Epictetus, one of the great Stoic philosophers taught that although life may be subject to constant change, we as human beings are ultimately responsible for how we interpret and respond to those changes.
Having spent 18 years living and working abroad, two different countries and multiple cultures, I have experienced and seen, time and time again people banging their heads against the invisible wall of cultural diversity.
Why can’t they be more like us? Our way is the best way, why can’t they see that? They can’t do anything right. I can’t work with them. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
This kind of reaction is one of the reasons I became interested in culture. How can something be so exciting and yet so incredibly frustrating all at the same time? The very thing that drew us into this situation is the one making us want to flee.
We proudly boast about how open minded we are, how we value diversity and recognise its vital role in international business today. Yet, when things get tough, deadlines and targets are not being met or you feel more like an agony columnist than a leader. That’s the moment when those good intercultural intentions quickly go out the “I can handle this window.”
This timeless idea that there are things we can control and things we can’t, that we can live a better and more successful life by not banging our heads against the proverbial wall, figuratively or otherwise trying to control whatever or whoever we can’t.Fake news aside, you controlling what others think, say, and do is next to impossible.
So, what can you control? It’s always the obvious, isn’t it? It’s you, your attitudes and thoughts, especially your reactions to cultural differences be it with team members or clients. According to Epictetus what hurts us the most is not what others say to us, but our reactions to what they say.
We are not hurt by the events but by our inadequate emotional responses to them. Someone giving you negative feedback in a way that is inappropriate according to your cultural lens or a different take on what a timely delivery looks like.
- Epictetus’ advice in the days of ancient Rome is just as relevant today as it was then.
- Be mindful of what you control, versus what you can’t.
- You are responsible for you own actions and reactions.
- Start by understanding better how business works in different cultures.
- Compare your cultures, this will quickly identify any potential issues.
- How does culture impact what people think, say and do?
- Identify areas that you are comfortable adapting and ones you are not.
- Influence by sharing what it looks like from your side of the cultural barrier.
Just like the weather you can’t control others, you shouldn’t try but you can be prepared and pack an umbrella.