We all see the world based on our past experiences, current roles and environments. That may lead us to make assumptions or go about our work in ways that unintentionally hinders progress. JDA CIO Bill Owen shares how becoming aware of differences in how we communicate and engage has helped him to become more effective in working with others, and offers tips for how others can do the same.

Have you ever been working on a project where everyone seems to be working hard but you’re not going anywhere? Or that you feel like you’ve got a clear path forward only to discover that not everyone is on board? I have come to understand that when I find myself in those situations, it may be because of assumptions that I have, or possibly because my own behavior was misunderstood based on the assumptions of others.

My “ah-ha” moment around this was actually in the early 1990s when I was assigned to a project that involved moving an office from one part of Europe to another. Now to this point, I had been part of, or led, a dozen office moves. But they were all in the U.S. Needless to say, my rugged individualist “Western style” of leadership and expectations were not well received with my European colleagues at the time. This was especially true considering they were not interested in moving their office anyway.

That was the beginning of my self-awareness and desire to learn how to improve in that area. Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege to work with many different people and cultures. Following are several things that I have learned about cultural diversity through the years:

  1. Everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just may go about their work differently, and that is okay.
  2. When working with people of different cultures, make sure that there is clear understanding (and agreement) of the objectives of the work that needs to be completed. Don’t assume!
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate or as I like to say, “Pick up the phone!” Email and text communication are terrible ways to convey thoughts as they are totally void of emotion and context. Often, even though something has been written, it can still be misunderstood. Calling someone, or using a tool that enables video conferencing, can help create great context by which everyone gains a sense of understanding.
  4. Create a fail-safe environment where associates can experiment and fail. But make it so that failure comes fast and early to reduce the impact to the initiative.

Early in his tenure, JDA CEO Girish Rishi pointed out that many of us do not have a common language, food, religion or culture. Yet every day, we are living the JDA Values by communicating and working together to drive business results, increase our knowledge and build effective teams.

I believe we should take a look at how we engage in all situations to understand how where people live, their current work environment and personal background impacts how they communicate and interact with others. There have been many studies that show the positive impact that diversity of backgrounds, knowledge and perspectives brings to teams. So, the next time you are struggling with a situation, stop for a moment to check for any assumptions that may be hindering your forward progress. Consider cultural differences as well as your assumptions of how you expect people to work. Perhaps what you are witnessing is diversity at work, and it just needs to be cultivated to produce the results you are seeking.