Magazine article Workforce

Adapting to the Land Down Under

Magazine article Workforce

Adapting to the Land Down Under

Article excerpt

Cross-cultural communication is, tough The solution? Learn about the customs of your global colleagues,

Your company has just opened its first subsidiary in Australia. You have less than a month to send Judith, your marketing representative to Sydney. You breathe a sigh of relief because this assignment should be a piece of cake. After all, she just returned from three years in Nigeria. At least she won't have to learn another language.

True, but not so fast, mate! Even though Australia and the United States are both nations of immigrants with roots to Great Britain, follow the Christian religion and believe in democracy -they have distinct national identities.

In fact, if you look at a map, you'll be reminded why it's considered part of the Pacific Rim and why so many Australians increasingly do business with Asia. "Most Americans going to Australia expect Aussies to be similar to them," says George W. Renwick, a Carefree, Arizonabased cross-cultural management consultant and author of "A Fair Go for All: Australian/American Interactions." (Intercultural Press Inc. 1991)

In many ways both countries are similar, but the differences are significant enough to advance or jeopardize American business ventures abroad. Here's why.

Expect slow changes. One of the biggest mistakes American expats to Australia make is going over with big dreams of transforming the workplace. Instead of asking how much to change and how fast, American expats should ask, "What can I change and when?" Or more importantly, learn what you can't change. That Big Brother tendency to impose change is resented in many countries, especially Australia. From the Australian point of view, they already have Australian managers and employees, people who are quite familiar with their own organizations and customs. Try to impose a new idea without buy-in, and you'll get immediate feedback. "They'll say what they think and challenge a new idea. The Aussies resent being given orders," says Renwick. So tell your expat to watch his or her Type A control buttons.

Part of the Australians' resistance comes from their unique history. They have always struggled for equality. Also, Americans often come from traditional hierarchical organizations in which making and implementing decisions is normal and expected. Whereas Aussies usually expect to be involved and prefer a more collaborative decision-making approach.

Participatory management. Renwick advises that American expats deal with Australians as partners. Avoid issues orders. Negotiate instead, and come to mutually agreeable conclusions. Make your Aussie colleagues feel that your expats are accessible and can be approached informally. Don't expect deference. Australians will consider themselves as equals and should be treated as such.

When criticism is called for, don't beat around the bush. State the point clearly and objectively without making it a personal attack. In discussing business matters, he adds, don't spend a lot of time on peripheral details, fine points of interpretation, or splitting hairs. If complex technologies or processes need to be explained, avoid a patronizing tone. Chances are, they'll be able to tell whether or not you're sincere.

Be genuine. Australians and Americans also trust (and distrust) individuals for different reasons. Knowing how and why can help your expat develop more effective professional relationships. …

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