Flex Strategies for Communicating in a Global Workforce


Jane Hyun

Presenting at the 2015 CFA Institute Annual Conference, Jane Hyun, an executive coach, leadership strategist, and author, discussed the role culture plays in our professional environment and the ways finance professionals can flex their styles to develop and demonstrate cultural fluency.

Culture influences us at every turn in today’s work environment. While it’s tempting to think of culture as relating primarily to nationality or race, in fact things like gender, generational identity (e.g., millennial, baby boomer), and education can also contribute uniquely to culture. As Hyun explains, culture comprises behavioral elements that are directly observable qualities (such as language, mannerisms, customs, etc.) and value elements that underlie behaviors and give them context. She suggests that behaviors are the tip of the iceberg while values are the 80%–90% of the iceberg hidden beneath the water.

Individuals have behavioral styles. Using the DISC framework, for example, one might have a combination of four core styles — direct, influencing, steadfastness, or conscientiousness. Hyun explains that culture, too, has some essential dimensions. Citing Geert Hofstede’s work, she discussed the power gap dimension (egalitarian vs. hierarchical), the communication dimension (direct vs. indirect), and the relationship-building dimension (doing vs. being). These value dimensions and their resulting behaviors, when brought together as they are in today’s typical work environment, have the power to create opportunities for both conflict and enhanced performance and success.

Presumably, most leaders aim to enhance the performance and success of their teams. Interestingly, when Hyun polled the room as to who thought a diverse team would in general be more successful than a homogeneous team, about half the room put their hands up. Only a few individuals tentatively raised their hands for the reverse statement. Given the global nature of finance and the diversity of today’s workforce, it may seem nearly sacrilegious to suggest homogeneous teams would have the advantage, but there is something to be said for the relative efficiency of communication on such teams. In fact, Hyun pointed out that research by Joseph J. DiStefano, PhD, suggests that diverse teams are only better performing if and when they are led by culturally fluent leaders.

So then, what traits make for a culturally fluent leader?

  • Self-awareness
  • Awareness of others
  • Unconditional positive regard, even in vulnerable moments
  • Innovation (an insatiable curiosity about new people and differences; a willingness to try new things and set aside biases)

And what are your “must dos” if you would like to develop as a culturally fluent leader?

  • Invest time in really understanding yourself, your values, and your biases. (Career Success: Navigating the New Work Environment and Career Centre offer tools for this.)
  • Take a risk and get to know new people you wouldn’t ordinarily; step outside your comfort zone.
  • Remain curious — ask questions about others and listen to their answers.
  • Value differences and start recognizing them as an opportunity to learn instead of a hurdle to overcome.
  • Remember that becoming culturally fluent is an ongoing journey not a final destination. (There is no such thing as one-and-done training or one book to read on the matter.)

If you are interested in this subject, you may want to explore the following resources:

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Photo credit: W. Scott Mitchell

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