more at the Transformational Leadership event at Spaces Amstel, given by Fons Trompenaars. Fons was voted one of the top 20 HR Most Influential Thinkers and Inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame in 2017.

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