In its own way, culture is the ultimate magic mirror. We view the world, with its colors and customs and modes of behavior, but our culture creates a lens over our eyes that somehow changes it, and when we interpret what we see, it is through the lens of what we know.
Businesses lining up to take full advantage of the global multicultural marketplace need to look past their own cultural lens.
They must find ways to allow their representatives to better interpret the new cultures they are viewing and build bridges between their own cultural lens through which they see the world and the lens through which they act.
We learn that our culture is a set of glasses through which we view the world, and that more we learn and the more we see, the more we realize we all have a different prescription.
When you live by the ocean, for example, a beautiful mountain may attract your attention as an awesome feat of nature, but it bears no special meaning to you. But if you grew up with the Quechua people of the Andes Mountains in South America, you would see the mountain as something with its own special spirit, called an “apu.”
The apu mountain spirit would be something that you feel protected by.
If the person who lived by the ocean was hired by a company to go to the Andes Mountains and build a road through the mountains, you can quickly imagine how they could alienate the local people if they had no idea of the existence of the apu mountain spirit.
This is how cross-cultural problems start for many businesses. They do a superficial survey of the country where they want to do business, summon a person who is trained in the language and agreeable to trying the food, and send them off as if they are prepared for negotiating new partnerships there.
Some parts of culture can be seen, such as the natural environment, and other parts are hidden, like the human values and beliefs.
Too many companies focus only on the obvious. However, the problems and miscommunications are more likely to emerge from those customs and beliefs that are not obvious.
To build bridges into other cultures, it helps to have an excellent guide who can make you aware of the nuances between how you interpret what you see and how your potential new business partner interprets it.
No one cultural training program can ever prepare a person to be aware of all the subtle differences between their own environment and that of another. That is why principles are needed to help build bridges for intercultural communication success. The best way to prepare your staff is to teach them the means to see through different lenses, absorb without judging, and accept without insult.