A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to return to my country of origin, Malaysia. I was there to attend and contribute to a Cultural Intelligence Conference and took the opportunity to meet some clients and friends while there. At one appointment I was shown to a meeting room which had a small kitchen off to the side. My contact person had to attend to some matters in his office so he asked me to wait. While I was waiting, I noticed that there were tea and coffee making facilities in the kitchen running off the room. I thought I would go ahead and make myself a coffee. Shortly after a woman came into the room and glared at me drinking my coffee. It was quite uncomfortable and took me a moment to realise that I had infringed on her duties as the ‘coffee maker’ by making myself a coffee. I had offended her role!
I was applying the Australian thinking of ‘ helping myself’ which in the Malaysian context was a mistake! Of course, I should have known better, this goes to show how even people like me who consult in this space can make errors. It made me reflect on the importance of recalibrating ourselves for cross cultural situations we encounter even when we presume we are familiar with it.
Ways in which we can recalibrate ourselves include:
Being Aware- reminding yourself at specific junctures of some of the cultural adjustments you may need to make to your behaviour.
Taking deep breaths - to help shift your focus and align yourself to your current environment.
Checking your assumptions - observe your behaviour and perhaps check in with others to ensure you are being appropriate.
Paying attention to both the verbal and non-verbal communication.
Asking questions if you are unsure of the norms.
Practicing mindfulness so that you are being present and in the moment.
I apologised to the tea lady and asked for her forgiveness.
This month on my CQ for Global Leaders Podcast Series, I discuss Culture Shock
and offer some tips on how to best deal with it.Click here to listen
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