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Making lazy assumptions is a huge danger when communicating across cultures.

“We all judge as human beings - and it works both ways,” Kate Symons, global comms manager, RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors), told delegates at the IoIC Insight Seminar in London.

Kate, who has worked in Vietnam and Hong Kong as well as Europe, offered six personal insights on mitigating the risk of culture clash, but started with a personal story.

“I did some work with a theatre group who were educating kids about HIV, which is a massive taboo in Vietnam,” she explains.

“They were interested in what I ad done before and I had worked with a group helping long-term unemployed back to work. I was trying to explain incapacity benefit and they couldn’t understand it – one girl just said ‘So your government pays people to be lazy’…

“That illustrated how something so natural to us could be seen by people from another culture.”

Kate (pictured) used the story to illustrates her first point:

Challenge assumptions and cases of lazy thought

Her other insights were:

Build trust

“Trust is a key building block for nurturing relationships,” she said.

“How do we build trust with a virtual team seven time zones away? It’s tough.”

Build knowledge by sharing experiences

“In Vietnam it was much more about ‘we’ than ‘I’ – there was much more teamwork and harmony rather than the ‘me, me, me’ career development I was use to at home,” she said.

“Also, lunch is really important in Hanoi. It’s really important for building relationships with colleagues – even if it does take 90 minutes. I’m someone who can make do with a sandwich at my desk but people would come and ask me to go to lunch with them and it was definitely worth it.”

Develop an inclusive culture

Keep your eyes on the prize (goals)

“If conflict sets in coming back to objectives is a business basic.”

Have fun!

“Fun can dissolve a lot of conflict and aids creativity. Enjoy your workand if it’s not going well, collaborate with your colleagues,” said Kate.

“Laughter is a great leveller and I think it works.”
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