Making an Impression by Style Switching


Working in a globalized, multicultural environment means addressing possible cultural gaps in numerous situations. In international organizations, some gaps present themselves more often than others, especially those that involve the cultural orientations around individuals’ sense of self. Style switching around these gaps can lead to better results. Take this example:

Your South Korean colleague Hayeon tells you that she will meet with her US American manager next week to discuss a possible promotion. She has never met the manager face-to-face before, only through e-mail and conference calls. She does know, however, that there are nine other candidates for the position. While Hayeon feels that she is well qualified because of her specific experience, credentials and the results of her initiatives, she is nervous because she is unsure how to present herself.

She tells you that her plan is to appear humble and reserved. She believes her credentials will speak for themselves, and feels that she should show her excellent listening skills by only responding when prompted.

This scenario demonstrates the differences among South Koreans and US Americans when it comes to the individualistic-collectivistic and cooperative-competitive orientations.

During interviews, US Americans tend to express clearly defined individual goals, and directly declare personal strengths. This emphasis on objectives and achievements is an expression of both the individualistic and competitive orientations in US American business culture. On the other hand, many South Koreans find such displays of individualism and competitiveness off-putting and even rude, hence Hayeon’s decision to forego promoting herself.

However, as her manager is US American, Hayeon can assume that including some talking points about her goals and strengths would be well received during her pitch. If Hayeon were to identify her specific objectives and highlight her individual achievements, while emphasizing that she is a good listener and a team player, her manager would likely be impressed.

Though it is not always comfortable to adopt different orientations when dealing with leaders and colleagues from other cultures, style switching can help bridge gaps – and return results that impress.