Virtual Teams

Cross cultural success: the onion

As part of our training on cross cultural success, whether cross cultural awareness training or cultural diversity training, the Global Integration video, The Onion, was developed to support learning.

This video focuses on the first tool of a series of learning tools, the onion.

Culture is like an onion. It has many layers. The outer layer represents all the things we can easily see or hear when we work with someone from another culture – how they communicate, what they wear, how they behave.

But beneath these outer appearances are many inner layers. These inner layers represent the real meaning of the outer behaviours we have observed.

The mistake we often make when working with people from another culture is that we observe a behaviour in the outer layer and we assume that it means the same thing as it means in our own culture.

Just like cutting into a real onion, this can end in tears!

A simple example is punctuality. If, like me, you come from a culture where punctuality is important, then being on time is a sign of respect and consideration. When you visit a culture where time is more flexible, you may see that people are later for meetings and mistakenly assume that this means that they lack respect. The problem is not the punctuality, it is your emotional reaction to it, based on what you think it means.

In a culture where timekeeping is more flexible, there is usually no intention to offend, it is just the normal way things happen in that culture.

In working across cultures you usually can’t change everyone else, but, by becoming aware of your own reactions and assumptions, you can change how you feel about what happens.

So remember the onion. When you observe a different behaviour, don’t assume that the meaning is the same as it is in your culture, and be careful about your emotional reaction to things that are different from what you expect.

In our training, we help participants to use the onion to diagnose and understand cultural differences and their reactions to them. To find out more about our matrix management, virtual working and cross-cultural training, please visit Global Integration.

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