The Relationship Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model® is among the most influential in raising awareness for improving cross-cultural communication in intercultural work situations. It describes the importance of building trust and establishing comfort before people can work together, and its spectrum ranges from highly “Interpersonal” to highly “Transactional.”
In my last year of college, my workload—between school, jobs and extracurriculars—was very stressful. One week, my stress was amplified because I had been very sick, but I couldn’t afford to fall behind. I was therefore determined to keep a long-standing appointment with one of my mentors.
I entered her office, feverish and uncomfortable as I greeted her and took my seat. She smiled and asked how I was doing. I replied, “Oh, I am fine,” and immediately began accounting for my work since our last meeting.
Before I could get started, though, she leaned forward and repeated with emphasis, “Nathalie, how are you doing?” I hesitantly admitted that I had been sick, so I was having a rough week, before attempting to resume a professional discourse. She asked how long I had been sick and whether I was able to attend classes. And we went back and forth a couple of times before I realized that this was not going to be a Transactional meeting.
My mentor, who was from the rural Deep South of the U.S., expected our working relationship to be rooted in Interpersonal connections. But I grew up in urban California, where I was taught to keep a certain professional distance from my colleagues and mentors.
To avoid misunderstanding in any cross-cultural encounter, it is important to be aware and ready to interpret how people behave vis a vis the Relationship Dimension. Taking note of how readily people share personal information—and under what circumstances—is key to understanding where they sit on the Interpersonal-to-Transactional spectrum. Once you embrace this practice, you can use that cross-cultural awareness to adjust your own communication style and improve the quality of intercultural teamwork.
Signs of Interpersonal Culture:
- People develop strong personal relationships with their colleagues.
- People share personal information in the workplace.
- Getting to know someone helps advance business dealings.
- Social conversations take place before meetings begin.
- People are genuinely interested in how you are doing personally. This is viewed as relevant to how you are doing professionally.
- Sincerity is prized, and trust is the cornerstone of business relationships.
- Meals are socially important gatherings that may last multiple hours.
Signs of Transactional Culture:
- People are more formal with colleagues, particularly on first encounters.
- Personal relationships are not relevant to conducting business.
- Sharing personal information is considered unprofessional.
- People will briefly greet one another and immediately dive into the subject of the meeting.
- Asking “How are you?” is more of a formality. People will be surprised if answers are not brief or insubstantial.
- People have more faith in legal protection than building trust with colleagues.
- Partnerships are based on calculated opportunities rather than pre-established connections.
To further improve your awareness of cross-cultural dynamics in the Relationship Dimension, read our detailed blog post, The Relationship Dimension: A Fundamental Building Block Of Cross-Cultural Awareness.