WHAT CAN BE CONFUSING WHEN WORKING WITH US TEAMS ?


Dr. Eva Gaborik, M.A., PhD is our #1 solution when it comes to multi-cultural communication, coaching of international executives,  cross-cultural working processes settlement and diversity management.

With awards and certifications from USA, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and other countries, she is the most respected authority on the CE market being present on many conferences and special events.

You can reach her on gaborik@evoletpartners.com


intercultural communication, international negotiations, small talk

What can be confusing when working with US teams ?

Cooperation in a multicultural team can be a great experience but also a big challenge. People of a different cultural background meet together and bring their cultural software based on their key values and behaviors. Working under pressure they usually do not have many opportunities to talk about their different perceptions that could eventually result in misunderstandings.
Therefore, we would like to share with you a few tips which you can take with you to your multicultural teams. As consultants and trainers who look for tailored solutions, we deal with situations from everyday life. We do not talk about theory but about challenges which we witness in our coaching and consulting sessions.

Let’s start with Asking Questions. When coaching and consulting with multicultural teams in Central Europe, the topic of “asking questions” is usually an important point of our discussion with clients and training participants. In hierarchical cultures people usually consider what to ask in order to not question the knowledge and competencies of their supervisors.

However, among US team members, asking questions is seen as a positive behavior. The US American co-workers operate under the concept that: “There are no stupid questions”. The idea is that it is better to ask than remain ignorant and possibly make needless mistakes that could result in loss of income, prestige or opportunity. It is a sign of showing interest, curiosity, openness and willingness to learn.

Optimism versus Pessimism. Based on feedback from American team members, there are many situations when Hungarians, Slovaks or Czechs communicate a pessimistic point of view as an inseparable part of their daily communication. When discussing a new project, they come with a detailed analysis of all risks and possible failures, and may feel a bit irritated by a very positive American vision or communication style. However, in American culture to show optimism in a team environment is a must, not an emotion. This is how you show support, and encourage and foster innovation, which Americans believe is the bedrock of the success of their society. It is a focus on the future, where the focus of the US lies. It is a “never give up” mentality that also encourages risk-taking and ever-bigger success.

The Development of Team Cooperation also belongs to the “hot topics” to be discussed in our intercultural team trainings or executive coaching. To be honest, American team members are looking for a team spirit while Slovaks or Czechs sometime do not understand their perception of team cooperation. They do not fully understand how to match “We compete to achieve, but we always support our team!” Americans learn that individual competition is healthy and positive in society. Everyone should grow up always trying to do their best. They should try to win and winning will be rewarded. The underlying message is that achievement and winning will be supported. Americans will congratulate each other because you always support the higher achievement. At the same time, Americans will support their team, even if they themselves lose out. This is a perplexing mix of individualistic and group behavior that allows Americans to continue in a friendly and helpful style in their team constellation.

What does “a mistake” mean? Of course, the word could be translated into Slovak, Czech or Hungarian language without any problem as :::::::::, or::::::::: or :::::::::. A cross-cultural understanding or more correctly misunderstanding appears when a team is confronted with dealing with mistakes and failures. Based on education and cultural background, Slovak, Czech or Hungarian understanding is not in agreement with an American value: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, trying is as important as succeeding.”
Similar to the achievement orientation, Americans allow mistakes in the team setting. They will try to do things or suggest doing things they may have no expertise in and no proof that it is even possible. This idea fosters risk-taking and effort optimism, which is the motivation to try and try again. In fact, American teachers, parents and coaches will all use this language of “get up and try it again!” (until you get it right!)

Giving praise. Giving praise is the glue that holds the American team, workplace and society together. Americans will regularly use phrases like “great job!”, “good idea!”, “nice one!” and many others in everyday team interactions. They are not praising each other because they are extraordinary. In fact, this is standard language Americans use to show that everything is going just fine, if not a normal day and normal routine. However, if they don’t hear this language, it is an indication that something is wrong.
And what about their Slovak, Czech or Hungarian colleagues? Do phrases like “great job!” belong to their basic working language equipment? When something is going well, it’s going well without it needing to be recognized or commented on. Only when something is really exceptional, you can hear “great job!. Indeed, they are a bit suspicious about “being great” just performing their tasks as they are expected to do.
To describe culture, many sources use the picture of a cultural iceberg where only the tip is above the sea level. Sometimes people are afraid to dive and go under water to discover what is hidden in a cold and confusing sea. We may sometimes hear “I believe everything is going well!” After finishing their cross-cultural training, many of them agree that they are only at the beginning of their cultural adventure in the wave of cultures.

Eva Gaborik
gaborik@evoletpartners.com