Navigating Cultural Differences

The world is getting smaller as more people travel, immigrate, and connect between cultures. While these interactions are blurring borders, deeply rooted cultural identities are still alive and well, causing tensions when they clash.

Business academics are responding by researching the implications for team management and collaboration. In the last decade, a new measure of human intelligence has even been termed alongside the emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ), called the Cultural Quotient (CQ)–defined as a person’s ability to adapt as he or she interacts with others from different cultural regions. Employers can gain a competitive advantage by wisely navigating and even harnessing cultural differences. The question is: how can one begin to understand what these differences are?

Enter Sarah Lanier. Born in America, she has lived and worked in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and New Zealand. She currently lectures internationally about cultural dynamics in leadership and teamwork. In a 130-page classic book called “Foreign to Familiar”, she helpfully defines seven unique cultural spectrums, and observes that where a person falls on these spectrums often roughly corresponds to the temperature of the region where they were raised–with the extremes of cold-climate cultures and hot-climate cultures at each end. The seven spectrums are:

  1. Task vs Relationship Orientation
  2. Direct vs Indirect Communication
  3. Low-Context vs High-Context Interaction
  4. Different Concepts of Time and Planning
  5. Different Concepts of Hospitality
  6. Individualism vs Group Identity
  7. Privacy vs Inclusion

Cultural differences in these areas are often significant factors in virtual working relationships between the extremes of “hot” cultures like the Philippines, and “cold” cultures like Canada. They will be unpacked in the coming months from a cold-culture perspective, along with guidelines on how they can be navigated.

For this month, we’ll wrap up with two quick pointers that apply to multicultural relationships in general:

  • It is usually best to acknowledge cultural differences up front–making space to communicate about misunderstandings and frustrations that occasionally occur.
  • It is very important to maintain the attitude that no culture is inherently better than another–but that both have strengths and weaknesses.

In the context of hiring globally, asking an assistant to accommodate your cultural preferences is usually appropriate, and even represents an opportunity for your staff to gain more cultural fluency. Just don’t overlook the benefit of adding your assistant’s cultural strengths to the mix as well!


The mission of Twassistant is to make what the world can do accessible. We provide clients the support and infrastructure needed to connect long-term with great people around the world–experiencing the full benefit and value that the world has to offer.

This newsletter is published for the same purpose–as we discover key ingredients of successful virtual relationships, we want to share them as widely as possible. Our goal is to create a valuable resource for everyone–from casual subscriber to loyal customer.

Thanks for reading–you can reply anytime to with your thoughts, or to suggest a future topic.