The joy of difference

I’ve not published a Q&A post in a while, and today certainly lends itself to doing so.

On this morning’s training session on Assertiveness training, we had some really good discussions about the normal range of things which arise on this topic – the difference between passive behaviour, aggressive behaviour and assertive behaviour; defining assertive behaviour; creating a bill of rights and responsibilities; how to say no; and active listening. One of the unexpected discussions that came through the session was about cultural differences.

It’s something which does often raise its head on this topic, and is something which always creates a fascinating discussion. What I love about the discussion is the sudden level of appreciation created in the room amongst everyone.

I enjoy some duality in living two cultures. I enjoy British culture, and follow many of our well established rules of behaviour – complaine about the weather, talk dryly about pretty much everything, believe that a queue can be formed for everything, being a stickler for correct use of English. I enjoy Punjabi culture too – finding any excuse to have a family gathering and party, finding an excuse to always mention my education (Masters degree dontcha know), have an unhealthy attitude in favour of Indian sweets, believe that family reputation is front and foremost the most important thing to worry about.

Some of the things shared this morning from the Dutch, Italian and Spanish delegates were around how easy it is for their passion and directness to be misunderstood as rudeness. They get told to be like that, but don’t be like that. They get told that they need to be more ‘British’.

So let’s share some cultural insights – what things do you do that get easily misunderstood because culturally this is what you would do?


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “The joy of difference”

  1. What you said towards the end is true – I held an induction session with a German native a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately when they started I was tied up with another workshop for two days, so when we finally got around to holding an onboarding session I asked the typically British question “so how’s things going so far?”

    Most people, of course, would say “oh fine, great” or words to that effect.

    Instead, I was regaled with a list of things that were wrong, how it was hard to find her feet because she hadn’t had an induction yet, how structured appeared to be missing from the role so far etc. etc.

    Initially I was a little put out, it felt like a bit of a personal attack. Heck, it wasn’t *my* fault I wasn’t around when she started. I wasn’t told she was starting and had booked the workshop several weeks before. I was amazed how hostile she came across, especially since we hadn’t spoken yet.

    However, I carried on the small talk that I usually engage in with a new starter (it’s a great way to get a grasp of their background and experiences to date) and within two minutes we were laughing and joking, and even discussing mutual hobbies.

    It was only then that I realised that it wasn’t a personal attack on anyone, least of all me. All that had happened was that she had responded truthfully to the question. Whereas the “British norm” would be to say everything is fine, even if things had been a complete disaster, she just answered the question that was put to her and when I frame her response in that light it wasn’t rudely said to me at all.

    Who is at fault? Probably no-one, just a meeting of two cultures.

    1. What I love about this is the innocence of the question, and the unexpected response. This is at the heart of wht diversity is about. We think a question will direct a certain response. When we’re faced with something different, in that moment, we define who we are.

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