Building Relationships Across Cultures with Andy Molinsky

Andy Molinsky at the CultureLab Podcast

Have you ever felt like you are not connecting with someone and the barrier that stands in the way is cultural? It might be that the jokes you crack don’t land, the emails you send seem to miss the mark, or the way you lead meetings doesn’t resonate with everyone in the room. It can be like trying to tune into a radio station but finding yourself between frequencies, where everything just sounds like static. This is a common experience in today’s global workforce, where teams are more diverse than ever, spanning across different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.

My guest today, Andy Molinky is a psychology Professor at Brandeis University and an expert in the field of intercultural relationship-building. He recently published a new book, Forging Bonds in a Global Workforce and in this conversation we are exploring some of the ideas from the book.

If you are trying to navigate the maze of cultural do’s and don’ts, you’ll find that Andy really comes with with a flashlight and a map. He gets real about the missteps and the magic of working across cultures and talks about everything from the art of small talk across borders to the deep stuff, like building trust with your global teammates. He also shares practical tools and anecdotes that help bridge cultural gaps with grace. Whether you’re leading a team from Tokyo to Toronto or just curious about making genuine connections in your multicultural office, I’m sure you’ll find this episode with Andy Molinsky enlightening.

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Episode Transcript

Aga Bajer  0:00  

Welcome to the CultureLab. I’m your host, Aga Bajer. This podcast helps you turn your company culture into rocket fuel for meaningful growth. It gives you the tools and inspiration to make work, synonymous with fun, meaning, and belonging. This is where we explore how to cultivate remarkable cultures – cultures that scale and evolve, as our businesses grow, and the world keeps on changing.

Andy Molinsky  0:32  

If you think about it, we’re shaped not only by, there’s an assumption that it’s national culture, that’s the thing that sort of looms the largest when you’re interacting with someone. But the fact of the matter is, as you said, which shapes our orientation towards the world, the way that we act, our values, also, how we think and so on, especially how we behave is a function of so many other things. It’s a function of our life experience. It’s a function of our professional cultural background. It’s a function of our organizational culture, and of course, our personality.

Aga Bajer  1:08  

This episode is brought to you by CultureBrained, a one of a kind, accelerator program, where cultural leaders get hands on support and guidance on how to reach their goals faster, especially now, in this brave new world of remote and hybrid work. CultureBrained connects you with outstanding peers on the same journey, but also with world class experts, including people you know from the show, and they will help you identify and implement new, better ways of creating a culture where people do their best work. Check it out, it’s And no need to write it down, there’s a link in the show notes.

Have you ever felt like you are not connecting with someone and that the barrier that stands in the way is cultural? It might be that the jokes you make don’t land or the emails you send seem to miss the mark, or the way you lead meetings doesn’t really resonate with everyone in the room. It’s a bit like trying to tune into a radio station, but finding yourself between frequencies where everything just sounds like static. This is a common experience in today’s global workforce, where teams are more diverse than ever, spanning across different cultures, countries and different backgrounds. My guest today, Andy Molinsky, is a psychology professor at Brandeis University and an expert in the field of intercultural relationship building. He recently published a new book, Forging Bonds in a Global Workforce. And in this conversation, we’re exploring some of the ideas from the book. If you’re trying to navigate the maze of cultural do’s and don’ts, you’ll find that Andy really comes with a flashlight and a map. He gets real about the missteps and the magic of working across cultures. And he talks about everything from the art of small talk across borders, to the Deep South-like building trust with global teammates. He also shares practical tools and anecdotes that help bridge cultural gaps with grace. Whether you are leading a team from Tokyo to Toronto, or just curious about making genuine connections in your multicultural office, I’m sure you’ll find this episode with Andy Molinsky enlightening. Enjoy.

Andy Molinsky  3:49  

My name is Andy Molinsky. I am a professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University in Boston, in the USA, I am essentially an organizational psychologist. And in addition to doing research, I love writing books. I’ve written three books. My first book was called Global Dexterity about stepping outside your cultural comfort zone. My second book was called Reach, which is simply about stepping outside your comfort zone. And my new book is Forging Bonds in the Global Workforce is about building relationships across cultures. So I do other things. But that’s that’s a basic bio. 

Aga Bajer  4:27  

Welcome to the CultureLab. Andy, I’m really keen to talk about your new book Forging Bonds in a Global Workforce. But before we go there, there’s one question that I ask all of our guests. And it’s about the early cultural influences that shaped you as a person, how did you grow up and what impact that did have on who you are today?

Andy Molinsky  4:49

I grew up in a, I guess what you would call like a very mono cultural background, in the sense that well, at least in terms of national culture, so I was born in Boston, in the United States, my parents are both Americans. I’m old enough that we didn’t have the internet when I grew up, we only had a certain amount of television stations, I’m saying in terms of exploring the world, beyond your house, and so on, never was really able to much. I had never traveled overseas outside the country until I was in university. So I really lived in terms of the cultural influences, I think, like American, now, America is a big country. You know, it’s a huge country, right? So I was born in the Northeast, and the Northeast, my family, one cultural influence, which is really a professional cultural influence, I’d say is that my parents, I think I came from sort of an academic background, my dad’s a professor. And so I think that influenced me, I remember as a kid, he taught foreign born teachers how to teach English when they go back to their countries. And so I remember having very interesting dinner parties, as a kid in our house with all his students bringing all these, at the time, which were very exotic dishes, which were, you know, probably their favorite food from their countries, coming to our house. And these, one after another would bring them in. This was also an era where we didn’t have as many, at least where I was from, we didn’t have as many international cuisines. So that’s really my background, I didn’t have much of a multicultural background at all. For me, that came later. 

Aga Bajer  6:29  

Exactly. And your book, in your book is all about building relationships across cultures. So I wonder what drew you to this topic, apart from these early experiences, trying out foreign cuisines that your Dad’s students shared with you during those dinner parties? What made you curious about this topic?

Aga Bajer  6:51 

I was always interested in languages, even though I hadn’t traveled, I was very interested in languages. And in college, I studied Russian. And this was in the Cold War era, the sort of towards the end of the Cold War. And I was always very curious about Russia. And I was mostly curious, because if you don’t speak the language, you hear the accent, or you hear the language, but the accent is sort of psychologically associated with negativity in the United States, because of course, all the, all the bad guys in the movies were always Russian. So you get this very negative feeling about it. But I was always curious to try to understand, I think beyond that, like what people were actually saying. So like to try to like sort of circumvent the stereotype of the voice of the accent. And so I don’t know, I love languages I studied. In high school, actually, I went to a very rigorous Latin High School, and I studied six years of Latin. And so I was very interested in sort of even the way that languages are structured. And so I took Russian and Russian actually has a lot in common with Latin in terms of the complexity of the language, I think, I really enjoyed it, I was all ready to go abroad for my very first experience, when I learned that I did not have enough Russian to go abroad. Now in those days, you needed to have a certain level, at least from where I was from, to be able to go to the, you know, former Soviet Union, I didn’t. And so I thought to myself, I really still want to go abroad. But I, you know, I can’t go there. Where’s a place that I could go that has a different language, but where I could learn a bit of the language fairly quickly, and then have enough to be able to go? Turned out Spain was the place. And so I studied beginning Spanish, I had never studied it before. And I really enjoyed it. And I went to Spain with one year of Spanish. And that’s where this all happened when I first stepped foot in this foreign culture, in this foreign country, never having been abroad before. That experience was just that, that’s one of the most memorable experiences of my life, I think, like, like stepping into this world where people are speaking, this different language. I never really heard it before on the streets or anything. There’s this whole world of, I don’t know, stores, and government and transportation and media and everything. Like that’s just totally different from ours, but they figured it out. I think that’s where it started for me. And then it went on from there.

Aga Bajer  9:18  

I really resonate with your life story generally, because I grew up in a monoculture as well behind the Iron Curtain actually. So on the other side, and we were quite isolated as well. The impact that it had on me was that curiosity about other cultures and how other people live. And I also vividly remember my first trip abroad, which was to London. And you can imagine, right, a 16 year old girl from communist Poland, suddenly landing in London, this amazing cosmopolitan city, and it’s really blew my mind as well. Even if you know you watch movies and read books, nothing compares to being just immersed in that sort of an experience. And I think you quickly realize that people really live and think and work quite differently from how you are used to. And for me, that was the beginning of my journey as well, just trying to figure out what role culture plays in our lives, and then clearly in business as well. Since this is the area that I focus on most, I totally see how that would lead you to where you are today. And needless to say that, especially for our listeners, I think a lot of our listeners are people who work for international organizations, globally distributed teams, and they are certainly really interested in learning from you about how to build deep and meaningful relationships across cultures, the sort of relationships that really help us do our best work. So I would just, you know, dive straight into the topic and ask you, what are the key skills that we need to thrive in a multicultural work environment?

Andy Molinsky  11:01  

There are a lot of important skills. And I think about them in terms of two different sets of skills that we focus on in the book. One is about, I guess, the most basic way to say it would be avoiding the bad stuff, avoiding the mistakes, and then the other set of skills is creating the good stuff, creating those connections. And so I think those are two sort of buckets of skills that we focus on in the book. And, you know, I’d be happy to elaborate, but but those are the two sort of basic sets of skills that that people need to have. 

Aga Bajer  11:42

Yeah. So let’s unpack the bad stuff, and how and what sort of bad stuff we need to avoid. I know that there are some hidden biases that can really interfere with relationship building across cultures, would you like to speak to that? 

Andy Molinsky  11:55

Sure. What I’ll say at the outset, is that there’s a reason why these things are, quote, unquote, the bad stuff, it’s because we can almost short circuit or end the potential for a relationship before it even starts. So if you think about relationships, at the very beginning, they’re the most vulnerable, right? Because someone could do or say something that just rubs you the wrong way. And you could just basically lose motivation, lose interest, and then exit the relationship. And so those those impressions, early impressions are very, very important. And so if someone acts in a certain way that’s different, let’s say, something you’re not expecting, you could easily make a negative interpretation of that behavior. For instance, I don’t know, let’s say they don’t show as much emotion, positive emotion, as you’re used to, let’s say that’s from your culture. And you could very quickly draw a negative impression. They don’t like me, or they’re weird, or they’re strange or something. And then you can feel this is uncomfortable, I don’t like this, this makes me somewhat anxious. And then you can very quickly try the conclusion that you don’t like them, you’re not interested in the relationship, and you can lose motivation, or even exit the situation. So, if you think about it, these things are really, really important, especially early. The bad stuff is, you know, the idea that you could fixate on national culture, for instance, you can assume someone is, is going to be characteristic of the culture that they come from. That’s one example of sort of the quote unquote, bad stuff, you could stereotype, you could assume that someone is characteristic of your assumptions about that particular culture. You could project –  projection means that you assume other people, or think or feel exactly like you do, when that’s not necessarily the case. Those are some examples. And I think that that having a sophisticated view of what you might expect when you meet someone is important. I always like to call it, it’s important to have a sort of a working hypothesis, like a prediction, I think it’s still important to read up on how people from this particular culture might act or what their tendencies might be, and so on. I think that’s valuable. But it should be a tentative preliminary hypothesis that you’re very willing to discard once you actually meet the person, and you learn a bit more about them and their personality.

Aga Bajer  14:18

Yeah, this is such a valuable point because obviously, and you know, personally, I come from a culture that from Poland, we are quite straightforward, and quite serious too, just like Russians, by the way, and one of the things that I do remember about culture clashes is when McDonald’s entered the Russian market. I don’t know if you know the story. And they quickly realized that it was simply impossible to make the Russian employees to smile. And so they had to roll out this entire training on smiling. And when they dug deeper, they realized, people told them that to Russians, someone who’s smiling all the time. He’s basically synonymous with a crazy person. Because like, you know, life is difficult, and life is a serious thing. And only a crazy person would smile all the time. So it’s a really major culture clash. And I think that knowing the stereotypes about Eastern European countries, I certainly have been classified as such by some people. And, for example, people would expect from me that I would be very straightforward and would just say it like it is. But actually, this is not my personality, and I’m a much higher context kind of person that doesn’t feel very comfortable with confrontation. Do you have any stories that illustrate that, and how that can hold people back, especially in international organizations from having a successful collaboration with their colleagues across the seas, or in a different country?

Andy Molinsky  15:56

 It’s such a good point, and you see it, I mean, I have so many stories. It’s one of the most common things, I think, because if you think about it, we’re shaped not only by, there’s an assumption, that it’s national culture, that’s the thing that sort of looms the largest when you’re interacting with someone, but the fact of the matter is, as you said, which shapes our orientation towards the world, the way that we act, our values, also, how we think and so on, especially how we behave is a function of so many other things. It’s a function of our life experience. It’s a function of our professional cultural background. It’s a function of our organizational culture, and of course, our personality. So gosh, an example so many examples. I’ve been surprised myself so many times, assuming that someone was going to be a certain way. And then they were completely the opposite. I remember there’s a story. I think in the book, where I like a couple summers ago, I was asked by a Singaporean Chinese man who was the head of a consulting firm, and he wanted to collaborate with me on some work, and he happened to be traveling to the United States. And I met him in in Harvard Square, which is close to Boston, near Harvard University. We met for a drink and, and I figured, like the CEO of this consulting firm, Singaporean Chinese, I sort of felt like he was going to be fairly, I don’t know, somewhat serious, in also, the context matters, too. I thought it was this meeting, to potentially collaborate. And I thought that I’d have to make a positive impression. Now, I tend to be extremely informal. I’m always like an absolute edge of appropriateness in terms of informality. Like I’ll teach in like a T shirt. I just don’t like formality so much. But I really amped it up to be formal with this guy, it was definitely a step up for me. I see where he’s sitting down, he was sitting down in an outside courtyard, I walk up the stairs to get to him, and I’m ready sort of bracing myself for this interaction. And he comes up with the biggest smile you have ever seen. And he comes up, and I think he must have hugged me. And if he didn’t hug me, he put his arm around me and gave me a big handshake. I mean, this is just one little example. But this happens all the time. He completely disconfirmed every single assumption that I had. And I was like, oh, yeah, okay. I made that mistake. But what’s good is that, in that case, I had a hypothesis. Hypothesis sounds like a technical scientific word. But I think it’s an important word, because it’s preliminary. Hypotheses are meant to be confirmed or disconfirmed based on data and information. And so that’s why I like to use that word. It’s a tentative assessment. But you’re very open to changing and I was so but that, that’s one example.

Aga Bajer  14:18

Yeah, it happens all the time. And I almost wonder whether, you know, what’s the extent of knowledge that we need to have about other cultures, given the fact that at the end of the day, every individual is shaped by so many different things that they won’t necessarily reflect what their national culture is? How do you think about this? How do you think about, yeah, that level of knowledge and understanding of other cultures that we need to have, in order to be able to work well with other nationalities?

Andy Molinsky  19:10 

There are a couple of things that matter. I think that it’s not just people, it’s situations. And so, situations in a culture have certain norms, and situations can be tighter or looser in terms of the norms, right? Even in the US, which is a fairly informal culture, I think, a job interview is a fairly formal situation. And so you want to be able to understand what the norms are of a situation as well. Now, those norms though, are going to differ because if you have a job interview in Manhattan, at a large fortune 500 company in one of those skyscrapers, that’s probably going to be quite formal right? Whereas if you’re in a tiny little town I don’t know in the in the in the middle of the country and you’re interviewing in a very small town, country style, organization or something like that it’s probably going to be quite informal on the scale. Right. So I think the situation matters a lot. I also think that understanding or having a prediction about whether someone is likely to be more monocultural, or cosmopolitan, I think is important. And that’s maybe a mistake I made with this gentleman, who is the Singaporean head of the consulting firm, probably should have thought to myself, gosh, you know, this is an international consulting firm, Singapore is a tiny little country, he obviously must travel a lot. And so he is probably quite cosmopolitan. And so I should actually probably have less of a strong prediction of how he might be. So I think those are two factors that I would think are important. But again, I think we need to be sort of detectives a little bit, we need to be, we need to really observe and be open to, to the unexpected, I think. 

Aga Bajer  20:57

Yeah, absolutely. I know that your research delves deeply into the nuances of something that I felt we all share across cultures. But actually, it’s not true, which is small talk. So would you mind sharing some insights on how small talk can be effectively leveraged in global teams to build rapport, to build trust, to start a relationship? Because I think there’s a moment before we manage to build a relationship where somehow we need to connect. And in in Western countries, we very often resort to small talk, and we had this conversation before this interview. Not all cultures are actually so happy with having small talk conversations as others. So what do we need to know about using small talks to build rapport and build trust? 

Andy Molinsky  20:49

So this is a big topic, even though it’s a small talk. It’s a very important interesting topic. And in the process of starting to do this book and the research for this book, we got, we had such different perspectives on small talk from some early interviewers, that we decided we needed to do a separate interview project about small talk. Because there’s, there’s a lot of viewpoints out there. Like there’s some people who say, I mean, everyone does small talk around the world. And then there’s some people say, no, no, no, this is extremely cultural specific. And it’s only these countries that do small talk, and so on. And, you know, others feel that small talk is incredibly superficial and meaningless, and so on. And it’s very American. I know, it’s not only Americans that make small talk, but so we wanted to really try to understand it. So what we did is we interviewed people from gosh, I think it must have been 12 different countries, something like that, and interviewed between 5 and 10, people from each country, trying to get a sense of, it’s not a full study of small talk, but it’s deeper than we had gone before. And so what we found is that in the professional global work circles, that we’re studying, like we’re studying people who are in the professional world, right, who work for companies who do global work in that world, what we found is that small talk is what we called semi or quasi universal, it is not universal, it is not true that every country and culture and so on, is pro small talk or small talk’s a common feature or facet, but that in the arenas where a lot of people do global work, it is quite common. Even if you come from a country where it’s not quite common. So, an example is is that someone from Korea, Korea, in Korea, that was, of all the countries that we studied, Korea was the least likely to, you know, like to have small talk, it’s not a, it’s not a common thing in Korea to make small talk.

Aga Bajer  23:46

Generally, or just just in the business context?

Andy Molinsky  23:49

Well, we didn’t study outside the business context. So I don’t, I don’t know. It’s quite possible that with people who are close to you and your inner circle in your in group it is I don’t, I don’t know. We didn’t study that. But in the professional circles that we studied, we found that it’s not particularly common. But that doesn’t mean that someone from Korea, who is operating in a multinational context, who’s doing work abroad is working in a global organization does not mean that that person is not going to make small talk. In other words, that person could make small talk. In fact, I did some executive education a few years ago for a very large Korean global company. And there were maybe 20 managers from Korea who were in Boston for this for this project. And I remember making small talk with many of them over over lunch. So again, you cannot stereotype based on the country, there could be a tendency or a prediction, you can’t assume. We did find one very strong finding in our research was power, that in many countries, it’s not typical at all to make small talk with a superior. I think those power dynamics are very strong. So you could make small talk maybe a colleague, with a peer, but you’re much less likely to do it with a superior. Now, that’s not true in the United States, I’ll tell you, well, again, there are nuances and subtleties, depending on the organizational culture, right, there could be a strong organizational culture. But if I had to generalize, it’s actually fairly acceptable for someone to make small talk with someone whose superior. In fact, it’s actually probably a very smart thing, because you want to build a relationship with your boss, even maybe with your boss’s boss, and so on and so forth. So we studied small talk, we studied different little micro strategies that people can use to try to facilitate small talk. It happens to be a topic, I just happen to be very interested in.

Aga Bajer  25:43

I would love, I would love for you to share some of these micro strategies with us, because that would be my next question. Like, what? What are the best practices when it comes to small talk? How can we use it? Yeah, to our advantage and to cultivate healthy relationships with others?

Andy Molinsky  26:00

I’ll mention some of these. But I want to say that small talk is not, you typically don’t build a relationship with small talk, but you start a relationship with small talk. So, it’s critical for building rapport, which I think is very important, because those are the seeds of a growing potential relationship. And so let’s see, what are some tips, I’ll think of a few. One is that people often forget that they have more in common with a stranger than they think they do. And especially if they’re in the same room, or same physical space, or even same virtual space. And you can use that to your advantage. So, if you are looking for a conversation starter, if you’re in the same physical room, you could maybe you see it’s raining outside, it’s very obviously raining. Or maybe you see there’s some interesting paintings on the wall. Or maybe there’s an interesting map in the corner of the city or whatever it might be, maybe there’s a certain type of food that you find that you’re curious about, or that looks good. Or maybe the other person is carrying a backpack that has a flag on it, and you’re not sure what flag that is, and you’re curious about it. I mean, there’s a million different examples. Could even do it virtually as well. Like you could say to me, oh, wow, it looks like it’s snowing. It’s not but like, like, you know, that even virtually, potentially, but yeah, but but there are ways that you can leverage these things in the in the immediate environment. Another tactic that I think is very useful is to ask open ended questions, instead of closed ended questions. We’ll start with a closed ended question. That’s one that invites a yes or no answer. Do you like this conference? Versus what do you think about the conference so far? So do you like this conference sort of is a is a yes or no phrasing. Or did you have a good vacation? Versus like, I’d love to hear about your vacation? Or what kinds of things that you do on your vacation or something like that? The very phrasing of the question. And the reason that matters for small talk is because the more you ask an open ended question, you’re likely to get more information from the other person, not always. But it increases the odds that you’re going to get more information from the other person. And then when the other person provides more information, then you might be able to find something in what they say, that is a potential connection, right? This is someone you don’t know. And you’re looking to create similarities, you’re looking to find similarities or connections, and they have to be authentic, you can’t pretend because that’s not going to work. That’s not going to actually work to build a relationship. If you ask about someone’s trip and an open ended way. And they tell you that they went to Poland, and then then they went to Germany, let’s say and you say, oh, wow, Poland, I’ve always wanted to go there. Or we actually went to Poland last summer, did you go to Krakow, I don’t know. Whatever it is, like, you know, and you can start, you might think that’s a superficial conversation. But that then might move to a different, like, like Krakow, oh my gosh, Krakow, that’s actually where I’m from, that can move the conversation in a particular direction. And you might be able to discover similarities. Maybe not, by the way, maybe not, all conversations are organic, you cannot predict them, it’s not going to definitely mean that the conversation is going to lead to relationship, but it can increase the odds. That’s all you’re after, really. And so that’s another example. I just say one more key about small talk is that I think that it’s important to have a healthy balance of listening and speaking, a lot of people say, you know, be a good listener, be a good listener, which I think is very important. Because if you listen very carefully, you actually might be able to find these commonalities and connections and you can also show your genuine, authentic interest by listening to someone you don’t want to only listen, because you also want to share and for someone to start to get to know you a little bit to create that little sense of rapport. You also need to share, we find that it’s effective to share what we call semi personal information. Like you’re not sharing the most personal information about yourself necessarily but if you share something that is personal, a viewpoint, a perspective, something you like, something that you liked, something that you found interesting, that’s semi personal, that’s a way to advance the connection a little bit. You might find commonalities, you might even find disagreements, you can share something about yourself. And when you do that, you start to build the beginning foundations.

Aga Bajer  30:22

That can be quite important, especially in the business context, where we have this professional persona, it’s almost like we are humanizing ourselves, we’re showing that human side of us, which is so important, of course, because at the end of the day, it’s human to human interaction, even if it’s happening in the business context. And I’ve heard that it’s even sometimes useful to admit to some sort of vulnerability, a small one, like, for example, oh, my God, my legs are killing me ,this shows, or whatever it might be just, especially, you know, a woman to woman, it’s a frequent conversation about shoes, something that you know, or you make hypotheses that the other person will relate to and resonate with. So I have so many questions about this, Andy, because small talk is actually not so easy. And I find it particularly difficult these days with remote work. So, I know that people have these back to back meetings. And you know, sometimes you have half a half an hour meeting to discuss business. And you don’t want it to be impersonal. So of course, you try to do some small talk at the beginning. And I wonder whether you have any sense, or whether you have done any research around, you know, how long? Or where do you know? And how do you shift to the business conversation from there? To me, it always feels awkward. So I’m also, you know, asking for selfish reasons, because I do want to put people at ease. And I do want to connect, and I always try to do something at the beginning of the meeting. But on the other hand, I’m also thinking, Oh, my gosh, we only have 30 minutes to discuss this, and I want to be respectful of their time. And we really need to start talking business now. What are your thoughts on that? 

Andy Molinsky  32:15

So my thoughts are that people have a variety of different comfort zones around this topic, right, you’re going to find people who really want to just get down to business, and they’re not comfortable at all, with small talk. And you can even find cultures, where that might be the tendency like Germany, let’s say. Now, it doesn’t mean every German is going to be like that, you know, I know Germans who do a ton of small talk, that’s not universal, but you might find certain cultures would be like that, versus some something like Brazil, prototypically, you’re gonna get a lot of small talk and personal conversation, and so on. And also the time won’t matter as much, you know, you talked about, you only have a certain amount of time, that’s a conception of time, that is limited, that is linear, and so on, whereas other people have different views of time, right, because they don’t care as much about the deadlines, let’s say, or the fact that time might be limited, because they’re willing to stretch that limitation, because it’s really about getting to know the other person, and that takes the priority. So you would never discount that in favor of getting something done in time and so on. It’s just simply not a value. My point is that you’re gonna get a lot of different perspectives on this, you might be able to guess from someone’s background, but you’re not going to know, I think, then you have to kind of go with what works for you. I think that that’s really true. Something that works for you. And that’s authentic, is really what to do. If you want to put people at ease, maybe even part of you likes to get to know someone a little bit, maybe that’s interesting. I mean, you do a podcast, that’s a great way to meet people in some way. Practically speaking, I do think that having a little bit of conversation at the beginning is a nice thing. Now, if you’re meeting someone once, and you’re not going to meet them again, it’s a little bit sort of ritualistic. Because it’s not like you’re continuing the conversation, it’s not that you’re actually going to advance the relationship much, right. It’s more like having an appetizer before a meal, or you’re sort of easing into it. And that’s more about that situation itself. But in an ongoing connection or relationship, I think these things are useful because they can build on each other for instance, right? So for instance, in our case, let’s say I had to cancel our previous conversation, because I had to take my son to the doctor, and you asked me about that. And so now you know, I have a son and you are curious about it. And we could have talked more about it. I don’t know if you wanted to or didn’t want to but that could have been a point of conversation, or maybe not, maybe that’s not a connection we have in common maybe that’s not somewhere where we could build a connection or relationship which is fine. And so maybe the next thing might be that area of connection right. I find also that using live in person and asynchronous platforms are very useful for building connection. Now that depends on like on a team or individually. So for instance, if you’re on a team, let’s say in maybe time is really tight, maybe someone is waking up very early in the morning and the other side of the world to be able to be on this call, and yes, it’d be nice to chit chat about family, but that person, or maybe it’s very late for that person, and you’re talking about family, and so on. But this person is like looking at the clock and saying, I gotta go to sleep. Right. So sometimes those considerations are important. That’s why the asynchronous platforms are useful. And by synchronous, I mean, I mean, in a professional world, I’d say slack would be an example. In a personal world, it might be Facebook, or something like that. But slack is very useful. And in fact, we have a program that we created, based on my first book, Global Dexterity, where we certify people, we certify coaches, and trainers and managers and teachers and all sorts of people, therapists, all sorts of people in global dexterity to become a certified Global Dexterity practitioner. And so we have these cohorts, it’s cohort based, and it’s usually around eight people all around the world. And we have a Slack workspace where people can ask questions and make comments. But we also worked on 13 cohorts so far. I’d say around the fifth or sixth cohort, we realized that we were missing something. And so we created a channel on slack for photos and fun. And people started posting all sorts of things. It is really, it actually was great. It was a way to get to know people, certain people were more tentative, other people went right in and show pictures of their family and people have their own ways. You know, some people only show their dogs because that’s personal, but it’s semi personal, but it became a really good way to build a connection. So those are some thoughts.

Aga Bajer  36:46

I love that, I think I’m going to introduce this into our CultureBrained community, actually, because we don’t have a space where people share personal stuff. And I love it. And I think it really is the equivalent of small talk in a synchronous environment. And we have a global community, some members haven’t really met in person because of timezone constraints. So I find it’s like, such a great way to get a glimpse into who people are in their personal lives. 

Andy Molinsky  37:10

Can I just give you one other example of this? I just think it’s valuable. Maybe it might inspire someone listening. During COVID, university teaching became virtual. None of us had used Zoom before. And we taught virtually, and I was teaching my classes, MBA classes. I’m a professor at a business school, and I was finding that teaching these classes was so impersonal, because I didn’t have those moments where I could get to know someone before class, walking in having a little conversation, all the small talk stuff like oh, do you have a softball game today? Oh, what do you do? You know, how does that job search?Y ou know, those little sort of, you know, serendipitous conversations. So what I did is I created this, it was an experiment, I asked every single person in the class to create a personal PowerPoint about themselves, a three minute personal PowerPoint, where they would share about themselves, their backgrounds, their lives. And we did two or three of them every single class at the beginning. And it was fantastic. It worked. It was a total experiment. But it worked so well. And you got, people were just posting pictures of their family. This is the fish market in Japan where we walk, here’s the little street we walked down every day to get our fish. And here’s the fish market. And here’s my mom cooking the fish and like you really got this sense of these people. You know, it was great. Yeah, so that was another? No, I’m not suggesting anyone do exactly that. But maybe that inspires people to create something that can add that type of feeling and personalization. 

Aga Bajer  38:41

Yeah, absolutely. And with a bit, with a dash of creativity, you can really come up probably with a ton of things that even in a virtual environment can serve this purpose, and create connection. I have a friend who always says connection before content. And she really lives that. I think it really is, irrespective of cultures, it’s probably good advice, generally speaking, because as you say, there are very few cultures that wouldn’t do small talk, especially now in the multinational business environment that we all operate in. So it’s an important skill to have. And it’s an important skill to have, as you say, in order to build a relationship. Now, I want us to shift into how we can deepen a relationship and ask you what are the skills here? So let’s say that you’ve met someone you know, you know, you, you build rapport, you kind of know who they are, etc, etc. But you will collaborate long term with this person. And you want to know how you should approach it, especially if it’s someone from a different culture because this is what we’re talking about. It’s not just generic relationship building strategies that we talk about. We talk about strategies for building relationships across cultures across time zones, across nationalities. So what do we need to think about when we think about deepening relationships with others?

Andy Molinsky  40:08

I mean, there’s so much you can say about that, I guess where I’d start is that by deep, we’re talking about like a strong, trustworthy professional connection. That’s what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking, these are not romantic relationships, these are strong, and they’re not even honestly, they’re not necessarily personal friendships, they could be, they very well could be, and they can sort of transition to that. But we’re talking about strong, professional relationships. I think that what you’re trying to do, ideally, and this all has to be authentic, it can’t be sort of strategic. I mean, it can be strategic and authentic, but it can’t be strategic without being authentic. I think you’re trying to show that you’re respectful. I think you’re trying to show that you’re relatable. And I think you’re trying to show that you’re reliable. So respectful, relatable, 

Aga Bajer  40:55

The three R’s. 

Andy Molinsky  40:57

Yeah. And reliable. Incidentally, these are not in the book. So this is bonus for the podcast. But I think, that you’re looking for opportunities to try to deepen the relationship in those ways. That means finding opportunities to create connections. So I’ll give you some examples. You happen to be coming in for a business trip to another country, you could just fly in, and stay in the hotel, wake up the next morning, go to the business meeting. But what if you come in a day earlier, and tour the city and really get to know the city and show interest in the city and interest in that culture? Or maybe you ask for recommendations for restaurants, because you’re really interested in having a really authentic experience or so you know, things like that you’re showing sort of respect and i