We, and by “we” I mean Americans, have all worked with staff or developers overseas. However not many have been on the other side. Not many Americans have lived and worked overseas side by side with an offshore team. It was and still is a very interesting experience as an American to work with other Americans from abroad. I have lived outside the United States for the past eight years and many of those years I worked for an IT outsourcing company in Bulgaria. As the only American in the company, I was charged with being the cultural liaison to help the team who worked directly with the Americans close the culture gap. It was a technical integration team that worked American hours (night shift), wrote hundreds of emails a day and spent most of their time on conference calls with Americans. They had American counterparts with the same job, they just happened to be the offshore team. Looking at it from the other side and seeing the cultural friction points and struggles of the team I gained a new perspective on how to work with Americans. I could write a whole other post about how Americans could (and should) work better with offshore teams (in fact I probably will). If you, as a non-American, just bring a few of these tips into your routine your professional life will surely improve.
1. They like people that smile – Maybe you work on the phone, but people can always “feel” if a person is smiling or not. In my years abroad many people joke about how Americans are smiley and positive almost to a ridiculous and cartoonish level. It may or may not be true but you will find it is contagious and just makes everyone’s day better. Error on the side of optimism. You need all the help you can get with distance business relationships.
2. When someone asks “How are you?” always respond “Good!” – I have seen this a thousand times before. I ask a colleague how they are doing and they respond with either: “So so” or “I’ve been better”. It may be honest but it is a mood killer. What do you expect the other person to do or say? They can’t do anything and will try to move the conversation on to business to avoid your personal troubles. You will find you will get more of the things you want if you just say “Things are great!” more often. Everyone loves a person with positive energy.
3. Reply to every email just to show you received it – Sometimes emails are sent and they really do not necessitate a response. Even in this situation always respond with a: “Got it!”, “OK” or “Thanks”. Too often Americans feel that they write emails and they are sent out to email heaven where they are never coming back. Is anybody out there? When you work far away from someone people have a tendency to put a movie in their head that the recipient did not respond because they didn’t get the email, they are out of the office, they don’t care and won’t do the work or aliens came and abducted them. If you just write back an “OK” there will be no worries over aliens and everyone is happy. You will be amazed how much the other person will appreciate you.
4. Have a nice day! – It is a very American thing to tell someone else to have a nice day. In American culture we do not think we are being presumptuous to tell someone else what kind of day to have. We just do it as a polite courtesy. So say it but don’t say it like you REALLY want them to have a nice day because then that gets weird. It is just a way to close the session of interaction.
5. Always ask – Ask what to do when you do not understand something. American managers hate it when they ask you to do something and when asked about it days later you say you did not understand the task. It is your responsibility to make sure you understand. Americans are results driven and this is something that is sure to irritate them. The more you ask, the better it will be for everyone.
6. Leave personal issues at home – Hollywood movies tend to show that Americans are very open with their problems and will tell you all about it. This is true with friendships because in general we respect people that are comfortable sharing their problems. The workplace is a different situation. It is a nuance that you can master only with experience over time, but Americans have a line about what they will share and will not share at work. Americans are very friendly and this friendliness can be misunderstood for actually being friends. If you are in the workplace, error on the side of less is more.
7. Make it happen! Give them 10 solutions to make it work, not 10 reasons why it won’t happen – This might be the most important point. So often I have had complex projects with many moving parts or had an interesting new idea. When talking about it with others, especially non-Americans, I found that most people gave me reasons why it would not work rather than ways to make it work. Americans want solutions, not problems. The problems are easy. When you shift your thinking to finding solutions instead of finding problems a lot more things are possible than you previously thought. So be a solution person and people will soon think that you are part of the solution.
Mark is the CEO of a mobile and web agency with offshore development in Bulgaria. The company guides startups in building their MVP and helps multi-nationals be more agile in the mobile sphere. Coming from a marketing and entertainment background he consults on strategy for many new ventures. www.futurist-labs.com