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  • Tamara Makoni

Thrive in a cross-cultural business world - insight #2

A seven-part series designed to help you successfully navigate the cultural minefield.



Don't be judgemental


Do you work in a multicultural environment? Perhaps you manage team members of people in different locations – or the same location but from various different backgrounds. Maybe this nicely describes the kind of team you work in, and the colleagues you regularly collaborate with.


No matter your situation, at its heart is a group of people who approach tasks and situations from a range of perspectives. And you all likely have one ultimate objective. But what is it?


If your objective is to rank and assess each other, then judgement suits your purposes nicely. But chances are you’re really looking to get along amicably so you can successfully work together – or manage the group – towards a set of common goals. If this is the case, judgemental behaviour only hinders the process.


‘When people make judgements, they close all the possibility around them.’ (Jeff Koons)


It’s tempting to view what we do (i.e. our own culture) as ‘correct’, and use this as a benchmark for what others ‘should’ do. In other words, to judge them according to our standards. But doing this ignores that:

  1. There’s no law in nature that makes one style of working inherently better than another.

  2. There’s no one size fits all approach to getting results.

  3. There’s always something to learn from the other side.


Instead of thinking in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, try getting curious instead. Why did my team member do that? What can it teach me about that person’s culture? What can I learn about my own culture and values from my reaction to it?


The fact that people on multicultural teams approach tasks in different ways is an asset, not a hindrance. It’s thanks to these different worldviews that they can come up with a rich mix of ideas and fuel innovation. Beyond this, they also get the chance to learn from each other and expand their worldview – paving the way for personal development and skills acquisition. But only if they opt for learning over judging.


So next time you’re faced with something that feels new or different, keep your eyes on the prize. Remember your purpose is to successfully do business. Reflect on the situation before you act, suspend judgement, and choose to get curious.


The clues to help you navigate the cultural minefield are there – but you’ll miss them if you’re too busy seeing your way as the ‘right’ way.



This seven-part series on thriving in a cross-cultural world is inspired by this article.