Bicultural — how do we get there?

Yesterday I heard a comment about a friend of mine:

She is not only bilingual, she is totally bicultural.  When I spoke in Russian to her she sounded and acted very natural; then I observed her in the conversation with a British business partner of mine and she looked and sounded very different, but the partner then said that she was fully British in the way she acted”.

How do we achieve this level of biculturalism?

I talk about it with my clients, who work for big multinational companies a lot.  Most successful international managers all agree that first thing you have to do is observe.  But what else?

I think I found an interesting, and, I believe, comprehensive approach in this interview with Andy Molinsky in October Issue of Harvard Business Review.

He asks cultural “newcomers” ‘to figure out what the cultural norms are and how they differ from the home culture on six dimensions:

  • directness
  • enthusiasm
  • formality
  • assertiveness
  • self-promotion
  • self-disclosure’

Then he advises them to figure out “zone of appropriateness” and their personal comfort zone.

Once they have discovered this, and figured out what adaptations they ‘can (and are willing to) make, develop muscle memory. Make them automatic by practicing.’

I will finish this post with the quote from the same interview:

I want people to know that this isn’t rocket science. You don’t need to have lived in five countries and learned five languages to be successful across borders. You do need to be thoughtful and self-aware, and you need to be willing to take that leap into the unknown.

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