Archive for June, 2008
|Simple rules on queuing, whether at a public restroom or a theatre .|
I am writing this column sitting inside the new, state-of-the-art Bengaluru International Airport. The one-hour drive to and from the city is not as bad as I was told it would be. I left for the airport two hours ahead of the scheduled check-in time as people warned me it could take twice as much time to get here. So I now have an extra hour to take in the new airport and share my thoughts with you.
What an achievement in India’s globalisation this new airport in Bangalore is. The glass and steel structure, which lets natural light pass through its undulating roof, is modern, airy and welcoming. An oversized Louis Vuitton suitcase welcomes you at the entrance — I have not seen this advertising campaign in London, New York, San Francisco or even in Paris, which is the home of Louis Vuitton fashion.
Once you enter the airport you could be in the most modern city in the world. I have to pinch myself and say, “Am I really in India.” Once past security, shops and eateries abound, attracting sales and whetting appetites. The choices are many: La Moda stores are filled with Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Police and other designer labels. Shoppers’ Stop has a mini-mall in there! And food options range from a Barista to an Illy cafe!
The ‘Taste of India’ fast food counter, people milling around in large numbers, the languages you hear wafting around you and, yes, of course, the queuing in the toilets are the only reminders of ‘this is India, we are like that only’.
Once, whilst speaking to an American client that Global Adjustments had helped relocate from Texas to Chennai, she avowed that one of the most frustrating things she found about India was waiting in queues in public restrooms at hotels or theatres. I was surprised, because I thought Westerners were used to queuing patiently. She said it was not the queuing act, but the method of doing it that puzzled and irritated her. Then, she took out a marker and drew a diagram on the board for me (see accompanying graphic).
In the diagram, four rectangular boxes were marked WC. In the Western scenario, people formed a queue at the restroom’s entrance. Lines from near the first toilet show that the person who was first in the queue went into whichever WC/ toilet became free. Whereas in India, she drew the dotted lines in front of each toilet’s door. She found that she would be waiting at the restroom’s entrance while people brushed past her, flushing sounds were heard, toilet’s became free and people who came in after her used the toilet before she did! Soon, she became wise to the trick and joined the “brush past and stand wherever there is elbow room in front of whichever door you can get to” gang.
If India is going the global route, if we are modernising our country and life, then we have to modernise our minds and take on the responsibility that comes with progress. When we drive fast cars, we have to wear seat belts. When we consume alcohol, we have to follow the ‘no driving after’ policy. Similarly, let’s queue correctly at our modern facilities.
Here is a recap of some simple queuing rules. If you travel overseas this is non-negotiable behaviour for you to adopt or you will be tagged rude and India will get a black mark. If you stay in India, do help start this ripple effect of change by demonstrating queuing courtesies and etiquette through your own behaviour.
Queue forming rules
Some rules on forming a queue:
Don’t hang on to your cell phone and perform robotic actions of joining any old queue.
Be aware of queues, people and situations around you at all times.
Form a single queue.
Leave breathing space between each person in the queue.
Don’t touch or push those in front of you; if you do so by mistake, apologise.
If you are not sure where the queue ends, ask: “Were you here first?”
Don’t break a queue just because some poor guy looked away for a minute.
Queue breaking rules
These are to be used in an emergency only! Please attempt this only in an exceptional situation. For example, I was going to miss my flight the other day and the queue at the Chennai airport security check looked like it was a single one. I had to remember the two As:
A-sk for permission
Ask a few people, “My flight takes off in 20 minutes, is yours as soon or may I please pass?” And as you make your way to the top of the queue, utter “sorry” all the time as you are inconveniencing all those who are waiting in the queue.
Patience is a wonderful Indian quality as we wait for the monsoon, the right Government, the results of an examination… Let’s demonstrate it while queuing too.
|A multi-cultural team, if handled well, can be an asset for any organisation|
Handle with care: While diversity is a challenge, it can also prove to be a multicultural team’s biggest asset.
Some years ago, I had a Canadian colleague, Camillus. One day while coming to work Camillus asked his autoricksaw driver if there was a church nearby. The auto driver told him that he knew of a famous church on the way to the office. Camillus said “good” and kept quiet. The auto driver drove him to the church and waited for Camillus to get out. Camillus was upset that the auto driver had wasted his time and instead of taking him to the office had taken him to t he church.
In the incident, Camillus wanted some information for future use. The culture he comes from dictates that when a person asks a question, you give him or her a response, which completes that unit of communication. The auto driver, being an Indian, made assumptions, was being helpful and especially when asked about a place of worship assumed that Camillus wanted to go to the church before going to work and took him there. Neither was wrong or right; they were both being themselves, but neither got what they wanted. A very typical instance of cultural misunderstanding.
The last few years have seen the Indian corporate environment exposed to several cultures from around the world. It is not unusual to find teams, in a company, where there are people from Europe, East Asia and India, all working on the same project. Each one of them brings in their own cultural nuances, work styles and belief systems. This diversity in the workplace has created for the CEO and the company at large issues of cultural misunderstanding, consequential interpersonal relationship issues and its impact on the bottomline. In fact, recent studies show that in the beginning of an offshore project, productivity can drop up to 20 per cent due to cultural differences.
As head trainer at Global Adjustments, I was once asked to work with a group of team leaders who worked with people from different cultures. During the initial meeting with the CEO of the company, he told us that his leaders were intelligent and hard working; but he found that a lot of time and effort was wasted on sorting out misunderstandings and this, in turn, led to delays. And he shared the following incident with us:
Dave, a group leader, asked if the group would be able to do the testing of some equipment and give him a detailed report by the end of the week. He was told that it would be done. But when the deadline arrived the report was not complete. Dave asked for the reason for this delay and he was informed that the father of one of the group members was admitted to the ICU of a hospital and so two of them were busy helping out. Though Dave empathised, he could not understand what it had to do with the report not being completed. The Indians could not understand how Dave could be so careless about another person’s problems.
When we go to train or coach such teams, we start with creating awareness of the issue and what it means to each stakeholder and it is this facilitation for which people use Global Adjustments’ expertise. Bringing about cohesiveness in a multi-cultural team is a process. It starts with;
Accepting: Each member of the group needs to understand and accept the unique skills that each one of them brings to the table. For example, Dave coming from the West is trained to think sequentially and is goal-driven. This quality helps achieve projects on time. The Indian on the other hand is collective and instinctively supports another. This is an important trait for a strong team. It leads to better understanding.
Adapting: When Dave understands the importance of mutual support for an Indian, he will be willing to respect the other team members and will be able to understand the situation better. It will require a shift in Dave’s approach towards his Indian colleagues. The Indians, while appreciating Dave’s shift would also make a shift and help Dave meet his deadlines. This adapting to cultures creates an environment of mutual trust in the group.
Integrating: Once Dave and his colleagues accept and adapt to each others needs, the team is in a better position to integrate. This integration starts from attitudes, approaches and skill sets. If a similar situation should arise again, the team would know how to handle the situation without it adversely affecting work.
The tools required to go through this process in an organisation are:
Awareness creation: This starts from the top. When the team leaders and the senior management acknowledge the unique differences of the individuals working with them, there is a trickle down effect and the others mirror this approach. Differences start to be appreciated.
Learning to be non-judgemental: Cultures are deep-rooted. Words and behaviour that is visible are only a small part of a person’s culture. Why an individual behaves or talks in a certain way is part of his cultural and personal value system. Giving respect for who he/she is without judgement creates mutual trust.
Effective communication: Is when the listener receives the information the way the speaker intended it to be received. Effective communication includes active listening. When these two come together, it is not only the information that is conveyed, it also conveys respect and acknowledges the person.
A multi-cultural team can be a powerhouse of creativity and innovation or a place of discord and unpleasantness. While diversity is a challenge, it can also be a big asset, if only we harness it right!
I was very keen to get International Business for my company from American relocation giants. To my surprise, I found that the decision makers who use vendors out of India were located at Singapore. It is the hub for Asia Pacific business interactions to many a Fortune 500 company So I brushed up on my best Singapore etiquette and went out to conquer the world. When I had some time, I decided to go and look around the campuses and observe the life style and value systems of the young Singaporeans, who are going to be tomorrow’s business force.
Here are three basic things that struck me in the campuses:
Hard-working and people oriented
- Relationships are important for Singaporeans and hence they make it a point to interact with people. So, as a student, you would be able to make friends for a lifetime.
- Singaporeans are more Westernised in their work approach than Indians. I have come across some Singaporeans of Chinese origin, who are efficient, hard working and process oriented.
Some dos and don’ts
- Singapore is a crowded country, yet they like to maintain a certain physical distance while talking in a business or campus environment. It creates a sense of comfort for them.
- Maintain hand-shaking distance between you and the speaker.
- In spite of crowds, discipline is visible everywhere you go. The entire city is spotless. Chewing gum and littering are punishable offences in Singapore. You will be fined heavily if you are found littering or if you do not flush after using the toilet.
- Time consciousness and punctuality are part of the ‘to do’ attitude. In class do not interrupt, be brief in your explanations, and be prepared.
Can do attitude
- Education is a significant aspect in an individual’s life and within the society. This accounts for higher standards of education in Singapore.
- They expect efficiency in work. They are driven by the need to perform and excel.
- They are cordial and direct in communication.
- Do follow suit and good luck in Singapore!
|Asking questions is a good technique to improve cross-cultural communication|
In the global workplace.. For people to interact productively with each other, questions need to be asked, doubts need to be clarified
Asking questions, it is often said, is not India’s forte. We are not known to be a questioning culture and our education system has unfortunately not encouraged questions being asked in the classroom. As a result of the syllabus diktat that prevails across educational institutions in the country, the need to ‘cover’ the curriculum has been given more importance than the need to ‘discover’ and no questions are asked.
Traditionally, it is believed that asking questions is being impertinent and disrespectful of authority. In a culture where the teacher or the parent is equated with God, questions that might have risen have eclipsed into acceptance. “Because my teacher said so,” is a common enough refrain heard from our children in India. Another reason why questioning has been discouraged is because it helps ‘save face’.
The question of saving face
Saving face is the glue that cements our culture; it enables the group to stay together through thick and thin. In a society where hierarchy matters, questioning can disturb the status quo and lead to confrontation. The need to appear to agree, at least in public, is vital. Eastern cultures, and India is one, are known to prize harmony over confrontation, relationships over tasks. Asking questions can jeopardise all this.
Questions that never get asked will never get answered. Many have carried into the workplace the burden of unasked questions. Our workplaces today are global environments where different cultures often interact. For people to productively interact with each other, questions need to be asked, doubts need to be clarified.
In Western cultures, questioning is the basis of all inquiry and learning. Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” puts the individual, his affirmations and interrogations at the centre of the universe. In Indian culture, the individual belongs first to a family and a community. They generally take precedence over any individual preference.
Pitfalls of intercultural communication
Simply put, questioning and non-questioning cultures are required to work together in today’s increasingly globalised world. Asking questions is even more crucial in an intercultural environment where one cannot rely on familiar verbal and non-verbal signs. Consider this telephone conversation:
John: “I would like to review the150 slides by Wednesday afternoon please. Would you be able to send it to me by 2.00pm?”
Sangita: “Yes, I shall try.” (She knows it will be difficult but does not ask for more time and manpower) She does not say: “I will need another two days, could you give me more time to complete this? Is it all right if team B were to handle the first 50 slides? Is this the kind of presentation that you expect from me?”
John expects her to be upfront and voice her difficulties, if any. Since he has not had any questions from Sangita, he assumes that the work will be completed on time and is annoyed when it isn’t.
Avoid assumptions, clarify
For clear communication, clarify your doubts by asking questions and do not proceed on assumptions. To admit that you do not know, but that you wish to know, is not demeaning in any way. The ‘what will people say or think’, which often pre-empts any questions from being asked, can be a serious handicap when working in a global team.
We also tend to believe that asking questions is a sign of weakness. Shekhar has received a project report from Joanne in the US.
He notices some discrepancies, but doesn’t air his doubts. Months later he has to rework the report and admits that he was not very clear on what he was supposed to do. An exasperated Joanne retorts: “Why did you not ask?”
Asking questions implies that you are engaged with the process and in control. It implies that you are listening. The “Is this what you want me to do” or the “How do I proceed with this” or the “Could you specify which aspect needs to be looked at,” kind of questions set the compass for right understanding and right execution. A communication fallout can cost the industry dearly and asking timely questions can prevent this from happening.
In Global Adjustments’ training programmes we have seen just how difficult it is to get participants to ask questions. Questions don’t come easily to us or if they do, they don’t get voiced. This is rather unfortunate for a culture which as early as the second millennium BC had, in the Rig Veda, asked profound questions about the creation of the universe.