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ATD Blog

Mastering a Global Mindset


Thu May 11 2017

Mastering a Global Mindset

On April 28, we conducted a webcast, Mastering a Global Mindset, for ATD and were delighted with the dozens of questions that you sent us. Here are some of the most popular. 

What are some best practices for building relationships across cultures? 

This is a burning question for many people, and it shows recognition of the importance of relationships and establishing trust. Of course, solid relationships are important in any situation, but they’re especially crucial in intercultural interactions. 


In fact, in many situations it’s a prerequisite before getting down to business, so you need to allow time for developing that comfort through relationship building. As you develop your global mindset, you won’t think of it as a waste of time, but rather a business necessity. 

Recommendations: Take time to learn something about your global colleagues. Engage in “curiosity conversations” to learn about others. But be careful about personal questions. While everyone appreciates genuine interest, many people are private, and some cultures shy away from talking about themselves. Travel, hobbies, and school are always good topics. 

Show interest and learn a bit about the culture. In addition, try to spend a little time away from the business setting to further develop the relationship. 

You can start to establish trust by being respectful, ascribing credit, and delivering on commitments. Don’t try to rush the process. Trust takes time to develop. 

As important as relationship building is when you’re face-to-face, it’s particularly crucial when interacting virtually. In virtual conversations and meetings, allow time for chit-chat, share photos, and use a webcam, if possible. 


How do I get participation from foreign colleagues in a training session? 

There are several reasons why colleagues may be reluctant to participate, which fall into two broad categories: One is simple; the other complex. 

The simple reason might be language. When you’re not fluent in a language, you’re not as comfortable speaking, especially in the group. You may need more time to construct your thoughts, and the discussion may have moved on by the time you’re ready to contribute. 

Often people who speak the local language may inadvertently dominate, but as you develop a global mindset, you learn to adjust your style based on observing different cultural behaviors. 

Recommendations: Give people time to formulate their ideas. Suggest they can email later as well. At the start of a session, tell participants you’re going to allow time to formulate questions and not be surprised by silence. Also, distribute the agenda beforehand to give prep time. 

The more complex reasons are cultural. In some cultures, certain people are “authorized” to speak, and others will be hesitant to offer their thoughts. This hesitancy may also be related to publicly challenging someone, not wanting to embarrass another person, or embarrass yourself by demonstrating a lack of knowledge. 


In some cultures, it’s rude to interrupt, so it may be difficult to participate in a spirited discussion where bantering doesn’t allow someone to “jump in” without interrupting. 

Recommendations: Because meeting behaviors vary by culture, specify how your session will run and how you expect people to participate. If you find a lack of interaction, create dyads or small groups to encourage them. Have them text questions and submit ideas on cards. 

Do you adjust your training programs when developing them across cultures? Do different cultures learn differently? 

Yes. There's good reason to adapt the way you train to maximize engagement. Indeed, cultures communicate and learn differently. Some cultures regard the trainer as an expert who should not be questioned; others question and challenge. 

While messaging can be made “global,” the way content is taught needs to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate for the diversity of learning styles that exist from country to country. 

Recommendations: For example, brainstorming and spontaneous discussion may not work for Asians and other face-saving cultures because there's risk involved when openly sharing ideas. Group-oriented cultures may learn better when in teams. So, training should be designed in a flexible way, where facilitators can use their judgment to employ exercises that will encourage learning.  

What skills separate a global leader from a regional based leader? 

What makes you a great leader in one country does not necessarily make you a great leader in another. Cultures have differing expectations of leadership: Some respond well to leaders-as-coaches, while others expect leaders to be authoritative and have all the answers.

To be effective globally, leaders do best when they have a global mindset, which is the ability to understand the environment and flex their leadership style to the expectations and needs of the people they’re leading. They need to appreciate how cultural values manifest themselves in the workplace, so a global leader needs to be able to properly interpret behaviors and give subordinates the kind of leadership that will best enable them to thrive. 

Recommendations: Our three-step leadership model emphasizes self-awareness, developing a global mindset, and enabling collaboration and trust building. 

How can a trainer help participants avoid using stereotypes as shortcuts to understanding differences? 

To teach about culture, we gauge general behavioral patterns and categorize them into “dimensions.” These are generalized shortcuts to help us prepare for intercultural interactions. An effective trainer will frequently point out that everyone is different, that it would be a big mistake to assume that all people in a certain culture behave the same way. 

Recommendations: When you teach about national cultural generalities (which is critical to understanding differences between cultures), you need to continually reinforce the danger of a stereotyping people.

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