By Kevin Howell
Globalization is changing the way governments and industries do business. It means that people from different nations are interacting more and sharing information, resources, products, and ideas. And we see this more and more in technology and engineering.
Today’s business environment requires professionals to work together with people of other cultures on projects, whether it’s in person, over the phone, email, or virtually.
Despite the increased interaction, connecting with someone from another continent isn’t easy. And there are no courses at your university that prepare you for the differences you’ll encounter with colleagues, team members, or clients.
Regardless where you are in your engineering career, being able to adapt to other cultures is vital. Here are some tips for working across different cultures.
Taking time to get to know a colleague from another culture not only lowers barriers and improves understanding, but it builds trust.
According to research by Roy Y.J. Chua, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, when people who worked together on a task had a personal conversation, they built trust that led to the potential for greater creativity.
Taking time to socialize is also important for cultures that are relationship-oriented. Even if socializing isn’t a staple of your culture, you may need to use it as a tool to work effectively with people of other cultures.
Seek Cultural Knowledge
Whether you are working with someone from a different country or traveling to work on a project overseas, make sure you get an understanding of the culture and needs.
IEEE volunteers and the IEEE STEM club at a New Jersey high school have done that by fostering an ongoing relationship with students in Paushi, a rural village in India. Since 2013, grants from EPICs in IEEE have helped the group develop digital literacy tools for students in the village. The volunteers partner with Kreeya, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy in India.
Adapt Your Communication Style
With different cultures come different communication styles. For example, some cultures prefer indirect communication over direct. Some prefer formal interaction while others are informal. Likewise, some prefer personal contact rather than email.
Be prepared to adapt your communication methods to work with your team and accomplish the task at hand.
Challenge Your Assumptions
You may have a process you use to solve problems or implement solutions, but don’t assume it will work best for everyone and in every environment.
Part of globalization is understanding differences and be willing to depart from your assumptions. Some cultures approach tasks in different ways. Seek solutions and use processes that make all parties comfortable.
The more business and technology globalizes, the more important it is to be able to work across cultures. Developing the skills and traits necessary for seamless interaction will not only make you more productive, but you’ll be more attractive to employers.
EPICs in IEEE provides students and young professionals opportunities to use their technical skills to solve community problems and work across cultures. Learn more about the program here.