How to Develop Multi-cultural Skills
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How to Develop Multi-cultural Skills

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart", Nelson Mandela.


When Hollywood actor Richard Gere publicly kissed Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, people made a hue and cry over the scene and on the issue across India. Neither Richard Gere was wrong in kissing and nor Shilpa Shetty was wrong in getting kissed but the culture and country in which such a scene happened drew the public and media attention. Although their intentions were right but their actions were misunderstood and were criticized by public. It is a case of cultural differences between two people from two different cultural backgrounds.


According to Geert Hofstede, "Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another".

Every community has its own values, norms, mores, customs, cultures and cherishes the same. And any member of others' culture interferes or intervenes and insults then there will be cultural conflict. The rapid growing technology and media has made the globe smaller and people are learning to respect various cultures across the world. Culture is a broad term to define and it can be defined precisely as the love for one's own values, norms, mores, values, customs, language in which one is born. To be born in a particular culture is not a choice but destiny. However, if there is an aptitude and attitude to learn others' culture it is always possible to have cultural fluency, cultural competence and cultural tolerance and adjustment.


Ramu was born in a hamlet where there was not even a primary school. As a child he played in paddy fields; he swam in a nearby pond along with his friends in his childhood. When his father moved to small town, he found it very difficult to get along with town people. It is basically because of the cultural conflict. There was difference in the dialect, new environment and new people. He decided to go back to hamlet where he played in green fields, open environment with his friends. He found it very difficult to start his primary education in the town. He failed to get along with semi urban background. The parents understood the problem of Ramu and gave him emotional and moral support. They encouraged Ramu to go to school so that he could make new friends there. Ramu had problem for some time to get adjusted because of the cultural differences. But slowly and steadily he began liking the semi urban culture and got encultured. This is the process of cultural adjustment of Ramu merely shifting from hamlet to a nearby small town. This is one leg of his life.

He completed his graduation in the same town and subsequently joined in defence as an officer. During the day one itself Ramu began feeling suffocation because he came from a small town and he had to adjust with the trainees of other states, and other cultural backgrounds. The food he ate at home and the habits he developed at home, the language he spoke at home, the style and accent he developed at home needed a drastic change in defence. People came from different cultural backgrounds, different food habits, different clothing attires and different intelligence levels and were brought on one national track. Initially there were too many bottlenecks, cultural conflicts and after some period of time and training the people came to one national culture. For Ramu, joining in defence was a rebirth.

From the above case study it is very obvious about the cultural differences one encounters in one's life and career.


It is the study of physical distance which is supposed to be maintained among the individuals during conversation. It deals basically about distance which is supposed to be maintained amongst the known people and unknown people. Intimate zone can be maintained if there is close relation between the people. That means people come physically close and communicate. There is no fixed formula of maintaining the physical distance as it depends again on the cultural background of the people. It differs from country to country and from culture to culture.


It is all about the eye contact with individuals while communication. Excessive staring at others during conversation will create discomfort and inconvenience. Gazing at individuals will tantamount to bullying and browbeating others. At the same time if adequate eye contact is not maintained, the listeners will not take any interest towards your conversation. How much is the degree and how long is the duration of eye contact to be maintained is yet another crucial factor and varies from culture to culture.


It is essential to manage and minimize the cultural differences at all the levels. It helps people understand better and enhance peace and tranquility in the society. At the corporate level also it promotes healthy relations among the work force. It enhances productivity and performance. TCS trains its executives in foreign languages. All the companies are realizing the significance and importance attached to multicultural skills. Some companies recruit the talent from different cultural backgrounds so as to maintain cultural competency.

A few business schools and engineering institutions are encouraging the students across the globe to join and study together. It helps as a training ground to get encultured and enlightened with other cultures. It helps in people getting out of the mindset of 'frog in the well' and broadens their mental faculties.


When a visiting card is given the receiver has to take with a smile, observe and read and then should be kept inside the visiting card case holder. In India, when visiting card is given it is accepted with a right hand and then it is kept inside after reading the details. Whereas the same is called business card or name card in China and it has to be accepted with both hands closely observed, read and then kept inside.


In China, live birds and animals are displayed in the cages with in the restaurants itself. The people can order the same and the dressed meat is kept in the pan containing boiled water on the dining table which is free from spice. Other meat is also clubbed in the bowel which is being heated. Other vegetables are also put inside the pan and whatever is required will be served in the plate. There is no chronological order while eating. They can take boiled rice with milk, or beer or liquor or with meat or with vegetables. There is no specific order as such. When we compare the food habits in India it is totally different. Even with in India, there are various food habits like South Indian and North Indian and the classification and categorization goes on further.


It is the word widely used across the business world. Once the business deal or business proposal is confirmed and committed it is final. But it again changes from country to country based on their cultural backgrounds. In USA, once the proposal is 'yes' it is final and agreed upon. Where as in Japan, if it is 'yes' that means the party is agreeing to your proposal but not finalizing. That makes the cultural gaps in commitment.


For any business communication to be effective and efficient it should start with ice breaking sessions of general and non-business talk thus gradually gliding in to the core business talks. At this stage the negotiation skills are to be put to the test. All efforts should be made to make the negotiation process win-win. And after achieving the desired results and objectives then gradually the communication must revolve around the general discussions so as to indicate the finishing stages of the business communication. According to Japanese culture, the business communication should be thorough professional without any humor where as in Indian business communication, usage of humor is allowed.


An Indian working in an American software company in New Jersey bought a new car which was very costly and modern and told his American female colleague that he bought a new car and requested her to have glimpse and experience driving. The Indian was so excited to show his car to all colleagues in the work place and persisted in his attempts in front his female colleague to see the car and experience the driving. He wanted to share his excitement of buying a new costly car and frequently persisted her to see and try. The female colleague mistook the same and complained of sexual harassment. Although the intention of the Indian software professional was positive his actions were treated in a negative manner and it is a clear case of cultural miscommunication.

Apart from the above example there are a few examples which have been misunderstood due to different cultural background. Such as

• The gesture of the 'Thumps up' is regarded as an offensive in few countries and on the other hand it is treated as an excellent sign of good luck in the West.
• In India, the age of male should be usually higher than that of female for getting married and the age gap should be minimum. Where as in the West, it is not the condition or criteria. Age is not the criteria but understanding mutually and loving each other is the criteria. A man in the older age can marry a girl of younger age and vice versa is the practice prevailing in the west.
• When Pepsi came out with an English version of its advertisement captioned 'Come alive with Pepsi' in its true Taiwanese language it sent wrong signals to the consumers as it meant 'Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave'.
• When Michael Jackson dances the world applauds with ecstasy and joy. But few of his dancing postures look to be sexy and offensive to Indian cultural ethos and values. The body language plays a crucial role in communication and it again differs from culture to culture.
• In an Arab country a popular advertisement related to washing detergents has been mentioned with unclean clothes on the one side and clean clothes on the other side with a slogan in Arabic language that 'if you use our detergents your clothes would turn out be like this'. The end result is that the sales dipped drastically and later on the advertisers realized that the Arab language is read from right to left unlike other languages that are read from left to right. It is a case of a problem related to linguistic reading.
• In India people are flexible in timing and are not punctual where as in the Western countries they stick to timings and are punctual. Where as in a few countries like China, Korea and a few other countries timings are not the criteria but are very much particular about patience.


• Learn to respect others' cultures. 'Love your mother but do not hate others' mother'. Every individual has right to love his mother but he has no right to hate others' mother as for somebody she is the mother. Similarly you can love your community and culture and it is absurd to hate others' community and culture. There is a strong need to empathize with others' culture.
• An optimist looks at the things from positive perspective where as a pessimist looks from a negative perspective. Learn to look at the commonalities among various cultures rather than at the differences. It will help promote cultural synthesis and synergy.
• Develop tolerance towards others' cultures. And if possible, try to read books that promote cultural literacy, cultural competency and cultural fluency.
• When you enter into a new cultural zone, closely and keenly observe the situation and people, analyze and then adopt. Speaking less and observing more is essential.
• Project yourself as a low key person in a new cultural ambience.
• Don't criticize and don't compare others' culture with that of yours as every culture is unique.
• Develop patience towards others and do not rush in your actions and activities.
• Lot of research and home work needs to be done when entering into a new cultural environment as it will help glide and guide the process of negotiations smoothly.


Cultural literacy, cultural competency and cultural fluency are essential for personal and professional growth. Learning others' cultures and languages activates grey cells. It helps in knowing and understanding others better and results in cultural adjustment and cultural adaptability, cultural tolerance and prosperity. It is high we cultivated right attitude and aptitude towards all cultures across the world.

About the Author

(The author, Prof. M.S.Rao, is working as an Academic Guide in ICFAI University, India. He delivers 'Guest Lectures' upon request. He talks over radio and is a professional Writer and Trainer in soft skills, personality development, motivation, leadership and equity investments. He conducts training sessions to Corporates and Student community. Number of articles has been published in various global websites, magazines and journals. He has blog: He can be reached at email:,


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