Written by: Stefan Eng, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
No, it is not a joke. It is a true story from my memory lane and opened for many waves of laughter over the years. It also gave me some perspective on how difficult it can sometimes be and that we really have to be in the present.
Several years ago, I heard about a story of two non-native English-speaking persons arguing over email. The frustrated dialog went from one side to the other like a tennis match, and the situation became a bit tense.
Then, just like that, one of the persons realized her mistake and had to change completely. The last email contained an explanation of why things went wrong and an apology. And she closed the email with "I am sorry for any incontinence" instead of ”inconvenience.”
It became a fantastic story and something very important to learn from for all of us when collaborating.
In times of globalization, where we communicate cross borders and all around our planet, we all face new and exciting challenges. Of course, there are many things to think of when we meet face to face, or as now, in cyberspace as a result of the Pandemic.
Personally, I have an amazing experience to share. A few years back, I was part of an organization where my department was located worldwide. There were colleagues located in Germany, Poland, USA, Brazil, Australia, Hongkong, Thailand, and Sweden in the team. And nationalities from China and India were also represented so we were really global in all aspects.
Working in such an environment, we all had to adapt and be prepared to change what we do, how we did it, and when. But in fact, it worked quite well even though certain improvements had to be made. Department meetings went smooth and well, even though the time difference was a challenge for some of us. But most important was to meet in person and get to know each other, which we also did.
Microsoft Teams and Zoom might be good tools to use to a certain extent. However, it must never replace physical meetings where we can look each other in the eyes, watch the body language with all its nuances and meet outside work for a drink or meal to build a true team spirit.
Of course, there were a lot of challenges in general when working in such an environment. The ones that come top of mind to people are the team's experience—the knowledge of the industry and technical background.
But also, age that allows us to trust the "gut feeling" that shall be mixed with less experienced but highly qualified individual opinions. All in all, the total experience is the platform for the success of product and solution development.
The cultural differences are very interesting both to experience but also to read about. I can truly recommend everyone that is looking at an international career to read books on the subject.
One silly thing that I have experienced myself was to share a taxi to the airport. For me, brought up in Sweden, it is extremely important to be well in time, which was not the case with my Latino colleague. So, we had to compromise on when to leave for the airport.
Another example I came across many years ago is an international course on Cultural Differences. In short, the teacher read us a story about a murder. And our job was to discuss and then tell who was to be blamed for the murder.
It turns out that when running the same story in countries with different cultural backgrounds, different individuals were blamed. Now, in my world, that was terrifying. However, whether I liked it or not was not important. I just had to accept and adapt to other ways of thinking. A very interesting lesson.
We are all individuals
One of the absolute most challenging parts has nothing to do with us working in an international environment. It is valid to any organization, local or global and is who we are as individuals. In comparison, this is probably the biggest challenge of them all.
I am an extroverted person. Sometimes I like to be in the center of things and get attention. Details are not very important, and I love "shooting from the hip" and get things done quickly. But the result is not always 100% correct. However, I can decide based on "Gut Feeling" and experience, even if I don't have facts to support it.
Imagine if I were to work with a very fact-based person. Numbers and result is absolutely key whilst the concept of "Gut Feeling" is scary when taking a decision. How shall we cooperate?
As I see it, it is always a matter of compromises. And I can support the cooperation by asking myself, "-What can I do to contribute to my counterparts success?". If that means I have to fill out reports, I might have to do that. On the other hand, I might convince the other part that only one report is necessary.
In other words, we need to meet and try to understand each other where we are in our mindset.
In such a constellation, as described in "The Team" above, the language is fantastic. Just think about it. We were located in 9 different locations, and we had 11 different nationalities. Only one was a native English speaker, and the rest of us had to adapt as English was our company language.
Even though I have been working in an international environment during my whole career, this was always a challenge. With all these nuances and different English accents, I really had to be in the present to follow the discussions.
Everyone who tries other languages runs into trouble at one point, I am sure. Maybe it is the grammar. Or lack of words or vocable that can lead to minor disasters. Or, in fact, to something very funny. Like in the beginning of this article.
...I am sorry for any incontinence
Stefan Eng, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Stefan Eng has more than 37 years of experience working for Airlines, GDS's, Travel Agents, Tour Operators, and Airline IT Companies in this global industry. In 2008, Stefan founded the Travel Employees Networking Group on Linkedin. The group is now a relevant and strong platform to collaborate and discuss travel trends. Also, members can find open positions or search for new candidates. At present, the group has more than 43 000 members. To support the group, Stefan established in early 2020 the site www.travelemployees.com, an Online Magazine & Marketing Portal for Travel Professionals. Here the audience can find articles, quizzes, and lists by Stefan and his Guest Authors, as well as opportunities to advertise for (or find) the world's greatest travel products and services. Travel Employees Networking Group's Online Magazine Travelemployees.com has been elected to be "One of the Best Online Travel Magazines on the Planet" by Feedspot. Stefan is also a consultant in the travel industry, providing services, especially Product Management, Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Web Design, and Movie Creation.