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We judge others     

as  good or bad, right
or wrong based on
superficial details
such as dress,
language, food and
behaviour,which may
be different from our own.





Indu Kohli recently conducted a one-day workshop on “Working Cross-Culturally?nbsp; for the National Institute of Professional Secretaries (now called the Indian Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals)  at Le Royal Meridien, Mumbai.

With a background in Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Kohli has worked with various companies on different aspects of behavioural and attitude training. Her client profile ranges from five-star hotels to software companies and service industries. She has also worked with our very own Pragati Kendra of Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. Kohli designs and conducts workshops to suit the client’s needs.

In the inaugural (November-December 2001) issue of CHANGE, Takao Kasahara, Consultant, Streamline Strategy Japan Inc., had stressed the importance for Godrej employees to gain experience and greater exposure to the outside world. “Working Cross-Culturally?by Indu Kohli provides new insights into Kasahara’s views.

Working Cross-Culturally
“Know thyself and you will win all battles.?/font>
?Sun Tzu (Chinese philosopher)

How often have we looked around us and noticed people who are different from us culturally? In the world of business, which has evolved at breakneck speed in the last eight years, people may sometimes find these differences hard to cope with.

India, a country that was closed in many ways to the rest of the world, is now inviting joint ventures, exposing its citizens to a worldwide energy of growth at a pace that is hard to match. Whether it is information technology, automobiles, television, mobile phones or washing machines, the international business arena is now looking in our direction to market and cash in on the intelligence and opportunities that one-sixth of the world population can provide.

This brings new opportunities for us as Indians to expand our vision of people, to open new windows of wonder, and to recognise that there are differences in cultural practices. And, as we begin to work cross-culturally, the key to success is to understand ourselves better, and to respect other cultures.

I have often asked friends and colleagues their opinion of cultures influenced by the West. The responses are shocking. Opinions range from “they do not care about their families?to “they are selfish and only care for themselves? The “they?are most often people one has very little information about, and the source of information is seldom from direct contact, but most of the time from movies or television (The Bold and the Beautiful or Santa Barbara). Similarly, their snap judgement of us is that we “dance around trees and sing songs on the street”…

It is time to move away from stereotyping and act and behave more responsibly.

All cultures are ethnocentric, which means that each thinks its own solutions are superior, and that they would be so recognised by any thinking, intelligent, logical person. Each culture has its own perceptions and worldview of culture, and what it means to them.

Most people equate culture with the arts, literature, theatre, or as referring to socially or intellectually cultured persons, with refined manners. Culture is much more than that. Culture refers to the total way of life of particular groups of people.

How then do we find easy ways to communicate with and understand people more deeply than we do? We judge others as good or bad, right or wrong based on superficial details such as dress, language, food and behaviour, which may be different from our own. But what we see on the surface stems from a deeper culture.

The four steps to building bridges between different cultures are:
1. To understand your own deeper culture and connect it to the person you are, and what you stand for and believe in, your practices and values.

2. To understand your counterpart’s culture, ask questions and get to know more than is available on the surface.

3. To respect the differences.

4. To make efforts not to stereotype, but to recognise that all human beings are made differently and accept people as individuals and respect their individuality.

The Hofstede Model
Dr. Geert Hofstede, a social scientist and Director (Emeritus) of the Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation (IRIC) at the University of Limburger in the Netherlands, created a model to measure cultural differences based on deep-rooted behavioural practices. Dr. Hofstede’s pioneering study of IBM affiliates in 50 countries, elaborated in his book Culture’s Consequences, helped to form the foundation of the field of comparative management.

Using these pointers, it becomes easy to understand social differences and behaviour, and learn to work and deal with them on an everyday basis.

Power Distance

This is the extent to which people in society accept that power is unequally divided amongst them. In societies where the power distance is narrow, individuals respect themselves, and are able to confront powerful authority figures with more ease. Money, education, political power, position in business organisations, etc. symbolise power. The first thing a person does is present his visiting card to ensure that he is treated better. This shows that he is power conscious.

The power distance in India is very wide compared to, say, the USA or the Netherlands. This is because each and every person is taken well care of in developed countries. As a result, they find it easier to communicate with each other.

Power distances can also exist between parent and child or between husband and wife. Where do you see yourself vis-?vis your family? Your work? And society at large?

Individualism vs Collectivism
This is defined as the extent to which people in a society feel the need to belong to groups (family, friends), and to make decisions dependent on other members of the group. Both collective and individual societies have their pros and cons.

Collective societies take decisions through a group process. They can become extremely dependent on each other to the extent that they cannot even take minor decisions on their own. They are loyal to the group and receive support in return. India is a highly collective society.

In contrast, there are people who do not feel such a need to be dependent on others. They enjoy their independence, look after themselves and their immediate families, and do not concern themselves with others in personal matters. These are individual societies.

Individual societies think and speak up for themselves. The new generation is now tending to move towards individual societies as it has the strength and advantage of good education, more jobs, more money and more independence. Individual societies are more responsible and accountable.

Masculine vs Feminine
A society in which people value material things, position, power, money and success is considered masculine. We are a highly masculine society, extremely materialistic.

People who place a higher value on less tangible measures of success and emphasize quality of life are considered effeminate. Societies which pay attention to softer skills such as the arts, theatre, music, perfume-making and so on, are feminine societies. The French are considered the most feminine among societies.

Uncertainty vs Avoidance
This is defined as the extent to which people in a society feel threatened by unfamiliar situations, and how they deal with these situations.

In developing nations (that includes India), citizens are not protected by government and society. For example, if a self-employed or freelance worker cannot work for some reason, nobody is going to take care of him/her. So he/she is always saving money in different forms such as gold, mutual funds, etc. in the hope that some day he/she will be able to enjoy his/her money. But that day never comes. Such a citizen is living in a very uncertain society.

In an uncertain society, a citizen is always living in fear and is constantly worried about the future.

Compare this with societies that take care of their citizens through methods that are built into the social system, government and civil processes. First World countries provide a social safety net to citizens to protect them against catastrophic events in their personal.

Different societies have different views of time. Some are future oriented, some focus on the present and some on the past. This affects the concept of punctuality and how quickly things are done.

The Hofstede Model is excellent, but how does one practise it in day-to-day working life?

Check out your work situations. See what you would like to change. Observe the people you interact with. Try to understand why the other person is behaving in a certain way. The ability to be aware of differences and making efforts to bridge gaps will help us learn and evolve into citizens of the world.

Build up your skills. Look at change as if it is the need of the country today. Remember, you have to stand up for yourself. Believe in yourself. That you can do it.

There was a small boy who went to the seashore every day at dawn. He would pick up something and throw it into the sea. A man who observed him doing this every day, asked him what he was doing. The boy replied: “I am picking up these starfish and throwing them into the sea so that at least some of them revive.?The man said: “It hardly makes a difference.?Throwing another starfish into the sea, the boy replied: “At least it will make a difference to that starfish.?If you make a difference even to one person, it is a big difference.




A turkey was chatting with a bull.

“I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,?sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.?br>
“Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings??replied the bull. “They’re packed with nutrients.?br>
The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree. The next day, after eating more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fortnight, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree.

Soon he was spotted by a farmer, who promptly shot the turkey out of the tree.

The moral of the story is ...

Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

The third lesson will be published in a forthcoming issue.


Via e-mail


A B C of Success

Avoid negative sources, people, places, things and habits.
Believe in yourself.
Consider things from every angle.
Don’t give up and don’t give in.
Enjoy life today; yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come.
Family and friends are hidden treasures; enjoy their riches.
Give more than you planned to.
Hang on to your dreams.
Ignore those who try to discourage you.
Just do it.
Keep trying no matter how hard it seems, it will get easier.
Love yourself first and most.
Make it happen.
Never lie, cheat or steal, always strike a fair deal.

Open your eyes and see things as they really are.
Practice makes perfect.
Quitters never win and winners never quit.
Read, study and learn about everything important in your life.
Stop procrastinating.
Take control of your own destiny.
Understand yourself in order to better understand others.
Visualize it.
Want it more than anything.
X-cellerate your efforts.
You are unique of all God’s creations, nothing can replace YOU.
Zero in on your target and go for it!

Via e-mail