Adapt to a New Culture – but Don’t Go Too Far – Harvard Business Review

Good piece on the intricacies and challenges with cultural adaptation. I think mentoring, either formal or informal, can be particularly beneficial:

Individuals need to take steps to avoid over-switching and decrease the likelihood that it will interfere with their success abroad. One essential strategy is to develop a detailed sense of the “cultural code” — the correct and appropriate interpersonal style — for whatever key situations you’re working in. How assertively are you expected to act in your role in this setting? How directly are you expected to communicate, and with how much emotional expressiveness?

Of course, the rules for how to behave are not the same in all situations you encounter in a foreign culture. Taking Cheng’s case as our example, some work cultures are extremely informal with very high expectations for assertiveness on the part of employees. Others are much less so. Some bosses also have styles that are more or less conducive to the behavior that Cheng exhibited in this situation. The overall goal is not to just learn how the new culture is different from yours. It’s to calibrate the specific level of difference and to learn how to acclimate your behavior to that particular level.

But even if you do work hard at mastering the cultural code, mistakes are still inevitable. You must also find ways to mitigate the brunt of these inevitable faux pas. Do what you can to develop a sense of rapport or, when possible, a relationship with the person you’re interacting with. Express genuine interest in the new culture and bond over areas of mutual interest, such as sports or family. And in certain cases, if the relationship allows, see if the other person might even be able to mentor you about cultural differences and the appropriate level of accommodation.

Over-switching is a natural part of the adaptation process. The trick isn’t to make it go away; it’s to try your best to convert these inevitable errors into valuable learning opportunities.

Adapt to a New Culture – but Don’t Go Too Far – Andy Molinsky – Harvard Business Review.