Culture Sensitivity

We work in an environment where there are people from all walks of life.We see them,we interact them and sometimes find them strange.

Have you ever stopped to think why ?

Why do you click with some people and some people really tick you off?

Have you wondered where you hurt somebody’s sentiment just by giving an angry glance.? Yes. it true – might seem impossible to you but it is true.

Mentioned below are some of my experiences and observations while meeting and working with various cultures.Obviously this is from an Indian cultural standpoint, or from the eyes of an Indian so the comparison and inferences will be accordingly.

Needless to say they are not in any particular order of preference or relevance, and no disrespect meant to any culture in any way.On the contrary this post aims at making

people a bit more sensitive to wards foreign cultures.

  • American – typically they speak fast,if  from LA,NY or CA…rest are slower…so be patient when you talk to an american boss or colleague.the essence and emphasis is on casual conversations,with people referring to each other with first names.some points to note – they like and value privacy. So dont be all over them all the time.It’s all about being upbeat, positive, and energetic…They like life to be ‘fun’ so if they dont understand why you struggle so much in life..don’t get pissed off.Texan accent is definitely difficult to follow if you speak Victorian English.There is no harm in asking them to repeat. just like us, they find our English weird with an Indian accent. Lot of them dont like working with Indians,which is fine as well – since the feeling is mutual at times.the idea is not necessarily to love each other but to work well with each other…and no you needn’t have a half baked American twang to fit in  – speak normal neutral English.
  • European – patience is the key,class is the key,over the top vocabulary is a big no. Self praise a definite no.They are probably less emotional as well. [Don’t be judgmental- nothing wrong with that.] For them siesta is as important as the evening million dollar meeting.They speak slow..almost like 118 words per minute.So be very very patient – because you go at about 218 words per min.! They have a great attention to detail..every small thing counts.Very articulate,carefully chosen and worded sentences.Very observant-  they watch you closely.They take time to open up unlike the american counterparts.The might even come across as very serious people, but they do have a dry sense of humor.You might want to keep some distance while having a conversation.And relax, if you cant pronounce a difficult French word – dont – rather than uttering the Indian version of it.
  • Chinese – they are quiet people.They listen to instructions and execute flawlessly.They are hard working process driven people – so if they see you suddenly hoodwinking the system to get the work done – they might not identify with you…or you with them.Being street smart is not their forte like being extremely hard-working is not yours.They are by and large simple,quiet people.they have minimal facial expressions – does not mean they are not thinking or feeling.They do.So please be patient with your Chinese origin customer,client,friend or boss.Make no mistake they are smart people.
  • Malaysia – they dislike being touched.I mean most people/cultures do but they are very particular about maintaining distance.Never touch their hair.It is a symbol of insult.Never offer a handshake to a lady first.Wait for her to extend the hand of friendship.
  • Thailand – they are very quiet people,more so because English is not their forte.Very very shy people.They will never argue with you.Never contest an opinion publicly.Never show them your feet, or talk to them with feet pointing at them – this is a gross insult.Speak very very slowly with them.
  • Vietnamese – if you put them under pressure – they might smile – dont let that infuriate you further – it means they are nervous.Be kind.Again English is not widely used in VN so be extra slow and articulate in easy simple language.
  • Pakistanis – yes, some of you do have a team sitting in Pakistan or a customer or parter.So interacting with them is very critical and important.Firstly, if you are a regional lead,which covers Pakistan,please make sure you treat them just as you would treat any other region.Be objective with your comments and instructions.Please keep your national /personal sentiment aside in these interactions.They are here to work and so are you.It is about the work and nothing else.I know it is difficult – but not impossible if you are a true professional.A prime requirement for a leader is to be a balanced individual.So you need to keep that in mind.Please have all interactions documented so that any untoward incident can be refereed back to.If you meet them in a group – outside the office – conversations mostly revolve around cricket and Bollywood,which is fine as long as you dont get into a my team better than your team conversation.If they are your juniors,be sensitive towards them – the common man there is tired of the civil unrest and wants to really move on with life.do some good work and earn some good money – just like you.Yes, they might be a bit more vocal as compared to the other south east Asian counterparts, so balance them carefully.
  • Indians – and last but not the least us.We are very confident,sometimes cocky and loud people as compared to the rest of the room.We are generally more talented, more confident and more articulate.English being our forte keeps us ahead of the curve as it were.But sometimes we overdo it.The classical argumentative Indian.So sometimes,it is ok to take a step back, relax, here the other party out.It is ok to disagree- but not ok to have animosity around it.Make your point strongly and then back off .Dont persist to a point when the other party gets tired of you or snaps at you.Learn to anticipate.follow some rules and office etiquettes.More importantly be more sensitive towards foreign cultures.We all need to work in harmony” sab ka malik ek hai” – the boss…and if he or she happens to be  American or European then we all collectively fall under Asian category to them.I truly believe Indians are smart enterprising people – their intelligence will be the boon and bane of their lives.
  • To all other cultures – please be informed that while Indians are making an effort to understand your culture, it s time you made that effort to understand ours…no not the kamasutra one…the modern office culture.Please dont benchmark your understanding of the world with us…life in these neck of the woods is slightly different from what you have been used to seeing.Visiting India is not a scary thing you know..there are people just like you..maybe a little different to look at, but I assure you they are of the same species.So in a nut shell- be patient.You will work with an Indian in your work life for sure in the near future…if not already.

So that’s that.Working people are the same world over, they all have the same needs wants,insecurities,so dealing with them senstively increases your knowledge of how the world functions.I also wanted to write a post about India myth busters – but maybe the next post – this one was dedicated to all those people who have virtual teams, and need to deal with diverse cultures in their every day work life.

Cheers

  1. April 27, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Nicely written. Detailed yet brief. And definitely informative.

    What about the Middle East? the Arabs?😉

    • April 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks Mas – have not interacted so wouldn’t know…but from what I hear,they are tough negotiators,so the idea is to have a plan B in place at all times.!

  2. April 27, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    neat analysis!

  3. ashwini
    April 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    ” ” sab ka malik ek hai” – the boss… ” – 🙂

    • April 27, 2010 at 9:49 pm

      yes – true isn’t it ?

  1. April 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

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