All cultures evolve over time, some faster than others. Present-day Russian culture is a 50/50 split between “old” and “new”. This is often reflected in generational attitudes. For example, those over 35 years old tend to hold more traditional viewpoints. Those under 35 tending to integrate more modern cultural values and mentalities into life and work. There are three types of companies operating in Russia. The first two types, foreign companies and Russian companies that have had international exposure, will use more western management styles. However, the third type, Russian-owned and operated companies do not typically do business globally. Regardless, the following four tips and tricks can help you connect better with your Russian colleagues:
1. Russians are open to learning.
Many expats come over with the attitude that they know everything better than the Russians. Your Russian colleagues like that you bring knowledge and skills and want to learn. They just don’t like an air of superiority. (Who does?!) The best way to transfer knowledge is to teach through the lens of why. Russians want to understand, “Why me?” and “Why does it matter in this context?” And since the spoken word is never trusted, rely heavily on follow-up in writing.
2. Follow the leader.
As a leader in Russia, the perception is that you are getting paid to make decisions. So, subordinates will often come to you looking for solutions rather than taking initiative on their own. When a new leader comes on the scene, the first question many people will ask themselves is if the person is bringing harm to the team or organization. Therefore, build trust and acceptance by getting to know more about who your colleagues are as people. In addition to general conversation (avoid finances, politics, and religion), a good way to do this is by keeping track of important events in people’s lives (e.g. weddings, birthdays, first days of school for children, even buying a new car) and acknowledging them appropriately.
3. Happy Birthday to…ME!
Speaking of occasions, it’s customary for subordinates to bring cake or candy to the office for their own birthdays. While the team may collect money for a gift, it’s critical for the boss to wish a personal happy birthday to the employee. Make it one of the first orders of business to mark the birthdays of colleagues, and more importantly subordinates, on your calendar!
4. How Are You? (Or Not.)
In many cultures, “How are you?” is a rhetorical question that serves as a generic greeting for friends and strangers alike, and barely requires a reply. In Russia, this is a real question intended only for those you actually know and care about. So, don’t ask the question unless you have at least 20 seconds for a reply!