We live in a culturally diverse world, where no two countries share the same unique traits. Celebrating and appreciating one another’s culture is what makes the world a better place, full of rich opportunities and experiences. What’s more important, is how we integrate these into our workplaces, to enable businesses to become more successful.
This is done through intercultural training. But what is it? In our latest Business Leaders episode, we speak with Graham Orr, owner of Intercultural Training Solutions, who discusses how individuals from different backgrounds can collaborate and contribute to business success.
To find out more about cross-cultural training, hear Graham’s insights via the full video below, or read on for the highlights.
From Japan to Belfast, Graham Orr’s Cultural Journey
Graham’s own route from teaching in England to working in a very different culture for many years created a foundation for his present-day business.
“I was nearly 20 years in Japan – I speak Japanese, my kids went to a Japanese primary school, were taught bilingually, and they went to an international middle school with so many different nationalities. They’ve grown up with a very broad sense of what the world is.”
Graham worked as part of an organisation with 1400 colleagues from 35 countries working across South East and East Asia. However, he never had the issue of being treated or seen as a ‘foreigner’.
”This wasn’t because I speak with near native proficiency, but because I relate to them as a Japanese would. Indirectly. Subtly. Quite the opposite of when I am being a straight talking Yorkshireman living in Northern Ireland.”
Understanding Different Cultures
Graham explained how his work today helps people to understand cultures, and promote harmony in the workplace. Not only this, Graham can give expert insight into how to deal with sometimes confusing interactions and cultural traits.
“I was chatting to a guy in Ballyclare the other day, and I just asked ‘What’s your team like?’. He said that most people were from here, but there are a couple of French guys, an Indian guy and a Spaniard.
“I said ‘So the French guys always want decisions to be kicked upstairs, right?’ and he looked at me and said ‘Well, yeah, how did you know that?’. I knew that because French people are trained and educated to deal with hierarchy – that’s how their culture is.
“He said the Indian guys ‘Just say yes all the time but don’t mean it’. Well, yes…because that’s how a lot of countries work. Countries that aren’t as individualistic as ours want harmony in personal relationships. It doesn’t mean ‘I agree’, it means ‘I am on the other end of this conversation’.”
Sometimes, cultural differences in business can lead to miscommunication and expensive mistakes. Inability to collaborate smoothly in problem-solving or decision-making can lead to poor morale or worse – resignation. Graham’s rationale is that recruitment is expensive – retraining is inefficient – therefore it is essential to build a multi-cultural team that is strong together, and strong individually.
“It’s going into companies and helping them to understand how different people work, with different values and a different sense of how you solve a problem. If you can get the team to work together, you gain far more.
“But without that you have miscommunication and misunderstanding and people don’t settle in the company. And after a year they go home, and you have to bring someone else in and recruit again.
“I provide those sorts of companies with an opportunity for people to talk to each other in a safe environment, understand where each other is coming from, smooth out some of the problems, and appreciate some of their difficulties as an opportunity to grow.
Intercultural Training: Top Tips
Graham passed on a headline tip for those seeking to work within a multicultural setting.
“The important thing to learn is that your own viewpoint is only your own viewing; it’s not right, it’s not superior, it’s not the only way to do it. But because we grow up with one set of glasses on we see everything through one set of glasses.
“I was chatting to a Romanian girl who works as a scientist in Japan. She was having so many problems as she didn’t understand that her own cultural glasses were her own cultural glasses.
“She was looking at Japanese culture but judging it based on her own culture, and she was getting herself in a real frustrated mess as she didn’t understand where she herself was coming from.”
Graham says the secret to solving this problem is being more intercultural, and being willing to take the time to understand how different cultures act, and act with each other.
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