Perceptions influence outcomes

One huge learning point we can take from the stunning performances of the athletes at the 2012 Paralympics, is that perception can influence both the individual performing and those observing. The outstanding achievements and the beliefs of excellence of all the paralympians have certainly altered my perceptions. Now I firmly believe that ‘disabled’ is a misnomer – rather say ‘differently-abled’. They certainly performed beyond their expectations and many of ours! When applying this learning to the challenges of communicating effectively, in order to change a situation, you often have to start by seeing it differently and challenging your own perceptions. A very effective way to do this is to consider the various “positions” or viewpoints and explore each different perspective in turn to see if fresh insights point you towards a possible solution. Developing these and other pertinent communication skills will enhance your powers to manage meetings for positive outcomes or to find ways to build great customer relationships. Now is the perfect time to invest in your communication assets and benefit from the legacy that changing perceptions can...

Culture: a simple definition

One definition (Bates and Plog,1990) defines culture as “the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through social learning”. At The Training Box, we like a much simpler definition, “The way we do things around here.” Culture has an impact on every human activity: how we view time, how we organise ourselves, define our purpose, relate to power etc. and it leads to perceptions, beliefs, values, behaviours, norms that may not always be clear to others. We are all culturally unique: every person carries patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour, much of which has been learned or assimilated, starting in childhood.It can be difficult to “unlearn” these things and adapt our communication style and behaviour. Different is different – not necessarily better or worse: cultural orientation can divide or enrich depending upon your ability and inclination to rise to the challenges presented by cross-cultural communication. Remember to be sensitive to cultural variation in your communication!...

The cross-cultural challenge

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He describes the patterns of behaviour that are culturally influenced as the “software of the mind”, a type of collective mental programming. He emphasizes that culture is learned and not inherited and must be distinguished from human nature on the one side and an individual’s personality on the other. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to belong to multiple groups at the same time e.g. to be British, to work for a German company, to be an alumnus of a US university. Whilst we remain the same person in all of these contexts, our behavioral and communication patterns may vary as we adapt to the context of each group. Most cultural characteristics are not absolute but will fall somewhere along a continuum both for the individual and the group in a wide range of categories – some of which have been commonly identified – such as our relationship to identity, time, power, organizations, communication styles and several others. (Rosinski’s Cultural Orientations Framework is particularly helpful here.) Not understanding the differences can of course often give rise to misunderstandings and provoke unexpected or even destructive responses. This is because for many people, the default setting in our programming is to assume different is worse than that with which we are familiar and comfortable. Cultural orientation may start collectively with the group, but the impact is on each of us individually – Cultural orientation can divide or enrich depending upon our ability and inclination to rise to the challenges presented by cross-cultural...

Culture: a group phenomenon

Culture is a collective phenomenon, learned and not inherited. The set of unique characteristics mentioned by Rosinski above are always at least partly shared with people from the same social groups. The nature of these groups varies and they may be defined by nationality, religion, ethnicity, profession and education, organization or function, social groups such as family, friends and clubs as well as gender and sexual orientation. Researchers have explained the unique characteristics as similar to the layers of an onion or compared them to an iceberg. “Artefacts and products” are the most visible manifestations of a culture e.g. food, etiquette, architecture, fashion, art. This is the outer layer of the onion or the visible tip of the iceberg. All observable behaviours including communication belong to this layer. Peel away the layers of the onion or dip below the surface of the iceberg and what you find are firstly, norms, i.e. what is considered right, appropriate and acceptable by the cultural group and then values, i.e. the ideals shared by that group. Norms and values vary cross-nationally but they also vary by other cultural groups. Basic assumptions or beliefs lie at the heart of culture and drive how we experience universal challenges such as time and our relationship to the world at large and nature.  For example, these two contradictory statements are assumptions or beliefs and not universal truths. “Life is what you make it” versus “Live life for today”.  The significance of basic assumptions lies in their hidden nature and their role in driving the visible behavior. Our Top Tip: In order to prepare for cross-cultural challenges, first...

Don’t use culture as an excuse for bad behaviour

“When a French person “demands” something, no offence should be taken. The French verb to ask is demander.” From Do’s and Taboos around the World By Roger E. Axtell A slip of the tongue or an imperious request?  A simple mistranslation may cause ill-feeling. Equally, if a colleague at work who comes from a different culture does not greet you in the morning, is it bad behaviour, culturally driven, or has he or she simply not seen you? Giving someone the benefit of the doubt in either of these circumstances would seem to be the prudent approach. However, in our work with multi-cultural groups in very diverse organizational settings, we have found that many people choose to actively blame others’ cultural orientations for misunderstandings and also use their own cultural orientations as an excuse for not finding the real solution to a problem. Although cultural orientation influences our preferred operating style, this is no excuse for hiding behind cultural orientation as the only possible explanation when things go wrong. It is important to distinguish between orientations, abilities and behaviors to find the true solution.   STOP and THINK before you judge and react – seek to understand ORIENTATIONS    What do you prefer? ABILITIES               What are you capable of? BEHAVIOURS        What do you do in reality?    If a manager has not successfully communicated with an employee when addressing a problem of poor performance (behaviour), is it because the manager’s belief that speaking directly is not appropriate (orientation) or a lack of skill (ability). Re-evaluating the belief may be called for in the first scenario while improving skill level is...