Ways to distinguish yourself – #81 Develop cultural sensitivity

Ways to distinguish yourself – #81 Develop cultural sensitivity

By Rajesh Setty on Fri 16 Dec 2005, 4:05 PM – Leave Comment

We have been saying for a long time that the web is breaking the borders and making it seamless for people to collaborate globally. Whether we want it or not – globalization is here to stay. If you can’t beat it, best is to make the most out of it. Developing cultural sensitivity is no longer a luxury. It is almost mandatory!

I was fortunate to have lived and worked in five countries and always learnt to be culturally sensitive in a hard way. I finally figured out several things that we important in that place by using the most famous strategy ever “trial and error.” Looking back, I always wished that I had done some homework before venturing into new areas and dealing with people from a different culture. So, the point is – whether you are working in a different country or you are working with people from a different culture or both, you can make it easy (for yourself) by learning to be culture sensitive.

Let me a give a simple example (although not directly related but it still makes a point.) It was in 1997 and I was managing a sales force automation project for a large french customer. That was my first visit to Paris and I was not well prepared. The first day, I was a bit confused about the way I was greeted – a gentle hug and touching cheeks were alien to me. I started meeting people and got used to the working styles a bit. Third day, when I was at the kitchen, someone asked me “Did you see Obe?” and I thought for a minute and said “No, actually I don’t know Obe.” He gave me a strange look and walked away thanking me. When I came back to the seat a few minutes later, my friend Robert who was sitting next to me jokingly said “So, you forgot that we know each other” and at that time I realized what had happened. “R” in french is usually “eh” and the last syllable is ommitted in conversations. So “Robert” really became “Obe.”

I was embarrassed and didn’t know how to face the other person next time I met him somewhere else.

I have had lots of different kinds of experiences in other countries. Every time I look back and reflect on things, I wish I was more prepared and I would have been more effective with the right preparation.

There is a quick reference book that comes in handy and it’s called “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands.” Take a look when you have a chance.


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