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How to prepare for cultural differences?

Working for a global company means that on a daily basis we have the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures and nationalities. Work might require some traveling and some will even get the opportunity to work as expats or participate in shorter projects abroad. 

As I am posting this blog during my international assignment, I decided to write about one of my favorite topics: cultural differences. Let me share with you a basic trick to be a little more prepared to face unknown cultural experiences: Hofstede's cultural dimensions tool. His theory is widely used by business schools to support for example leadership studies. Hofstede model is a basic concept to understand more about the principal cultural drivers. For this blog post, I ran the comparison for Finland and Brazil and the scores are visible in the diagram below. It shows that the biggest difference between Finland and Brazil has to do with power distance followed by individualism and masculinity.




What do the scores tell us? The score for power distance in Finland is low and indicates decentralized power, informal attitude towards managers and employees expectation to be asked for an opinion. Brazil's high score indicates that hierarchy should be respected and inequalities are acceptable.  

Low masculinity score characterizes Finland as a feminine society where dominant values that motivate people are soft values. Seeking for consensus is important, good work-life balance is appreciated and status is not shown. Brazil's score is seen to be intermediate and makes Brazil more competition and achievement driven society than Finland. It is important to remember that this tool helps to understand the deep drivers and gives you a direction but it is not necessarily the absolute truth.

How have I then managed to adapt to work in the country with higher power distance? I have to say that my adaption to Brazilian working environment has been much easier than I expected based on my experience from working in Chile (and that's another story to tell). I think the reason is obvious: because it's still the same global company here that I'm working for in Finland. And I admit that with a small preparation before the trip made it easier to adapt for the cultural differences. 

For me, the most difficult part to adapt has been the concept of time: things happening with much more 'patience' here than I am used to. Hierarchy and flexibility have also caused some grey hair in a sense that the communication and agreements are not always direct between different levels of hierarchy but might require someone in the middle to inform you or agree something basic on your behalf. 

Overall, I have really enjoyed the experience to get to work with different people and sometimes even in a different way than I am used to. Finally, it is all up to ourselves how we adapt to the foreign culture. We can either decide to think negatively or try to get the best out of the experience. I am sure that you can guess which one is my recommendation. 

In case you are interested to find out more about Hofstede's tool, you can find it here: