Connecting is the sixth of 12 Dimensions of Culture that KnowledgeWorkx uses to map out the intercultural terrain. If you haven't already, you should read our article introducing the 12 Dimensions.
The Connecting dimension will enable you to understand an important dynamic in personal interaction and information sharing within your organization. Successfully managing this dimension depends on understanding the Connecting cultures that your staff and management come from, and using that information to address the unique concerns of your industry or department.
'Connecting' focuses on two things: the physical space of social interaction, and the way in which information is shared between people.
Connecting in Intercultural Teamwork for the Global Workspace
Exclusive connecting cultural preference
When it comes to the physical space of connecting, an Exclusive connecting space would make the assumption that when people are discussing something, either on the phone or face to face; then that conversation has to first be concluded before you will be able to engage with the people who are having that conversation.
If two people are talking, and you are the third person arriving on the scene, you would wait until that conversation finds an appropriate pause, or is concluded, and you would keep more or less a respectful distance from the two people that are having the conversation while you wait.
The same would be true when somebody is on the phone: if you know the conversation is going on, then you would probably keep a respectful distance, or you might even decide to leave the room to give the opportunity for that person to have an exclusive connecting conversation.
Inclusive connecting cultural preference
In the inclusive connecting world, people are much more fluid at having someone included in a conversation. If two people are having a conversation and a you arrive as a third person, it is appropriate to just come up to them and say, "Hi".
The people having the conversation are likely to either pause the conversation, or include you in it, even if the conversation might have nothing to do with you. It would be rude to make you wait, as you are now physically within your presence, within eyesight, within hearing distance. They might say, "You are more than welcome to join us for this meal, we're just having a business conversation, welcome!"
People with an exclusive-connecting preference can find inclusive-connecting people nosy and unwilling to stick to their own set of responsibilities. On the other hand, people with an inclusive connecting preference can feel that exclusive connecting people are cold and un-engaging. This can cause friction at a social level, but the Inclusive/Exclusive connecting dimension also extends into the information sharing systems within the organization.
Inclusive and Exclusive Information Sharing
In a strong exclusive connecting environment, the mindset is that only what is explicitly requested should be shared, and then only you are authorized to see the information you requested.
This means that people are more focused on the request: if you send an email or give a quick phone call to a colleague, and say, " I remember a study was recently done on xyz, would you happen to have access to the research report that was produced?" In an exclusive-connecting culture the other party would say, "Yes, I have it, I’ll send it to you." They would then check whether you were authorized and send it through or say, "I have a hard copy, come over and let's look at it."
In a more inclusive-connecting environment, the other party would try to find a bit more information about the request. "Can I ask what you need it for - what are you working on?" They would go beyond the question and attempt to understand why the information is needed and be quicker to volunteer information. Your request for one file, and explanation as to why you need it might lead the other party to say, "You know what, there are some other studies that you might be interested in as well."
When inclusive and exclusive connecting cultures collide, the person with the inclusive-connecting preference would often say, "Why didn't you give me the information I needed? With one question you would have been able to find out that I was working on this project . . . now I find out that the one file I asked for is only one third of what I really need." Meanwhile, the person with an exclusive-connecting preference would say, "Well, you know, you didn't ask for it!"
All of the dialogue that should have happened in the middle of the conversation to figure out what information is needed stopped, because of the difference between exclusive and inclusive connecting. The person with an inclusive-connecting preference expects the other party to ask questions to elicit information about the context of the request, while the person with the exclusive-connecting preference expects the requestor to frame the information requests in ways that include all possibly relevant information.
How to manage the Connecting dimension
When you develop policy and procedure, ask yourself what is acceptable in terms of information sharing, how tight the authorization procedures are, and how appropriate is it to be more exclusive or inclusive. In some departments and industries it may be better to be exclusive, because security, safety or confidentiality may be at stake. In others, the incidental information sharing that comes through an inclusive-connecting preference may be the best fit.
Any mismatch between the connecting preferences in the personal culture of the staff and the behavior you want in your organizational culture should be addressed. If you have a department that needs more exclusive connecting behavior for security and confidentiality reasons, but operate in the midst of a culture with a strong inclusive-connecting preference, you will need to set up a clear example of where the boundary is between inclusive and exclusive connecting behaviors are as your staff carries out their job responsibilities, and help staff develop mechanisms to manage the transition between their inclusive and exclusive connecting behaviors in social and informational settings.
In an environment like stakeholder management and key account management, it is more beneficial to be on the inclusive side. If more than one person is involved in servicing a client, then you would certainly hope that your colleagues are more inclusive and give you everything you need to serve that client well, or to find everything there is to find about a specific stakeholder to manage that stakeholder better.
Discussions on these topics should happen in a team setting, so that there is a common understanding of how exclusive or inclusive the connection is going to be between team members.
To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.