Room for Im­prove­ment

Middle East Business (English) - - FRONT PAGE - by Regina Rein­hardt Coach­ing Events und Kom­mu­nika­tion Switzer­land

Coach­ing global man­agers, I of­ten am asked ‘What should I do dif­fer­ently or be aware of, when work­ing with peo­ple in a dif­fer­ent cul­ture?’ Of course, there are do-and-don’t check­lists for adapt­ing to dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and you can fol­low train­ings on cul­tur­ally-ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iours. What if we took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach and fo­cused on im­prov­ing what we al­ready do well – on what we can learn from each other? Let’s start by ex­plor­ing two cross­cul­tural value dif­fer­ences, which I be­lieve are po­ten­tial ar­eas for im­prove­ment and growth in our own be­hav­iour.

Per­cep­tion of Time

When you work in Western time zones, in ma­jor in­ter­na­tional cities, or in glob­ally-present cor­po­rate cul­tures, time is mostly per­ceived as the equiv­a­lent of money - a pre­cious re­source never to be wasted. Meet­ings are planned to the minute; sched­ules are fully packed days ahead. Be­ing late is not an op­tion, as it is per­ceived as un­pro­fes­sional or a loss of face, and can lead to miss­ing out on prof­itable busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. In a nut­shell, time has to be con­trolled, no mat­ter what! Peo­ple in con­trolled time cul­tures, typ­i­cally be­come very skilled at:

• be­ing re­li­able – spe­cific time ar­range­ments are to be re­spected as prom­ises

• com­mit­ting – be­ing punc­tual or even com­ing early and wait­ing

• show­ing re­spect – for other peo­ples’ time, not wast­ing it by run­ning late. Things are quite dif­fer­ent in fluid-time cul­tures. In the MENA re­gion, sim­i­larly to Latin Amer­ica or South­ern Europe, time is per­ceived as fluid, not to be con­trolled. Like a river flow­ing through a vil­lage, it is steered by na­ture such as an­i­mals, weather con­di­tions, wa­ter qual­ity and so on. The river sim­ply is a tool to swim in, a source of nutri­tion or

a meet­ing point; no­body ex­pects peo­ple to con­trol the en­tire life of a river. Like­wise, time is a tool used for mak­ing mu­tual ap­point­ments. Life hap­pens and there­fore it’s ok to run late, post­pone or even resched­ule last minute. Time and date are un­der­stood as guides rather than some­thing that has to be con­trolled. Peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing in com­mu­ni­ties with fluid-time cul­ture are like surfers on vir­tual rivers. They typ­i­cally be­come very skilled at: • trust­ing the right thing will hap­pen when the time is right – in­shal­lah!

• stay­ing flex­i­ble and show­ing readi­ness to resched­ule meet­ings, in­stead of cling­ing to a plan

• pri­ori­tis­ing re­la­tion­ships and peo­ple over busi­ness mat­ters.

What comes first, the re­la­tion­ship or the busi­ness?

Trust is cru­cial for do­ing busi­ness in the MENA as well as Western ar­eas of our globe, no doubt. Trust­build­ing, how­ever, can be done in two fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ways. In Western task-ori­ented cul­tures, trust is mostly gained through de­liv­er­ing qual­ity, act­ing re­li­ably, sub­scrib­ing to punc­tu­al­ity and per­form­ing with con­sis­tent ex­cel­lency. It’s no more im­por­tant than hav­ing a well-known fam­ily name, be­ing a mem­ber of the party in power, be­ing wealthy or hav­ing ob­tained a po­si­tion in the army. Ed­u­ca­tion is gen­er­ally ac­ces­si­ble, and jobs are avail­able, hence for the ma­jor­ity, a strong ed­u­ca­tion and pro­found per­sonal com­mit­ment are the start­ing points for a promis­ing ca­reer. Ben­e­fits of task-ori­ented cul­tures in­clude

• self di­rec­tion

• punc­tu­al­ity

• in­de­pen­dent prob­lem-solv­ing

• trans­par­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion

• goal-set­ting and re­sult fo­cus How­ever, this is not how things al­ways used to be. Ask­ing our grand­par­ents or go­ing back to smaller vil­lages in the coun­try­side, we may find ex­am­ples of how trust was built through re­la­tion­ships, not that long ago. We used to be the son or daugh­ter of the vil­lage teacher, pri­est or doc­tor. If a mem­ber of the vil­lage com­mu­nity was in need, neigh­bours or wealthy com­mu­nity mem­bers would help – out of obli­ga­tion. Grown-up chil­dren would look out for el­derly rel­a­tives, and trust was in­her­ited, passed along from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Let’s re­call the ben­e­fits of re­la­tion­ship cul­tures:

• a re­li­able net­work no mat­ter what • long-last­ing friend­ships to rely on

• know­ing whom to trust

• be­long­ing to a com­mu­nity Back in the MENA area, re­la­tion­ships gen­er­ally be­long to the abovedescribed com­mu­nal cul­ture. The ground rule is sim­ple; build re­la­tion­ships to rely on, re­sult­ing in strong ties that will last, no mat­ter what. Busi­ness mat­ters will then be taken care of even on short no­tice or if they re­quire go­ing the ex­tra mile to hon­our an ex­ist­ing friend­ship.

A Real-Life Ex­am­ple

My dear and very gen­er­ous friend Sam called me one time, quite puz­zled, ask­ing for ad­vice. Sam was mov­ing house and had de­cided to donate his kitchen equip­ment to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that ed­u­cates refugees. Af­ter a dis­cus­sion over the phone, Paula, the man­ager, agreed to come to Sam’s house to col­lect the equip­ment her­self. Sam, who strongly be­lieves in vol­un­teer­ing and sup­port­ing young peo­ple’s ed­u­ca­tion, was very ex­cited to meet Paula, and was even con­sid­er­ing get­ting in­volved as a vol­un­teer. When Paula showed up on Sam’s doorstep with two helpers, Sam opened the door with a huge smile, wel­com­ing them into his liv­ing room where he had neatly and mind­fully piled his kitchen items. Af­ter a brief hello, Paula walked to­wards the items, pulled out some bags she had brought along, and started to pack. My friend of­fered re­fresh­ments, ex­pect­ing them to first sit down and have a chat, (as he was used to do­ing in the lo­cal cul­ture.) Paula, caught by sur­prise, mum­bled some­thing about be­ing in a hurry. While the two young men were pack­ing up the kitchen equip­ment, Sam kept try­ing to start a con­ver­sa­tion with Paula, who was jug­gling phone calls and try­ing to di­rect the oth­ers. Once ev­ery­thing was packed, the young men with­drew to the bal­cony, and Sam saw his chance to have a quiet mo­ment with Paula. Men­tion­ing his pro­fes­sional back­ground as a coach as well as his flu­ency in the lo­cal lan­guage, Sam was hint­ing at his in­ter­est in vol­un­teer­ing. That’s when Paula said: ‘Thank you, Sam, very much for your do­na­tion. On our web­site you will find the email ad­dress that you can use to con­tact us’. She then or­dered an Uber car, and asked the young men to bring the packed bags and boxes to the main en­trance, to be ready once the car would ar­rive. Af­ter a short chat with the young men (who were

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