The Value of Cross-Cultural Fluency & Understanding The Family Business (Part IX)

NOTE: This is Part IX and the last of a series of blog posts related to cross-cultural fluency and the family business.

Over a series of blog posts, I have proposed and explained a Cross-Cultural Fluency Model with six factors that highlight differences between the Dominant Culture and various Subcultures. The intent is to identify similarities among the Subcultures which then enhances understanding in terms of how professional advisors—whether in the financial, legal or other sectors—working with them. How does one become cross-culturally fluent?

When dealing with individuals whose cultural mindset differs from one’s own, such as those individuals in a sub-culture, the “discovery process” is even more crucial. The discovery process is a structured format for asking questions to understand their background and the details of whatever they are confronting in their business. Cross-cultural fluency will be very useful in this process. The client’s needs and goals may be very different from the advisor, and advisors must refrain from making assumptions or stereotyping. The advisor should start the relationship carefully and respectfully and ask questions to better understand their world view.

I always begin a discovery process with the big picture approach related to values, which then ties in with worldview. Some typical questions I ask: what do you see as the purpose of your life? What are your core values? What would you need to achieve to believe your life has been well-lived? What, if anything, do you want your legacy to be? What causes are most important to you? They, in turn, may need to ask more questions than you may be used to, and you may need to listen more carefully than usual to their answers. It’s important to venture beyond active listening to empathetic listening—that is, the key is to understand, and not just to respond.

Advisors who possess a high level of cross-cultural fluency play an important role in bridging divides and knowledge gaps in an organization. They are more able to educate their peers about different cultures; they can transfer knowledge between otherwise disparate groups; they may help build interpersonal connections and smooth interpersonal processes in a multicultural workforce. Such abilities go beyond simply being intelligent, emotionally mature, or having good general social skills. They relate to the three interactive components referred to earlier: cultural knowledge, cross-cultural skills, and cultural metacognition.

In conclusion, the concept of “cross-cultural fluency” is little used and understood. Why is it important? A large percentage of successful family businesses originate from immigrants, are led by immigrants or are at least heavily influenced by immigrant communities. The story often starts with the founder immigrating to the new country and bringing their expertise. The key to conducting successful business with these individuals is to understand cultural nuances; to understand is to connect, to recognize differences, and to respect one another. A mastery of the six factors of the Cross-Cultural Fluency Model will be a starting point for greater communication and understanding.

At Nicola Wealth, the firm where I work, cross-cultural fluency is an asset in understanding and relating to newcomers who have started family businesses and who have prospered, generally, by playing the long game.