Often I hear or read about how important it is to have an enemy. Not in the sense of a person or a group to go into battle against, but instead in the sense of what is not good, what needs to be battled. When it comes to cross-border collaboration there are three enemies or let’s call it a monster with three heads, a three-headed monster.
Now, when we talk about cross-border collaboration it doesn’t matter if is a post-merger integration or a major reorganisation or working with suppliers and customers or companies teaming up to serve a customer or teams within a company joining together. They all have in common collaboration, people involved from different countries. Who is the enemy? What are three heads of monster?
Lack of Awareness
Enemy Number One is lack of awareness, in the sense of: “No one ever told me that there are perfectly good reasons for why Germans are so direct in communication” or “No one ever told me that there are perfectly good reasons for why Americans constantly do follow-up.”
Should Americans or any cultures know why Germans are direct and that there are perfectly good reasons for this? The same goes for Americans and follow-up. There all sorts of reasons for lack of awareness of each other’s cultures. And I spell those out in a separate video.
The key here is to recognize that the first head of three-headed monster is: not knowing, not being aware of, not having been informed about cultural differences.
Enemy Number Two is untruths. An untruth is something which is not true, which is false. “Germans are so direct in communication, they get right in your face. Why? Because Germans are impolite, blunt, rude and insulting.” That’s a pretty serious statement. True or untrue?
Well, it depends on the perspective. It depends on the national cultural perspective. Because Germans frankly are direct. Germans believe that people should say what mean and mean what they say. Germans use clear and unambiguous language. They avoid using figures of speech. They avoid using euphemisms. Germans do not sugar-coat. They believe that people should call it as they see it. Be honest, transparent, clear, direct, to the point.
And why do Germans take this approach? Because it is honest, transparent, clear, direct, to the point. And that makes for good communication. And good communication helps collaboration. And good collaboration leads to success. Now, what is wrong with that logic? It’s the German logic. It works. It leads to success. And it’s explainable, understandable, perfectly legitimate.
Unless, of course, you come from culture, which is less direct in communication. For those folks, for those cultures, the Germans can be rather impolite, blunt, rude and insulting. My message here is: there are a whole lot of untruths swirling around out there, where Americans, Germans, and other cultures are collaborating. Untruths are things which are untrue.
Things which people think are true, but are actually false, such as: Americans are superficial. Germans are too serious. Americans processes are sloppy. Germans processes are rigid. When it comes to decision making Americans are a bunch of cowboys. Germans are far too slow to make decisions. American products are of low quality. German products are over-engineered and over-priced.
Untruths, Enemy Number Two, on three-headed monster. This is what my work is about. Battle the enemy. Untruths. Uncover, expose, disprove them. Get that nonsense out of way, so that collaboration can succeed. Much, perhaps most, or searching for the truth in any area of life is first and foremostly getting untruths out of way.
Lack of awareness and untruths are Enemies One and Two. We should take them very seriously. But, they are beatable. They can be defeated. Enemy Number Three is fear.
Fear, this is an enemy of a different quality. It is the biggest, baddest, meanest of them all. Fear is the mother – or father – of all enemies. Its destructive power is almost immeasurable. Its cunning is of extraordinary sophistication.
It has an almost endless set of tools from which to select, depending on the situation. It can reach deep down into the depths of our psyche. It can stroke it in any direction it wants. It can slither and swim like a snake into the very marrow of our bones, to sour and to poison it.
Fear can inject into us all sorts of elements, known only to itself, in order to destabilize our chemical balance. It can conjure up in our imagination the most beautiful, and the most ugly, of scenes. It can distort and contort, twist and tie up, the most innocent of experiences, the most obvious of truths.
Fear is the most dangerous enemy by far. No other enemy comes even close. Making it an even greater danger is that it can team up with any other enemy, at any time, in any situation, increasing or reducing the intensity. And one of fear’s greatest weapons is invisibility. It can hide, camouflage itself, impersonate. It can be extremely charming. It can convince you that it is your best friend.
Now, this may all sound dramatic for those of you who have never experienced fear. But for those of us who been there, who have fought the fight and survived, and for those still in fight, this is no exaggeration.
What does this mean for our topic cross-border collaboration? What does it mean for the influence of cultural differences? If fear can do its dirty work in any and all areas of our lives, it can and will attempt to do its dirty work when we collaborate.
We spend most waking hours working – 40, 50, 60 per week. We spend more time with each other than we with our loved ones, with spouses, children, relatives, friends. It is naive to believe that fear will not try to do its evil work when we collaborate, in global teams, in global projects, especially in post-merger integration.
In fact, it is our work, where we spend most or our time, that fear sees its biggest playing field, its biggest forum. What to do, how to battle fear, how to defeat fear, at least to keep it in check?
First, open our eyes to its existence and presence. To the existence and presence of our fears in our lives.
Second, identify where fear is doing its dirty work. Right now. Specifically, concretely. In teams and in situations: Who is afraid of what? Who is afraid of whom? Where is there doubt? Where is there instability? Where is there a lack of awareness? Who has fallen prey to fear?
Identify means to expose fear. Fear hates being exposed, have a light shone on it. Fear is terrified of being identified, called by its name, terrified of being pulled out into the open.
Third, after having identified fear, after having identified where fear is doing its diry work, enter into battle against it. Together.
If you are wondering what John is talking about. “Fear? We’re a company, an organisation, with teams, with employees. Yes, colleagues, Americans and Germans and many cultures. And yes, there are cultural differences, but all this talk about fear. Is John trying to make us fearful? Is this his way of getting us to listen to him?”
Maybe. Who can know with 100% certainty what our deepest drivers are? I have had my experiences with this terrible and terrifying enemy. And I still do. I continue to battle fear. Frankly, the battle is never over. So let me be more concrete about what I mean with fear. Let me name a few:
“I will lose my job. They are americanizing us. They are germanizing us. He is in my way. I need to get him out of way. She trying kill me off. I need to kill her off first. Their approach will ruin things. We need to block it.
They are lying about numbers. We have no choice but to do same. We need get our customers on our side against them. We need to get their secrets, but to not share ours. They acquired us with our money.
Our management is a bunch of cowards. They give in to other side. Our boss is an idiot. We need to find a way get him removed. My colleague is an idiot. I will simply ignore her.
That engineer is a real thorn in our sides. We need to find a way to make his work unbearable. They are bad people. We are good people. We want the best for customers. They do not. Those Germans! Those Americans!”
Do these statements sound familiar? Do they sound harmless or harmful? Let me finish with this: those kinds of statements, the spirit behind them, the emotions behind them, are dangerous. Very dangerous, because they are fear-driven.