While on a recent visit to a local shopping centre I took a break and was enjoying a coffee, gazing at my fellow shoppers when I noticed a lot of pedestrian traffic at the top of an escalator. I noticed that an African woman was very hesitantly attempting to step onto an escalator, only to get close and then step away again. Watching her it was obvious that she didn't feel comfortable with escalators, quite possibly had never ridden one and might prefer to take the stairs! Her family spent quite some time traveling up and down the escalators demonstrating to her its ease and safety. Eventually she conquered the escalator and was very clearly pleased with her accomplishment.
This scenario required the woman to adapt to a new situation, either she could choose to avoid or confront it. While for most of us using escalators is an every day occurrence that we never consider further. This scenario serves� as a good reminder that what is considered normal and ordinary in one culture can be daunting and frightening to another.
My assumptions while watching this scenario unfold, were that it provoked a sense of fear for her that possibly involved potential risks and danger. When we experience these thoughts and emotions our natural instinct is to steer away and avoid the circumstances or situation/s. Another instinct often tells us to 'stick' around and conquer our fears.
New environments are a great test of just how flexible we really are, they force us to behave and react instantly to new, unforseen and unfamiliar circumstances. Often when we find ourselves in these situations we need to flex our mindsets and behaviours and expose our core values and beliefs, of which ultimately determine our degree of flexibility.
New cultural environments and interactions call on our adeptness to constantly recalibrate and adapt to the environments that we find ourselves in. Delivering feedback or presentations, negotiating and sourcing across borders or leading teams across cultures all command a proficiency in flex in terms of behaviours and attitudes. You need to know:
- How and when flex is required
- How to practise flexibility in a manner that doesn't compromise your core beliefs and values
- Which actions will and won't enhance your effectiveness and act upon that
- Be courageous enough to put yourself in situations that take you out of your comfort zone; regardless of the chances that you will feel awkward and possibly challenge your unconscious biases
As I observed the apprehension, fear, satisfaction and pleasure that the woman on the escalator underwent; it reminded me of the benefits of external support structures and personal courage required to confront new challenges.
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