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Duty of Care: Navigating Political Waters

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Imagine you are out to dinner with foreign colleagues. You are asked about your opinion on the recent news in your home country, which is hotly debated, even in your office at home. You know building personal relationships and trust are important in your colleagues' local culture, but you aren't sure how to answer their questions respectfully. So, what do you do?

Situations like this are far too common and when you are interacting with people from around the world at work, you must first remember you are representing your company and supported by them. Before you depart, one of the first preemptive tactics you can employ is to meet with your Human Resources team to review any pertinent company policies regarding foreign affairs and interaction. As part of their Duty of Care responsiblities, companies should be able to help employees navigate complex, everyday situations with cultural fluency and standard policies. This helps prepare employees and is a preventative measure which educates employees to spot tough situations and have intercultural communication skills they can use to extricate themselves. 

Second, make sure that your coworkers are also educated on these policies so you can help one another navigate these potentially difficult discussions. If global employees are familiar with both current events and the company guidelines, your company's reputation will be upheld successfully and you will be able to navigate tricky situations.

Below, we share a few reminders and tips to help you tactfully navigate the sometimes stormy waters of foreign politics in business.

Stay Current

Before you depart from your home country, be sure to read up on the destination’s historical and recent interactions with your home nation. It is good practice to be educated in current events, as politics and policies affects residents and businesses of the nation. Become familiar with potential stereotypes and taboos as well, and anticipate questions that may come up in discussion.

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Study how qualities such as respect and honesty are conveyed in the host country during your Intercultural Training. Knowing how to display positive body language will help mitigate tense conversations.

It cannot be denied that international politics have a large economic effect on business. The best way to navigate this discussion is with the knowledge of current events and how your industry is impacted. Knowing this can help you contribute meaningfully to the conversation and alleviate tension. Examine the sources you receive your news from, as you want to be sure you are reading verified, unbiased stories so you can form an educated and factual opinion. The internet facilitates rapid spread of information, so it takes some sifting to reveal accurate facts.

Go with the Flow

In some cultures, it is acceptable and encouraged to have passionate dialogue about politics. This may be seen as a way to build relationships and determine if your business aligns with foreign partners. However, other cultures may be offended or embarrassed if politics comes up in conversations. If you have a more personal relationship with your coworkers, it might be common to discuss politics outside of work, but remember that everyone should remain respectuful.

Carefully observe the speaker until you can read the situation and can respond in the most informed way possible. You may want to begin by answering neutrally and saying something like “There sure is a lot to fill the papers!”

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Ride the Wave

The art of navigating delicate conversation when you have professional responsibilities on your shoulders can be very stressful. It is often the small issues that add up over time that cause the most damage. By embracing cultural fluencey as a preventative Duty of Care measure, you can help assuage some of these day to day occurances. Here are a few general practices you can keep in mind that will help you keep both your company and coworkers pleased.

  • When the discussion turns political, try not to blatantly redirect the conversation.
  • Offer a brief response and know when to stop contributing.
  • Instead of discussing particular political figures, turn instead to the issue in question. Explaining your stance on an issue may be better received than siding with a person.
  • Be a good listener
  • Never use offensive words or phrases and maintain a level voice and friendly tone when speaking.

The conversation may be awkward or difficult, but do your best to stick with it. Like many elements of business, sensitively navigating stormy political waters is a skill that can get better with practice. In today's fast-paced, polarized political climate, how can you help your global employees know what to say without damaging reputations? Enroll your team in Global Workforce Development, a cultural training program tailored for cross-cultural employees. This program provides crucial insight into understanding cultural nuances and presents the best ways for your team to work with international coworkers.


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