Avoiding Culture Clashes

The Prague Post, March 2005

March 10, 2005

Along with ever-increasing prospects for international trade and new and exciting business opportunities in the Czech Republic comes an urgent need for greater cultural understanding among the players. As a businesswoman, I have watched Czechs and business people from abroad profit and grow from one another’s experiences and develop long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships. As a business coach, I am constantly observing the way these two groups interact with one another and looking for ways to promote better relations.

One key to a positive working relationship with your Czech partners and colleagues is to always be aware of the subtle cultural differences distinguishing yourself from those you work with. After being promoted to managing director in his company, my friend “Pierre” (not his real name) quickly realized that these differences can mean success or failure in communicating and managing in a multicultural environment.

For example, while Pierre was quickly accepted by his Czech team thanks to his friendly and informal manner, he has the typical French inclination to run business meetings with the same informality, and as a result, he experienced some unexpected resentment. His tendency to arrive late to meetings or to drag them out longer than scheduled caused some understandable hostility among the Czechs working with him. Unfortunately for Pierre, this hostility was due to some fundamental differences in the way the Czechs and the French communicate.

What Pierre did not know was that this difference can be explained by categorizing people, or in this case nationalities, into two groups. In this situation, Pierre’s Czech colleagues focus on one activity or relationship at a time, with added importance on schedules, timetables and deadlines. Pierre, on the other hand, is inclined to manage numerous relationships and activities simultaneously. He also has a more relaxed attitude toward time, a trait not unusual in a French setting.

So, in spite of his nature, Pierre had to make a few changes to his weekly management meetings to ensure that he would meet his colleagues’ expectations and respect their time. This meant beginning and ending meetings promptly, sticking to a clear and specific agenda and agreeing on specific actions to be taken after the meeting.

Having addressed those issues, Pierre soon found himself tackling yet another sticky cultural dilemma – his staff’s need for his approval. Pierre wasn’t in the habit of checking the work he delegated, because in France such a custom would appear overbearing and too authoritative. However, his Czech colleagues saw his approval of their work as an indication of care and concern for what they did and as a sign of appreciation for their contribution. So Pierre focused on adjusting his management style to his new environment and responsibilities, and his increased monitoring became a process for them to demonstrate their skills and gain recognition for their hard work.

As a result of these experiences, Pierre has become more successful as a manager. With an improved understanding of the local culture, he is now more capable than ever at adapting his style of communicating to the cultural needs and expectations of his partners and colleagues.

Karin is a business coach and a specialist in cross-cultural understanding, communication and team-building.