Living in Asia makes you realize that there are communities in the world who see kindness is a strength, not a weakness. In my corporate experience in a big city like Chicago, I was rewarded more when I was firm with people, when I pushed back to claim what my team needed, and when I talked in a way that’s more matter-of-fact than friendly. Strength and grit is rewarded here in the States, while in Asia, it’s the opposite. If you’re brief and firm, people don’t see it as being curt and respect you for it– they see it as antagonistic and tell you you’re bossy.
So what’s an expat to do? One who commutes back and forth, and sees the dichotomy between two cultures amplified? It’s a lesson in adapting, for sure. Fortunately, I have friends in both places who understand the hard task of frequently having to navigate between cultures, and I confide in them to help me interpret situations. As we discussed this, we agreed that relating to people in different cultures means having toolbox with a set of tools (ie. knowledge about relational tactics that will make you more favorable in a certain culture). The more cultures you have to deal with, the more tools you collect as you learn more about it, expanding your toolbox.
The next time I need a team in Asia to do something, I’ll try a kinder approach– one that’s more friendly, even humbling oneself– since they respond better to this and will do the work with more motivation. They will see it as doing work they owe to you, as a kind boss. If I use this same approach in the States, it will be seen as weak, not strong enough to earn the respect of the team that they will not end up doing the work I ask them to do. So in that context, I will be more direct and straightforward, and discuss common objectives as a team to accomplishing the work. They will see it as doing the work for common ideals, as a team striving for success.