Have you noticed how, sometimes we change when dealing with an outsider, especially non-Indians? It happens to so many of us. We become more self-conscious, and even if we are well-qualified and experienced, transform from being confident professionals into nervous novices, quite unconsciously.
What causes this? Thinking that ‘they’ know better? Or that it is ‘their’ process? Or cultural stereotypes? We could speculate about it, but cannot know for sure. Fact is quite often, relocating to a new environment, or working with a colleague from a different culture, especially a foreigner, makes us behave differently even if it is on phone. We under-sell ourselves and it is not great for our self-image, and given that collaboration is key, not good for the work product as well.
The good news is: If we become aware of it, and get back in touch with our inherent strengths, we can certainly make it a really useful work environment. Here are some tips that might help you deal more confidently with these situations:
Believe in your core strengths
What makes you unique? Why did your company hire and retain you? Is it your technical ability, knowledge, managerial skill, multitasking ability, or anything else? Think about why you were hired for your job and continue to do it to the best of your ability. Your role is not to have excellent English skills or great social skills - it is to do the job you were hired to do. Remember that.
Prepare for your visitors or your visit
Whether you are hosting a visitor or you are travelling, it helps to be prepared. Read up on the local culture including small things from greetings like ‘How are you today?’ to handshakes or physical contact, to etiquette on splitting the bill. Remember the objective of the visit: the work, and at the same time, see if there are some things similar - perhaps cricket, or music, Game of Thrones. There is usually something.
Start with similarities, and any established work process or protocol. Connect at the similarities and you will be two people working together, no matter what each of your roots. If nervous, reach out to more experienced colleagues. Be proactive – ask questions when you need to and seek the help you need.
Understanding them doesn’t need to mean acting like them – continue to be yourself, and be ready to talk about your own needs and choices (like food preferences, for example). Communicating your needs and requesting for help clearly makes things much easier for everyone involved.
Don’t try and second guess your colleagues or expect them to guess your discomfort and help you.
Do remember – nobody is ‘better’ than anybody else. We are as good as our work. Be proud of your own culture, and at the same time, be open to other cultures and people.
Bottom-line: Learn to appreciate the differences, while also starting from the similarities.
by Krithika Akkaraju
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.