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Lessons From My Big Fat German, Egyptian, Russian Family

Lessons From My Big Fat German, Egyptian, Russian Family

February 07, 2016

By Soraya (Morgan) Gutman, President, Executive Services Division of Brand Launcher.


I grew up with a hodge-podge of cultures, to put it mildly. My dad's a first generation Egyptian, my mom's a first generation German, and my husband (who's also Jewish) is a first generation Russian.


I don't think it gets much more diverse than that.


Try to imagine what our family reunions are like! The truth is that it's very likely that you face such diverse cultures in today's workforce. The only question is how are you going to deal with it?


Whether it's your team, your clients, or your vendors, you're bound to come across cultural clashes.


Over the years, I've discovered a lot of do's and don'ts when working with different cultures. This short list can make a huge impact on your business and life when you deal with people who are different than you.


Here are the 5 key principles to successfully bridging cultural gaps:


#1: Always Mirror the Other Person’s Body Language & Speech

Body language is powerful - it shapes how you see others, and how they see you.


Every culture has different body language norms. In order to relate to people from various culture, mirror their body language.


If the other person is standing, stand. If he moves his arms a lot, you should do the same. If she speaks using simple words, use simple words. If they talk rapidly, you should too. If they make a lot of eye contact, make eye contact back. If they make very little eye contact, well... you get the point.


The idea is to make the other person feel comfortable by speaking the same "body language." Do a quick experiment. Watch the next five people you meet today and notice how they move, you’ll be surprised that you never picked up on these important ques before.


#2: Focus on Being Humble, Not Right, During Conflict

When there is conflict between people of different cultures, tensions can run even higher than they might normally. This is especially true if it’s during the “getting-to-know-you” phase with someone you haven’t connected with yet.


There are four little humble sentences you can use to diffuse tension and help everyone relax. They are,


“I may be wrong. I am often wrong. I want to get it right. Let’s go over the facts.”


Listen closely to yourself. Next time you are in a conflict and ask yourself, “am I just trying to convince them that I’m right instead of solving the issue?”  What if I just let go of having to “be right”?


*To learn more about having effective, potentially difficult conversations, CLICK HERE.*


#3: Everyone Smiles in the Same Language

People of any culture are more productive in a positive environment. As a leader, you are in charge of creating the atmosphere in your workplace.


So smile. It can be that simple. Warmth is universally understood and appreciated. It builds the foundation of trust and mutual respect between you and the other person.


The face produces an automatic subconscious response to other peoples' demeanor, according to a Swedish Study from Psychology Today. When you look grumpy, others look back at you grumpy. But when you smile, others smile back at you automatically. The impact on your body and mood and theirs are immediately improved. The bond is strengthened and tension is decreased. Pretty huge impact for the cost of simple smile.


But be genuine. Make sure you aren’t faking it. Because smiling is a universal language, it’s also universally understood when it isn’t sincere.


*To schedule a FREE 15 minute business quick-start meeting with Soraya and learn to improve the communication or cultural gap in your organization CLICK HERE.*


#4: It Doesn’t Need to be Big to be Motivating

Everyone, absolutely everyone, likes recognition and encouragement. And it’s easier to give than you think.


Something as simple as a weekly “employee spotlight” awarding a $5 Dunkin' Donuts gift card for performance can do the trick.


The trick to motivating people from other cultures is to understand what type of person you are dealing with, not just their culture. Regardless of culture, some people want things, others want more time with you, while others crave public recognition. It's your job to understand what makes them tick and what will motivate them.


Try this:


Take 15 minutes out of your week to recognize the employees who are demonstrating the performance you want from everyone. Tell your crew why each employee is being recognized. Highlight specific behaviors that others can learn from. Keep your speech and language simple if there are communication barriers.


Don't rotate through employees for the sake of fairness - everyone who is meeting (or exceeding!) your expectations should be in the spotlight, every week. But do look for and publically recognize small positive actions or behaviors, even if that employee didn't achieve the biggest results in the team.


*CLICK HERE to get more tips and tricks on employee recognitions.*


#5: Everyone is either a “German” or an “Egyptian”

No, I’m not talking about ethnicity or national backgrounds. I’m talking about two specific sets of characteristics that pretty much everyone falls into- "German" or "Egyptian".


Here's what I mean: My German family does terribly with adapting to change. My Egyptian family thrives on it.


Each personality type needs a different approach.


“Germans” are steady, deliberate people who do not like to be rushed. They are careful, cautious, and objective thinkers who have very high standards. When interacting with a "German," speak slowly, discuss facts and data, and be deliberate. Don't put them in a sloppy work environment, make small talk or socialize before you address the main topic of conversation. They do NOT like surprises.


“Egyptians” are rapid thinkers who make quick decisions and challenge the status quo by initiating changes. Speak to an "Egyptian" quickly, be stimulating and fun-loving, and keep things moving. Leave time for socializing, asking about their passions. Appeal to them with specific benefit, and provide social proof with testimonials from people they view as important. Don't focus on facts or figures, hesitate when they confront you, talk down to them or give your opinion before it’s asked.


(Obviously, not every German or Egyptian fits this stereotype. This is a way of classifying people into personality types.)


To put this into action look at your significant other and immediate coworkers. See who falls into which category. It will seem so obvious once you do it. Now you are equipped to use a cultural strategy that can help you communicate or persuade them better than ever before.


Working and living in a multi-cultural environment has its challenges, but this makes it a fun learning experience if can you open yourself up to it. Most people have a “dislike of the unlike.” But with these simple tools you can be the one who bridges gaps while others wonder how you did it.  Learn from others, ask questions, and take the best practices that you see from everyone.


*To schedule a FREE 15 minute business quick-start meeting with Soraya and learn to improve the communication or cultural gap in your organization CLICK HERE.*




Thank you!

Soraya (Morgan) Gutman