Managing Through A Mirror

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Guest Article By: Frank Garten

Ever had difficulties working with people from other cultures? For sure you did. Working in internationally oriented companies these days, it would be hard to avoid other cultures. Suppliers from Germany or Brazil, clients from China or Russia and outsourcing partners from India and S-Africa. When confusion comes up in the workplace, our natural response is to blame the other person for being so different. We don’t understand the attitudes and behaviors of our partners, and automatically get firmer in our believe that our way of working is the best. Superior. If only people in other countries would work like we do, there would not be problems.

But different is relative. If you look at the dimensions of culture, The Netherlands is the exception, not the rule. In 90% of the countries in the world, hierarchy is taken more seriously, communication is less direct, consensus is less relevant as a conflict-resolution technique, and male values like assertiveness and competition have more importance. In order to be successful working with other cultures, you will have to adjust, or make a conscious choice not to adjust. This has to be a conscious choice, based on understanding. When you unconsciously choose to not adjust, you are not likely to be very effective in the long run.

Working successfully with people from other cultures relies on 3 steps:

  1. Know your own culture and the impact it has on others. Look in the Mirror, and manage through that mirror. Understand your own cultural profile, the company culture that is your reference and your personal characteristics. These all determine how others perceive working with you. You cannot build meaningful relationships and communicate effectively if you do not reflect and know your own culture first.
  2. Know about the other culture you deal with. You don’t need to become a cultural expert, but read practical tips and advises of people who have worked with that country before, read practical books or organize short and effective workshops. When dealing with the Japanese you will need some basic understanding of the typical decision-making style in Japanese companies. When dealing with the Brazilians, you will need some understanding of long-term, personal trust. And when dealing with the Russians, you will need some insight in the typical masculine values that dominate their trading.
  3. Make a conscious choice to adjust or not. I do not encourage you to adjust to the other culture at all times; it leads to awkward situations when Westerners are bending with their business card in two hands in Japan, or try to build up personal relationships over lunch in Italy. The conscious choice to stay with your own cultural norms and beliefs can be your best choice, provided you understand the impact of that culture and provided you communicate effectively about it. “This is how we do where I come from.”

This methodology has been the starting point of my book ‘Managing Through a Mirror; successful business communication where cultures meet’ which was published recently. A book with many cases and practical tips for managing teams, managing performance, communication and negotiation with people from other cultures. More information can be found at

Best Regards,

Frank Garten


About The Author

Frank Garten  Frank Garten  is an independent business consultant, specialized in cross-cultural communication and cooperation. He helps companies improve their cooperation with people from other cultures, and gives lectures, workshops and training courses.

Frank is a Dutch author who acquired his practical experience largely from a career with Philips Electronics, where he fulfilled roles in engineering, commercial and technical marketing, program management and general management.



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