Millennials comprise a very large percent of today’s global workforce, across many countries and many different cultures. Regardless of an area’s traditional culture, its Millennials typically have very different tendencies and expectations than older generations. This post is part of a series intended to help global business leaders raise their awareness of continuous shifts in cross-cultural diversity by exploring how Millennials are reshaping cultural attitudes in selected countries.
I’ve lost my phone more times than I can count. I’ve left it in a classroom, on a bar stool, in the refrigerator (yes, inthe refrigerator), in the grass next to a sticky juniper tree, and collecting dust in my house while I boarded an airplane. When I do remember to bring my phone abroad with me, I’m really no better at keeping track of it and am even liable to get it stolen. (This has happened in three different countries.)
My lack of effort to stay plugged in belies the stereotype of my generation. Millennials are usually pretty attached to their phones, computers, and Wi-Fi connections, largely because we grew up in a generation where modern technology was introduced at a younger age. It became a part of our educations, our career paths, how we were socialized, and the way we built relationships.
Inevitably, the presence of social media and the immediacy of conversation via text, email, and video chat also seems to have changed the ways in which the world communicates. Because Millennials have been developing a level of comfort with this technology from a younger age, our communication styles can be strongly influenced. This is particularly relevant as globalized businesses and multicultural work teams become increasingly common.
In Saudi Arabia, the influence of technology on communication is particularly important because it challenges some deeply held Saudi beliefs about honor and privacy. Traditionally, Saudi communication is intended to protect one’s dignity and respect, so Saudis often rely on subtlety, context, and body language to fully express their ideas. In the framework of the Communication Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model®, Saudi Arabia is a very Indirect Communication culture.
With that in mind, consider how Saudi Millennials’ engagement with social media may be affecting traditional preferences. According to this survey by Ipsos Connect, an impressive 94% of Saudi Millennials are active online, and the use of online platforms such as Instagram and YouTube is very high. The use of these platforms can be an important way of sharing ideas and opinions more openly given that government censorship is much less stringently imposed on social media than traditional outlets.
Because the lives of Saudi Millennials are often tightly intertwined with the use of fast-paced applications, where communication generally offers little context and cannot rely on body language to enhance meaning, Saudi Millennials may be developing a more Direct Communication Style than previous generations. In the workplace, this means they may express their opinions more concisely and openly than older Saudi employees, particularly in a private setting. For this reason, Millennials may feel more motivated and engaged if you encourage them to speak up and participate. An easy way to do this is to ask open-ended questions so that team members feel free to share their thoughts.
Another important aspect of intercultural communication is how much context people prefer in order to accomplish an assignment. Since they are generally accustomed to communicating virtually (ergo with less context and fewer nonverbal signals), Saudi Millennials may feel comfortable with less background information than older employees. Global leaders working across cultures may be most successful if they give Saudi Millennials less explicit instruction and greater freedom to take initiative or contribute creative ideas.
Of course, these observations are not carved in stone, and it’s important to remember that tradition still has a strong influence in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Communication Dimension encompasses many behaviors, so even if Saudi Millennials have more moderate tendencies, they will probably still display other body language and subtle behaviors that align with the more Indirect Communication style of older generations. For example, although you may be able to share constructive criticism more directly with a Millennial employee, it is very important to do so in a private setting so as not to diminish that person’s honor.
Because of these nuances, it’s a good idea to learn about Saudi culture before you meet your associates so that you can make a good impression and develop best practices for successful intercultural communication. Remember that everyone’s preferences and expectations will likely differ based on age, cultural background, and many other aspects of identity. When you lead a multicultural team, it’s imperative to hone your cross-cultural awareness and adapt to the needs of diverse groups.