As companies continue to grow internationally, more employees are finding
themselves working with people from other countries and cultures that they
are not familiar with.
Don’t make the mistake in assuming there is no difference in the work
environment. Our values and personalities develop largely from the values
and belief systems of the cultures we grow up in. However, not all cultures
value the same things or in the same priority. Improve your knowledge of your
co-workers cultures and you will improve your work experience as well.
1. Remember they are human beings with the same basic wants and
needs that you have.
You are working for the same goals and outcomes. It isn’t about you vs. them
or one culture vs. another.
2. Make an effort to learn a bit about their culture.
If you work with a variety of nationalities – have a sincere curiosity in their
language, rituals, holidays etc.
3. Remind yourself that your cultural approach and views are only one
way of looking at it not necessarily the right way or only way.
Be willing to try another cultures approach. You may surprise yourself with
what you find. In turn, if you have ideas that might work better approach your
colleagues with baby steps and see which ones they may be willing to try as
4. Remember that the language spoken may be someone else’s 2nd, 3rd
or 4th language.
Be clear with your ideas and avoid slang. Check-in with the person or group
and see if anyone has questions and understands your message. Don’t
assume they understand just because they haven’t asked a question. Learn to
rephrase ideas throughout your communication to help them process what it is
you are saying.
5. Become confident in who you are and the culture and/or country you
Avoid bad mouthing your country to others as you become a representative of
that country to all you meet. Focus on what is positive in your country and the positives you are aware of in someone else’s country. Leave the negative
international politics at the door and you will remain professional and attract
respect from your international co-workers.
6. Address confusion in working styles immediately.
Remember that culture comes through in a corporate setting as well. Meeting
structures, decision-making processes, and the chain of command will most
likely look different from culture to culture. Accept the approach that is used
within this group and focus on your strengths within that approach.
7. Develop an outside support system.
Working in an international setting can have additional stresses; it may take
longer to accomplish simple tasks or work through the language barriers. Find
ways to manage the stress and use an outside support system so it doesn’t
reflect back on your job.
8. Enjoy the experience.
The world is an exciting and diverse place. International co-workers allow us
to explore areas of ourselves and the world we may not have previously
explored. Use these contacts to enrich your life and in turn enrich theirs.
9. Accept that humans make mistakes.
Focus on the solution so the mistake doesn’t occur again. This way you can
avoid the trap of assigning a mistake to a culture. In other words, if you have a
co-worker who continually does the same thing wrong, help them resolve it
instead of internalizing it into – Grrr; (insert nationality) people don’t know how
to do their jobs.
Learn to listen – at all levels. Allow the other culture the time and approach
that they need to share their thoughts and express themselves. You want to
be heard…so do they.
Written by Julia Ferguson Andriessen
Expat coach, writer and Acculturation Specialist
JAFA Life Coaching Services