Leading with Cultural Intelligence in a Multicultural Workplace

Cultural framework

Culture matters because it is deep. The ways in which our cultural frameworks shape how we think and behave are largely unconscious and very difficult to change. They are inextricably linked to our personalities and work personas, clearly labeling them “handle with Care”. Cultivate your cultural intelligence sharpens your radar for cross-cultural pitfalls and diversifies your approach to exercising influence, leading to better results for yourself, your team, and your business.

Indeed, influencing is, at least in part, about adapting to how other people’s minds work and how their emotions and values ​​drive their behavior. Doing justice in a multicultural environment requires careful consideration of the following points.

Being direct vs being diplomatic

One of the main distinguishing factors between cultures is the extent to which people communicate directly with each other. This is called low context vs high context. In low-context cultures, people say what they think. They appreciate clarity, precision, honesty and directness. In high-context cultures, much more emphasis is placed on meaning inferred from context. Contextual cues can include non-verbal behavior, such as body language or eye contact, but also social status, history, or relationship setting. Rather than say “Nope” right off the bat, people from high-context cultures might be more likely to say “We’ll see” – or even “yes”.

As you optimize your influencing abilities, ask yourself if your interlocutors are more or less direct than you, if they like being told details about what is expected or if they prefer a little more freedom. Regulate the conciseness of your requests accordingly, emphasizing clarity and completeness over diplomatic wording as needed.

How to motivate your team

Depending on the rank of your counterparts’ cultures on the power-distance index, motivating them can be more or less difficult. People from high power distance societies have a higher respect for hierarchies, while in low power distance societies, individuals aim to distribute power equitably. Measure any resistance you encounter and adjust the course if necessary.

In doing so, remember that influencing people has a lot to do with making them feel that their contribution is valued. That they are involved in achieving the common goal and that they are appreciated. When it comes to offering incentives, think about the most culturally appropriate form of reward. There are two factors to keep in mind here: masculinity vs femininity and indulgence vs restraint.

People from “male” cultures are more likely to be achievement-driven and desire material rewards for their success, while those of “feminine” cultures value cooperation and modesty and seek ways to improve their quality of life. This could translate into something as simple as a preference for bonuses in the first case over other benefits in the second.

Meanwhile, team members over “indulgent” companies that more readily allow instant gratification, pleasure, and low-threshold enjoyment may respond well to regular displays of appreciation from management. those more “restricted” societies, however, can feel alienated by overt gestures.

Manage criticism and conflict

Moments of criticism or conflict provide a unique opportunity to exert influence. You will want to be aware of individualism versus collectivism in this regard. Individualistic cultures are “I”-centered, whereas collectivist cultures are “we”-central. Members of individualistic cultures can welcome conflict and debate because they foster diversity and avoid groupthink. They may see conflict as an opportunity to demonstrate their competitive spirit and advantage, expect to be challenged, and ready to defend their position. However, members of collectivist cultures may prefer to pursue collective goals, share ideas, and find consensus. They might react better when asked to share their point of view, seeking at worst a compromise and at best a win-win. Note that it might be best to critize the members of this group one-on-one to allow them to save face.

Criticism and conflict also provide the perfect opportunity to strengthen an important influencing sub-skill: active and empathetic listening. It’s not always easy to discern the impact of a person’s culture on how they feel about a given situation, but the first step to better understanding is to really get their message, keeping the open-minded and responding rather than reacting.

Choose the right leadership style

Consider how relationship building should be part of your influencing skills repertoire. Are you looking to influence by transaction or by transformation? The former relies on top-down hierarchical structures in which senior management makes decisions and the rest of the organization implements them, while the latter sees leaders mobilizing their troops through encouragement, support, and motivation. empathy.

Depending on your leadership style, you may be looking to openly build relationships or cultivate an underlying sense of trust. Here the difference between affective and cognitive trust may be noted. In business, individualistic cultures place greater emphasis on cognitive trust, which involves trust in a person’s abilities, experience, and reliability. Collectivist cultures value affective trust, which is based on emotion, character, and intentions, and develops through warm relationships.

Consider this when evaluating how much time and effort to invest in personal relationships with your team and whether or not to share personal information. While some might appreciate effective goal orientation, others might respond better to more flexible deadlines that allow for more people-to-people interaction. Who knows, the secret to influence may end up being as simple as taking a moment to sit down with a cup of tea, coffee or any other culturally appropriate drink, reflect on life and interact like humans. .

About the EHL Group

The EHL Group comprises a portfolio of specialist business units that deliver hotel management training and innovation around the world. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Group includes:

EHL Hotelschool of Lausanne is an ambassador of traditional Swiss hospitality and has been a pioneer in hospitality education since 1893 with over 25,000 alumni worldwide and over 120 nationalities. EHL is the first hotel management school in the world to offer undergraduate and graduate programs on its campuses in Lausanne, Singapore and Chur-Passugg, as well as online learning solutions. The university of applied sciences is ranked No. 1 by QS World University Rankings by subject and CEOWorld Magazine, and its gourmet restaurant is the only educational institution in the world to hold a Michelin star for the third consecutive year.

EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality has been a leading hospitality management college for hospitality specialists for over 50 years. The College delivers Swiss-accredited Federal Vocational Training and Higher Education Diplomas at its 19th century spa hotel in Chur-Passugg, Graubünden to Swiss and international students from 30 countries.

EHL Consulting Services is the largest Swiss hospitality consultancy specializing in the implementation of service culture, business consultancy, as well as the development and quality assurance of learning centers. EHL Advisory Services has offices in Lausanne, Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi and has carried out mandates in more than 60 countries over the past 40 years.


Hotelschool of Lausanne
Communications Department
+41 21 785 1354

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