Your intercultural identity lives in language, more than you realize. Identity is formed by the opinions that you constantly exchange with others, which include your opinions of yourself. Effective intercultural communicators know that their intercultural identity is like a puzzle that is built piece by piece. So they actively participate in articulating what they want others to know about them. They are aware that they cannot expect others to see them as they see themselves, particularly within intercultural business contexts.
Within your native culture there are many ways that you can promote yourself indirectly: through titles, diplomas or testimonials from those who are considered authoritative in your field. However, outside your own culture many of those symbols of your professional identity are meaningless. Effective intercultural communicators thus take advantage of every opportunity when writing and speaking to give others a clear and concise understanding about who they are, what they are capable of, what they care about and how all that is a benefit to others.
Was he being overbearing or was he authentically enthusiastic? The point is not which opinion was “right” or “wrong.” A better question is whether he was willing to directly express which of those two opinions he preferred. He agreed that criticizing others for their “wrong” opinion of him was not an effective strategy. As an alternative I showed him how to express the opinion that he wanted new colleagues to have of him. Then consistently during meetings, presentations and informal conversations, he made a point of directly articulating, in a variety of ways, that he was someone who took on challenges with enthusiasm.
Several months after working with him I received an email in which he told me that he had received a positive assessment on his recent yearly 360° job review; it listed enthusiasm as something that most people he worked with commented on and had grown to appreciate about him. Would that have happened if he hadn’t actively participated in counteracting the “overbearing” opinion that others had of him? I don’t think so.
Choose and Articulate Something About Yourself Consistently
That is why I encourage you, as I do all my clients, to choose and consistently articulate something about yourself that you sincerely care about and want others to know about you. Do you care most about working on your own or being a team player? Perhaps you care most about meeting deadlines or maintaining quality? Do you care more about human relationships or are you more task-oriented? All of us, in any culture, have preferences.
While many of these preferences have been culturally learned, they are also applicable within other cultures. If we openly express how we see ourselves and what we care about, we connect with people from other cultures who care about the same things. That is what allows us to create a bond of trust with others that spans cultural differences.
Over the years my observations of many people, from a variety of cultures, have convinced me that we all have a tendency to leave to others to say who we are and what we are capable of, rather than articulating it ourselves. I know that in some cultures speaking positively about yourself is not well regarded and so I am not proposing this as a way of communicating in every language. Instead, it is simply a recommendation for action that you can take when you are using English within an intercultural business environment. In that context you have to proactively help others solve the puzzle of your intercultural identity. After all, if you won’t take the responsibility for building a positive intercultural identity, who will?