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March 2014

Thank you to all who shared comments, experiences and insights following last months� newsletter. Here are a few of the comments that we received:

  • We constantly fail to understand that our reality is only experienced by us
  • There is so much at play here, from my Western US perspective and from my own experiences with the Indian culture. 
  • The concept of �legitimacy� is one of the simplest and most powerful elements for people who view negotiation as confrontational, to feel empowered and more comfortable having a conversation because it makes the discussion about �fairness.� 

Following are some of the cultural differences that Clara and Anchal were navigating through:
Relationship Versus Task
Indian culture is highly relationship based. Typically transactions in India occur after the relationship has been established.  In this instance Anchal and Clara were almost strangers; therefore Anchal may have felt uncomfortable having a financial discussion prior to meeting Clara face to face.  Hence, her expectation to discuss price when Clara came to the house was reasonable � to her.

Additionally, pricing in India is quite subjective which means that the price of an object can vary depending on a number of factors such as relationship between the buyer and seller, length of time they have known each other, where they fit in the social structure, which clan or tribe they belong to and sometimes even the day of the week and the time of day.
Australian culture focuses more on the task rather than the relationship. Clara�s perception was that they had engaged in a practical discussion over the telephone. Clara drove to Anchal�s house with the expectation of having a small chat, picking up the microwave and driving home.
High Context Versus Low Context
Australian, U.S and UK cultures are low context.  Clara had openly asked Anchal how much she wanted for the microwave more than once.  She took each reply at face value, in these cultures �you say what you mean and you mean what you say.'
Indian culture being high context requires greater attention to the indirect messages being sent, rather than taking what is said to be the only intended message.  For example Anchal�s mention of $1.00 was an opportunity to begin a discussion around price, however Clara was unaware of this opening. A great suggestion by one of our readers was: �By using an external benchmark, Clara (or Anchal) could have shifted the burden of the number to a third party source, removing it from �what I want� or �what I will pay� to �this is what the market says it is worth.�

Shame Versus Guilt
A few respondents asked why would Anchal have sent her message via text rather than speaking directly to Clara.  Perhaps this was Anchal�s way of maintaining harmony and avoiding confrontation; or perhaps she believed it would avoid shaming Clara.  Actually by sending a message via text it offered Clara time to realise that Anchal had a problem, reflect on what had occurred and think about how she wanted to respond.

I chose to share this story because it demonstrates several layers of cultural differences and awareness issues that can result in misunderstandings and conflict.  These issues can occur in private and professional domains.  It demonstrates how we all have our own assumptions, perceptions, behaviours and attitudes that are appropriate to our own culture. They are so ingrained that we rarely give them a second thought, much less consider that there could be other variations. Hence why I particularly liked the comment �we constantly fail to understand that our reality is only experienced by us.'
Cultural intelligence encourages us to probe deeper, to look beyond what we see at surface level and to constantly question ourselves and situations we find ourselves in.  We need to be intuitive, appreciate how to listen to what is not being said, know how to ask and structure questions in culturally appropriate ways and constantly check how our messages are being received and interpreted.
The situation ended with the two women returning their exchanges to one another. On a positive note � hopefully both parties learned something through this experience and improved their CQ.

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Best Wishes
Tom Verghese

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  The Implications of Cultural Differences
Part 2




'And Never Stop Dancing' is a book that I have had for a while and recently picked up again.  Dr. Livingston is a Vietnam War Veteran and Psychiatrist who draws on his own experiences, both personal and professional.  The premise of this book is that paradox governs our lives; and that one of the most difficult challenges that we face is to see ourselves as others see us.  Livingston maintains that we all have blind spots and that much of what we think we know is in fact untrue. 

It is a good read from both a personal and professional perspective. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Livingston's writing style, along with the structure of the book. The book consists of thirty short essays making it easy to dip in and out, covering what Dr. Livingston describes as thirty more true things that we need to know now.  The chapters are short and each brings an intriguing story endured by Livingston's personal life.
" And Never Stop Dancing: Thirty More True Things You Need to Know Now." By Dr. Gordon Livingston (2006).


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