Increase Your Awareness of Cross Cultural Differences

Increase Your Awareness of Cross Cultural Differences

May 20, 2015

Our behavior and preferences often have a cultural context, and cultural norms vary between racial and ethnic groups partially explaining the popular saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So with a continually changing global population in the U.S., and our famous melting pot, how can retails RDs assess and address the cultural differences, emotions, and expectations of the shoppers that enter their store as well as their coworkers? 

Here are some insights. 

Some of our greatest assets as dietitians are the inherent qualities that originally drew us into the profession: the ability to empathize, be compassionate, listen and of course, try and relate to our patients or clients. All of these skills are very useful in many business settings, especially when it comes to helping shoppers make healthy decisions on the supermarket floor. We may even brag about our ability to quickly “read” another person’s emotions and relate to their feelings. But with the increasingly global population this isn’t always entirely possible. 

According to Andy Molinsky, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School, “Emotions vary tremendously across cultures, both in terms of their expression and their meaning. Without a detailed understanding of these emotional landscapes, crossing cultures can become a communication minefield.”

Here are some examples cited by Molinsky using the expression of enthusiasm: 

In the U.S., it’s culturally acceptable, even admirable, to show enthusiasm in a business setting, assuming it’s appropriate for the situation. When arguing for a point in a meeting, it is quite appropriate to express your opinions passionately; it can help to convince those around you. 

On the other hand, in Japan, there are strict boundaries about when and where to display emotion. During the regular workday, Japanese individuals are not typically emotionally expressive. Even if they feel excited about their work, they will rarely show it explicitly. This often changes outside of the workplace setting, where they can show a great deal of emotion when socializing.

Across the pond in the UK, the reaction is typically far more understated and subdued. A truly outstanding achievement, for example, is often characterized as “not bad.” And when people ask how each other are doing, the typical answer is “fine” (as opposed to “great!” or “good!” as it might be in the U.S.). Moderation and self-control are more highly valued rather than emotional expressiveness.

How can retail dietitian nutritionists effectively manage these culture differences?

  • Get to know your core population as well as the minorities who visit your store and tune in to some of the differences you observe.
  • Notice whether people tend to express emotions readily or keep them to themselves. These behaviors and attitudes can also apply to shopping habits and cultural norms around weight and health.
  • “Treat emotions like another language,” says Molinsky. “If you’re traveling or moving to France, you’re bound to learn French, or at least some key phrases. Treat emotions in the same way.”
  • Know that mistakes are inevitable, and it takes time to learn and adapt. If you express genuine interest in the person or situation, this will ultimately shine through. 

Click here for more on emotional intelligence from Andy Molinsky. Andy is also the author of the book Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process (HBR Press, 2013).