It’s almost a given that, in today’s fast paced global business climate, you’re going to have to develop relationships across a wide range of cultures. That also means that some of us will have to step into the role of a mentor to someone from another place during our careers. This can be challenging, in some cultures the presence of a mentor in any way, can be perceived as an insult. In many areas the relationship between mentor and the mentee will be far more challenging than in a standard Western business environment.
Here are some tips to help you face these situations better prepared:
Develop Some Personal Cultural Awareness
That means taking some time out to examine your own culture. What values do you hold that might present a challenge in the relationship? It might be that you come from a culture in which “sharing” of feelings and feedback is the norm. Alternatively it might be that you’re not comfortable with “one-on-one” learning formats. What aspects of you as a mentor do you think might be misunderstood by someone from a different culture?
Try to Understand Your Mentee’s Culture
Spend a little time learning about their country and culture. Find out more about the people, their business environment, dominant religious culture (or lack of the same), familial ties, education, etc. The more you know – the better prepared you will be.
Think About Your Communication Patterns
It’s important to focus on communicating in a non-threatening way to build understanding. You’ll want to pay attention to language – don’t forget that idiom and specific local examples don’t always translate well, even for the most experience ESL speaker. Try and spend some time focusing on more universal examples, and don’t be afraid to elaborate when describing a situation. Rephrase content and use open-ended questions to gauge understanding. If you’re worried that there may be a cultural misunderstanding – don’t be afraid to address that directly in discussion.
Spend a Little More Time Understanding Your Mentee’s Culture
There are many places on earth where people don’t express themselves verbally. In “face” cultures for example, people are generally loathe to criticize behaviour or express negative feelings. You want to try and avoid personal or probing questions and watch out for non-verbal cues. Of course it can be difficult for a remote mentor to catch these on a telephone call, so it’s important to try and get some face time in to a mentoring relationship even if it’s only over Skype.
Try and avoid direct “Yes/No” response questions when you’re checking the understanding of your mentee. This can leave them feeling trapped and unable to supply any answer except the one you want to hear. Try and avoid direct criticism too – it’s much better to enable the mentee to address their own concerns, rather than force a viewpoint on them.
Mentoring across cultures is an amazing experience. It gives you the chance to learn a lot about another culture. Successful relationships are all about common ground and understanding, hopefully these tips will give you a head start in achieving just that.