October 2019

When Best Intentions Miss the Mark...

I was in discussions with an Australian organisation that has a global presence. As their business grows and matures in the international market, they have decided that it is increasingly important to adopt a more culturally agile approach. During the discussion an incident was raised that did not have the desired impact.

Due to the growing awareness around mental health and the increasing rates of suicide in Australia, a dedicated day called “R U Ok Day” is held on September 12 every year to focus on mental health. The idea of having this day is to encourage people to ask others how they are feeling, if there are issues to share, so that people feel supported and not isolated. It is recognised in Australia as an important step towards reducing suicide and developing a strong and supportive network for those that may be struggling with mental health.

This organisation extended the recognition of the “R U OK Day” event to its international offices, thinking it would be a powerful, well received and progressive gesture. Despite the good intentions held by the organisation in promoting these values of openness and support, the organisation received a lot of resistance particularly from offices in the Asian countries. While the organisation acted with the best intentions, they did not foresee the impact of these intentions. The organisation failed to take into consideration how this kind of discussion might be received in different cultures. In many Asian cultures, discussing mental health or experiencing mental health issues is very taboo. Admitting you have problems is a source of shame in many cultures so understandably this initiative caused unease and tensions for the international offices. The offices felt that this had been forced upon them and it was anything but well received.

How then can we avoid a situation like this in our own workplaces and organisations?
Some points for consideration are:

1) Be Conscious:

Be aware of our own biases – this means being mindful that the way in which you view a behaviour, practice or topic may not be the same as someone from a different culture. Culture is effectively the lens through which you view the world, so it is important that whenever you are working across culture you consider how your actions, attitudes and behaviours will be received. At the same time, how do you attempt to understand the point of view of the “other”?

2) Ask Questions:

When introducing new initiatives, it is imperative to ask questions and receive feed-back so you are able to gauge the response before putting things into place. Listening to the perspective of those in a different culture will broaden your understanding and knowledge especially with new initiatives.

3) Be Adaptive:

If an initiative is introduced and is not well received in a different cultural context, then it may become necessary to consider how to adapt, adopt or modify this so that it can be more easily accepted by the cultural group involved.

These types of situations require the use of Cultural intelligence and an awareness of the different approaches of the cultures we interact with. Through planning, awareness and strategy we can be better prepared to navigate cross cultural situations and develop more profound relationships leading to better outcomes at both the personal and professional levels.


This month I discuss Feedback Across Cultures. Giving feedback is an important part of development in any culture and it is important for leaders working across cultures to have a range of styles when delivering feedback. Click here to listen


Book Recommendation:


On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and getting Old, Parker J Palmer

In this profound book, Parker J. Palmer writes clearly and honestly about the questions, challenges, and paradoxes of life. His writing explores, from a variety of angles, the building blocks for living a wholehearted life of meaning and purpose. With honesty, grit, humour and sometimes poetry he explores the issues we should think about at any age, but that tend to force themselves on us as we get older:

• How can I live with courage and meaning and integrity?
• How can I make sense of the world’s darkness and keep it from overwhelming me?
• How can we cultivate both a robust outer life and a robust inner life, especially as we age?

Palmer takes us by the hand and with his signature warmth and intellectual and spiritual curiosity, shares his own experience of living and aging in a way that encourages the reader to do the same. He shares what he’s learned from life, from others, and from his own extensive reading of the writings of spiritual giants.
His message is that the journey towards wholeness and radical self-acceptance is the only journey worth taking. His mantra is “Wholeness is the goal; but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” We must show up as our true selves every single day.

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