The intercultural understanding matters a lot

HHL’s full-time MBA student Can Adiguzel from TurkeyHHL’s full-time MBA student Can Adiguzel from Turkey

“The intercultural understanding matters a lot”

“Intercultural experience and training” is an all-new two-part series for HHL blog, where young international students joining the HHL full-time MBA program, tell about their intercultural challenges and important skills in a working context. Yang (Sophie) Song from China marks the today’s start.

 

The HHL’s MBA program is made up of 80 to 90 percent international students: How can it help to improve someone’s intercultural skills?

Based on my personal experience, I become more open and tolerant of other people when I am in contact with someone with diversified background. I think it helps a lot when I’m joining HHL because my classmates are from many different countries from all over the world. The cultures differ a lot from each other. I used to have some international experience through working and studying together with different foreigners. This know-how helps when you see or hear something and think, that this behavior is not appropriate in my culture. You learn to take a step back and then recognize that it is nothing personal but the culture. Altogether, you become more tolerant and openminded when dealing with different behaviors, habits and interests.

Can stereotypical thinking facilitate multi-cultural collaboration or is it on the contrary a barrier?

In my opinion, it really depends. For example, when I encounter somebody from Latin America, I supposed them to be open, warm-hearted and never fussy. Consequently, relating to this stereotypic thinking, in a joint group work I can say whatever I want to say and we just get the work done and that’s it. Then again, when I work with some girls from China, who are more sensitive and think more about what they are saying. I see stereotypical thinking as a help in some context but obviously, you will always find people with diversity. The Brazil people will not always behave like I think Brazilians behave and Chinese people will not always behave “typical Chinese”.

How important is it to become conscious of your behavior before you interact with people from different cultures?

No doubt, as I have already said before, this “taking a step back” is fundamental for intercultural communications: Who am I and how does my behavior affects others? It will help to know beforehand how I should behave when collaborating with people from different cultures.

From your own personal experience: Do you know situations when cultural differences can become a problem in a working environment?

I think this depends on how well you know each other. For example, at the very first beginning of our MBA program, it took time to become more familiar: How do your fellow students work, how do they discuss and how they speak? If this was only among people from your own country, the important group forming process would be easy because the communication flow is more efficient. In an international context, this is more difficult because you must justify some of your logics based on your culture or your past experiences. Once, when you got to know each other better, you will find people all have their strengths. Intercultural exchange effects that everybody can bring something new into the discussion, which is a big advantage. Everybody can learn extremely from each other. The intercultural understanding matters a lot in group communication.

Have you ever participated in an intercultural training? What are your experiences?

Yes, we did have an international communication courses, which is part of the HHL full-time MBA in the first term. To be honest, even though I have already worked in an international environment, it was never as international as HHL. Therefore, this course helped me a lot. I knew something beforehand but in that course for instance, the teacher always used some specific comparisons between Germans and Indians with whom I have never worked before. You learn how people from different cultures think, how they work and what they really mean, when they say something to you. It was very interesting.


 

“It helped me to see the bigger picture of diversity”

HHL’s full-time MBA student Can Adiguzel from Turkey already has a wide range of international working background. He talks about his experiences and how the HHL course helped him to deepen his cross-cultural understanding.

 

The HHL’s MBA program is made up of 80 to 90 percent international students: How can it help to improve someone’s intercultural skills?

Of course, this is indeed a perk of HHL, because we have students from all over the world. I think in near future, the working environment will be that diverse in big cities. In our daily intercultural interaction, we learn how to cope with problems, how we can develop our advanced communication skills and how to cope with different ways of thinking.

Can stereotypical thinking facilitate multi-cultural collaboration or is it on the contrary a barrier?

In principle, I’m against stereotypical distinction. When it comes to business, however, we can benefit from other person’s perspective or different way of thinking.

How important is it to become conscious of your behavior before you interact with people from different cultures?

Indeed, it helps you a lot to know yourself and your culture better and to reflect your own behavior when interacting in a cross-cultural context. This comes hand to hand with how well you know the culture you are communicating. Unconsciousness can be funny and crucial at the same time. Hence it’s really important and a great way to improve your intercultural communication skills.

From your own personal experience: Do you know situations when cultural differences can become a problem in a working environment?

I used to work for an Austrian company in Turkey, where I experienced these cultural conflicts the first time. Austrians are very structured: Everything is planned first and realized afterwards. Meanwhile in Turkey, you start the realization and the planning at the very same time.

Afterwards, I worked for a Turkish company in Russia, where the working culture differed a lot. They have inserted some working habits from the Soviet perspective and have very strong labor rights. This is very good on the one hand, but on the other hand it is difficult to make people work. That could be a problem for corporate group work. In terms of communication, it is the same because it does not become much easier before you start to communicate with them their language. After that, processes start to fasten three to four times. Many interpersonal nuances get lost when you always must use a translator. Thus, it was a challenge in the beginning and it took time to build a common ground. Initially, when you have two different perspectives, no one wants to compromise, it could be any issue until you build a confident relationship by time.

Have you ever participated in an intercultural training? What are your experiences?

I worked in different countries and international teams. But in the HHL course, the focus was more on global diversity. I felt much better after participating in the course even though I was experienced, because it helped me to see the bigger picture of diversity. It’s totally different if every group member comes from another country or even continent. This gives you the opportunity to understand the different cultures much better.


 

“I have learnt to wait, to observe and to adapt”

In the last issue of the “Intercultural experience and training” series, HHL’s full-time MBA student Anindhia Restraningtyas from Indonesia speaks of the intercultural advantages of her study and how stereotypical thinking may help in some situations.

 

The HHL’s MBA program is made up of 80 to 90 percent international students: How can it help to improve someone’s intercultural skills?

I learn more about how to handle the team work with my international colleagues. The approach of the people is very different. For example, I did not have much interaction with people from Latin America before. But now, since I am doing the HHL full-time MBA program, I got to know how to work with them efficiently within the tight deadlines. The theories about intercultural skills I have learnt before differ a lot from the reality. When people from Indonesia, Germany, Latin America and other parts of the world with so different characters are mixed up in one group, it is of course difficult in the beginning. But I learnt how to adjust with them and how to tolerate the differences and then come up with the best results for the assignments.

Can stereotypical thinking facilitate multi-cultural collaboration or is it on the contrary a barrier?

Personally, I would not say that I have had stereotypical thinking but a kind of image of someone who comes from a certain region. But when I started to work with them, I got to know which of my perceptions are correct or not after linking them to the reality. These images help me to manage working in a cross-cultural team. I will not say that it is a barrier but more a help for the initial stage. If I did not have a kind of stereotypical thinking, I would not have known how to proceed with some behaviors. After I got to know people from all over the world at HHL, I can say that there are at least cultural basics but it depends more on the people and their characters.

How important is it to become conscious of your behavior before you interact with people from different cultures?

This is very important. Since I have moved into different countries, I have learnt to wait, to observe and to adapt in certain conditions. It is important to know how I can position myself that it is easier to mingle with them, wait to see how they react and adjust again if necessary.

From your own personal experience: Do you know situations when cultural differences can become a problem in a working environment?

A private chat with fellow students differs a lot from working together in teams. One of the challenges is the different saying of what one thinks. In comparison to Indians or Europeans, people from Asia for example are taught to be a little bit more quiet and not to speak up what we are thinking. Because of that, in group works it is sometimes hard to know if other team members just tell you that they understood everything or if they really did. Because of the different mentalities and ways to communicate and to provide clarification, we have an internal feedback to get to know if it is necessary to communicate more actively among each other.

Furthermore, the interesting thing of HHL is that the teams are randomized every term. You have different working characters and different culturally determined working styles. You learn how to deal with people from different cultures and how to bring the group performance to the maximum.

Have you ever participated in an intercultural training? What are your experiences?

I attended a class in cross-cultural communications as a part of the full-time MBA at HHL and I participated at the HHL’s leadership competency development program “New Leipzig Talents”. There, I received coaching by the HR Vice President of Xing and she provided me very valuable suggestions of how to deal with people from different nationalities. The purpose of the coaching itself is not about the courses from the technical perspective but from the social perspective. She gave me two sessions of coaching and it helped me a lot.

 

» Intercultural Training

 

About the Author

Lis Schulz
Online Marketing Manager at HHL