Archive for April, 2013

The Downside of Dos and Don’ts

Most people love lists, particularly some of us as we get older; without a list things wouldn’t get done. I was recently advised when contacting the media about a news items that it would get more attention if it included a list such as ‘the top 10 tips for traveling abroad.’ Similar to ‘top’ lists, dos and don’ts lists are equally popular because it puts information into nice, neat categories that are easier to remember. While there are certainly benefits to dos and don’ts, they are less effective for areas where vast degrees of variation exist, such as cultural etiquette.

We know that people greet each differently depending on factors including: age, familiarity, situation, and culture. When we are introduced to someone we are making a first and potentially lasting impression, so most of us strive to do it well. Bill Gates’ recent cultural faux pas of shaking the president of South Korea’s hand while his other hand was in his pocket is an example of the challenges with dos and don’ts. Cultural guides frequently provide advice about proper greeting etiquette by country, but I have never read one that reminded readers of the importance of not having your other hand in a pocket. People always want cultural dos and don’ts but this is a great example of the challenges with such lists. Lists can never be exhaustive.

Bill Gates’ big faux pas is newsworthy because of who he is. It is doubtful that is will have any long-lasting negative effect on him or Microsoft, however, the ramifications for other individuals who make a cultural faux pas while conducting business across cultures might not be as negligible. Everyone interacting with people from other cultures needs to develop some cultural competence, either through training or reading, and apply the golden rules of being respectful and non-judgmental.

What is your opinion about dos and don’ts?


Interested in building cultural competence? Check out Subtle Differences, Big Faux Pas, more information at:

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Time is Relative

Time is so basic to our lives. We learn to tell time at a very young age. If we want to know the time of day or the day of the week, we simply look at a clock, a calendar, or our iPhone. However, even these aspects of time are not so simple: do you tell time using a 12-hour or 24-hour clock? Do you say ‘half seven’ of ‘half past six’? Moving beyond the basics of time to attitudes toward time and mindsets and approaches can become quite complicated.

For some people time is essential, they might be described as ‘slaves to time.’ But for others, time is inconsequential and they believe ‘good things come to those who wait.’ We might agree in some situations: waiting for the outcome of a critical patient takes an eternity or the exhilaration of riding on a rollercoaster lasts only a few moments. Usually, though, time is not measured in the same units and how it is viewed and valued can vary considerably. People comment that as they get older time seems to move faster. Children believe school days and summer vacations last forever, while many business people wonder what happened to the day because they didn’t get enough accomplished. They say ‘time flies’ or wish they ‘had a few more hours in the day.’ Many factors including culture, stage of life and circumstances influence how people regard time.  The challenges begin when they collide.

Several recent events reiterated the complexities of time:

The manuscript of my book is being proofread because the first time the publishing deadline resulted in a less than perfect product.  In publishing, deadlines are quite stringent so we agreed on a deadline but the proofer contacted me indicating she need more time to complete the work. While deadlines have their place, if meeting a deadline compromises the quality of the product, should one be unyielding? Now some would say, “I want both a quality product and I want it on time,” it may be what we want, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

I spent five hours on a walk with my friend, Ruth, and her walking buddies named the Mama Mias. For this retired group of ladies this weekly outing is a healthy way to spend time with friends; it is invigorating, yet relaxing. While I enjoyed the exercise, taking that much time out of my work day is difficult.  When with friends, five hours is nothing, however five hours away from the job is sizeable. Even though I’m self-employed person, I still struggle with how I should spend my time.

Whether it is about setting family mealtimes, celebrating life’s milestones, or business deadlines, perception of time vary significantlly. No matter a person’s attitude towards time, it is a part of everyone’s life and time is relative.  Don’t judge too quickly this would be a big faux pas.

What situations have you encountered where the differences created challenges? What was the primary source of the differences?

What attitude toward time should dictate in multi-cultural situations? Some people answer that it should be the dominant (host) culture or culture with the customer or purchaser? What do you think?

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