As anyone who has lived abroad will tell you, the challenge of living
and working in another culture dramatically increases one's creativity
and practicality. <;-) In my case, I learned to be aware
of myself and others in new ways, which is the cross-cultural part.
The language part is definitely an enabler, but it is less important than
cultural awareness, in my observation. For example, if you want to
open up a location in Milan, you're better off sending someone who is familiar
with the northern Italian culture who may not speak perfect Italian than
you are sending someone who gained language fluency in school.
I am about to begin work with a Korean client who is based in London.
She has also spent some years working for a bank in Hong Kong, so may have
adopted some Hong Kong customs and ways of working as well. Do you
have any useful hints and tips on my client's expectations and/or preferred
way of working?
Having worked and studied abroad in several countries, I find that
the most salient point about anticipating how interaction with people will
go is whether they have international, cross-cultural experience.
In this case, I'm confident that your (then) imminent collaboration will
be fruitful because your Singaporean client has significant cross-cultural
experience, and so have you. People who have such experience usually
have objectivity about how they interact; often, they have the tendancy
to jump in and ask questions openly. Where you really have to watch
out is when the situation includes people who have little experience outside
their home culture. They don't know what they don't know. Interestingly, I find that this carries over into speaking foreign languages. Usually, people who speak in cross-cultural situations have sensitivity about vocab
choice; they speak "high" German/French/whatever and use fewer idiomatic
expressions. All of this said, if your experience doesn't include
living in Japan, China, Korea, etc., I would look into some books that
can give you a rundown on some basic things. One series that's usually
decent is the "Culture Shock" collection. Realize that they are quite
limited and general; however, I have found them useful for painting some
vestige of a landscape. Obviously, there are also myriad consultants
that can get you up to speed very quickly as well.
In addition, I usually ask myself what are my goals for the relationship.
Americans are notorious for having the "everyone speaks American ;-) "
attitude, which is increasingly true at a basic level. However, the
better question is often, "Does the person feel comfortable/intimate speaking
American?" At the risk of stating the obvious, speaking someone else's
language (metaphorically this holds true for actions/customs as well) will
enable you to attain a higher comfort level more quickly. If your
goal for the relationship isn't ambitious, you can depend on remaining
on the "international/cross-cultural" realm; however, if you think you'll
want to go deeper, your efforts to understand, literally, "where the person
is coming from" will probably pay off handsomely. I have had this
experience many times, having learned to speak several languages.
Even if you don't speak as a native (again, language used metaphorically)
your effort and care will certainly be rewarded; it will also give you
a framework for building and transferring knowledge about that culture
to other situations.