Having grown up in Fort Collins, I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with diverse cultures or mindsets. The city we know today is a mecca of diversity by comparison!
Now, when interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, I consciously stay open to things “outside my comfort zone”, remaining mindful of thoughts and inner reactions, while reminding myself to let go of prejudice and judgemental self-talk. Confucius said, ‘those who know that they don’t know are wise’.
There is profound wisdom in all cultures, but sometimes it’s difficult to recognize. Going open-minded into a cross-cultural situation allows me to be open to that wisdom, while recognizing divisive self-talk that may emulate from my own cultural bias. This awareness allows me to see my own cultural shortcomings and gives me a head start at foiling reactions that may come off as disrespectful.
So, what is the value of considering culture when doing business across cultures, or interacting with a co-worker from a different cultural background? For me, it’s a no-brainer. I feel not to do so is a form of arrogance and ignorance. It was only by living in China for over 20 years that I came face-to-face with my own racist reality. I ran smack into a great wall of culture that didn’t make sense.
Not long after arriving in China, I learned a valuable phrase, wisdom that I hold firm to yet today, “know yourself and know others”. It’s a well-known Chinese expression that comes from the book The Art of War.
It means if we understand ourselves and others, those with whom we are at battle, negotiating, or befriending, we will be successful. He also said that if we just understand ourselves, we will only be successful sometimes. The trick is having access to the right knowledge to achieve success.
Whether doing business with, establishing political relations with, or just befriending people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we, as individuals and a country, need to realize the importance of learning about and understanding others. By not doing so, we may resort to shaming and blaming, consequently not fostering a healthy basis for success.
As Americans, we feel that everyone speaks English and watches our movies, so we don’t need to “waste” our time at learning their language and culture. But, when we consider the wisdom in The Art of War, we clearly see that this is not the case. If we don’t put forth the effort to learn about others or work with those who have; we are putting ourselves, and our country, at risk – be it in business, politics, or relationships.
Learning about others can take many years, but there are ways to bridge the gap:
- Hire a consultant who posses the skills you need
- Learn the concepts of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), and discover the areas you need to grow in
About Todd Cornell
Todd Cornell is a China Business-Culture Consultant who has lived over 20 years in Chinese speaking countries. He possesses above average China cross-cultural skills and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He has negotiated and managed multi-million-dollar technology transfer projects, joint ventures, and manufacturing businesses in Taiwan and Mainland China, and was the Associate Director at the Confucius Institute at CSU. Todd has gained profound insight into best practices for success with China, which are found within Chinese culture and philosophy. Todd is also a certified Cultural Intelligence trainer. Todd lives together with Rascal, his 13-year-old Chinese West Siberian Laika, in Fort Collins.
You can see Todd speak about Business Best Practices in China at 11AM Tuesday, February 26 at the Downtown Artery and on Cultural Intelligence is for Everyone 1PM Thursday, February 28th at the Downtown Artery.