Why these 5 Western skills for creating trust across cultures don’t work

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

In our thrive to learn how to create trust in other cultures, it is very useful to step back from our own beliefs and listen to other ways of doing this.

Some time ago I read an article titled: “Five skills for creating trust across cultures. “ With all the good intentions, although the title mentioned “across cultures”, the description of the skills was very Western-centred.

In this post I will describe the suggestions that were mentioned and how they would be contradicted by other cultures.

1. Sincerity

From the Western point of view: Say what you believe and mean it. When you tell the truth as you see it and act accordingly, people will perceive your sincerity. Your opinions will have validity. Comments:In many cultures, sincerity is less important than ‘face’ and sometimes saving face obliges you to steer away from sincerity.

2. Create credibility

Contracts & promises

Western-centred suggestion: Ensure your actions validate your words. Keep your promises. Are you sure that you can satisfy a request before responding to it? Have you interpreted the request correctly?  Comments: in a number of cultures, when the conditions of the environment change, so must the promises… and therefore promises are not binding the same way as they do in some Anglo-Saxon cultures.

3. Take responsibility

Western point of view: Maintain the trust you have earned by being accountable for your actions. Own up to your mistakes. Contact the parties affected and offer an apology and countermeasures to help remedy.  Comments: Being accountable relies on the belief that men have a strong control on life and destiny…this belief is not shared in many cultures and therefore people expect good will and good intention rather than full responsibility.

4. Be a good listener

Be a good listener

Western point of view: Listen without interrupting, allow your colleagues sufficient time to say what they need to. Taking time to listen shows you respect and recognize the other person’s perspective.  Comments: Listening is a key competence in effective communication, but the way you put it into practice might be very different across cultures. In some cultures it will be better not to interrupt, allow your colleagues sufficient time to express themselves. In other cultures you listen sharp by participating very actively to the conversation and, whether you like it or not, interrupting is part of the game and shows your level of interest. It does not mean you lack respect.

5. Encourage a culture that doesn’t assign blame

Western-centered suggestion: Examine the source of a problem and deal with it constructively. Encourage honesty with an open door rather than reproaching colleagues. Mistakes are inevitable. Build trust by addressing an honest mistake appropriately. Convert the mistake into a timely coaching opportunity. Comments: In many cultures, addressing an honest mistake appropriately would be to safe ‘face’ to the employee and steer away from commenting individual mistakes openly. Address the mistakes as a team responsibility would be a more proper way for improvement.

What do we think is best to do?

Cultural Intelligence means that you are aware of these differences, observe how people around you behave concerning these trust building skills and adapt in the way you think is necessary to build on good relationships.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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