Workplaces are increasingly multicultural, meaning there are diverse ideas about how to get things done, how to communicate, handle conflicts, work in teams and be respectful. But an expert on intercultural communication says one of the most obvious places to see cultural differences in how we interact might be in our own home.
You might be familiar with adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“But this (adage) breaks down when you say that you (a man) might be married to a woman and she has a whole different kind of communication culture than you have,” says Janet Bennett, executive director of the Intercultural Communication Institute.
“Does she live in Rome? Or do you live in Rome? And how do you make the relationship work?” she asks.
Bennett uses an example where a husband is on the phone with his mother and when he hangs up, the wife asks, ‘Who was that and what did they want?’
The husband replies that it was his mother and she is fine. But a week later, the wife talks to the mother on the phone and learns the mom’s home was burned in an apartment fire. The husband’s response for leaving out this detail was, ‘Well she’s fine, I told you she’s fine and she’s doing alright.’
The female culture was looking for more complete answers to her questions, while the male culture thought only the most important detail was necessary for the response.
The “When in Rome” philosophy might not be the best adage for business dealings either. Bennett tells Ross that Americans have a tendency to resolve issues face to face while other countries involve a third party to solve problems. She also explains why Americans get more caught up in the European cultural differences than Asia in this episode of the RossFire podcast.