Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cultural understanding when traveling on business

I never thought I'd recommend that the comments on a post are worth reading as much as the post itself but then I read this excellent article: "How not to be a cultural knucklehead in a global business world"

In the post Pamela Slim gives some great points which are worth noting if you have to deal with people from different cultures on a regular basis or travel a lot for business (or for holidays!). The many many comments on the post also include some great tips and they're definitely worth reading.

I'm going to try to avoid copying the points already made in that post and the comments but I'll add my two cent here.

There are three ways in which cultural insensivity can cause you problems:
  • You inadvertently offend people;

  • You just come across as stupid or ignorant; or

  • You live up to your own national stereotype.

For the first one, I think the fundamental point for dealing with people from other cultures is to be sensitive to them and pay attention for any cues that you're offending them (something I myself have been guilty of not doing diligently in the past!). Being sensitive to other people is a good point, especially because the same things that might get you into trouble with someone from a different culture might also rub someone from your own culture the wrong way too.

Normally people will give the benefit of the doubt to someone if they are a foreigner, so I wouldn't worry about offending people all the time, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

For the second point I've learnt a few rules in the past few years of dealing with people from different countries:

  • Never think, talk, or act as if you know more about someone else's country than they do. This might sound obvious but if you've been in a country a while or have read something about the politics there you might start inadvertently sounding off about it and give the impression that you think the person from that country doesn't know this stuff already! With politics the general rule about avoiding politics in conversations applies anyway.. you just don't want to go there :o)

  • People from any country don't always like to spend an entire conversation (or even part of it) talking about their country, their language etc.. usually they just want a normal human conversation about business or whatever.

  • Similar to point one, but never contradict what someone says about their own country, even if you feel it's wrong or inaccurate. Again this comes off as sounding like you think you know more than them about their own country.

If some or all of this sounds like basic normal conversational tips that's because a lot of multicultural "etiquette" is simply good polite behaviour and good old fashioned judging of people on their merits rather than on their dress or nationality etc.

Sometimes you can't help with your ignorance. You may meet someone from a small town in England that you've never heard of before or couldn't place on a map. Some people do get offended if you know very little about or have never heard of the town or country that they're from. In those situations whether or not the person is offended comes down to that person rather than anything you can do.

The third point is something I've come across myself before and it doesn't relate to insensitivity towards other cultures but rather a lack of awareness about your own. It usually only shows itself when someone from another culture picks you up on something you do or say. An example of this from my experience is when I was giving a class in New York last year, we'd have a morning break and a late afternoon break. On the second day of training the class pointed out to me that I kept saying we'll have a "tea break" when "over here we have coffee breaks." It was also pointed out that I used the phrase "rabbit in the headlights" versus the American "deer in the headlights". These differences were harmless but sometimes you may use a phrase people don't understand without even recognising it or your nationality may carry stereotypes or impressions in peoples' minds that you're not aware of or don't understand the cultural implications of.

Another issue is language. As a native speaker, if you are speaking to people whose first language is not the language you'll be speaking in, then it pays to check that they can understand you. The first time I had to speak to a class of people whose first language was not English I was asked to speak slower by one of the class. On the other hand, it's a delicate balance because you do not want to come off as a condescending LOUD AND SLOW talker. Some people may also find it offensive that you asked if they could understand you ok in the first place ("Are you implying my English is less than fluent!?") I look for the universal facial expression of incomprehension which is usually a good indicator that they either don't get the content you're speaking about or don't understand what you're saying at a linguistic level :o)

I didn't take offence at the New York comments which goes to show that walking on eggshells is not always necessary. Some people will be more easily offended than others. Sometimes you can't help offending people, for instance I had no idea that some people from Latin America find it offensive that Europeans only called citizens of the USA "Americans" until a Mexican friend pointed it out to me one time. What matters in those cases is how you can recover. Like I said above, most people will give foreigners the benefit of the doubt and just like "It's my first day" it's an excuse that works as long as you don't fall back on it more than once..

In summary (as much as one can summarise a rambling post :o)), I don't think that multi-cultural etiquette extends far beyond respecting other people, giving them their space, and not applying your preconceptions to them. I think it also involves a lot of self-awareness of your own cultural bias which only comes from interacting with a lot of different cultures over time, it's not something easily picked up from a book (nothing beats those "woah" moments when you realise something you took for granted was a part of your culture and not a universal thing).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Essential advice for graduates

I read this post today and it reminded me of lessons I've learnt in the last few years since college. This advice from David Maister is essential for anyone just joining the workforce. It is maybe a bit more applicable in larger corporate environments but I'm sure most of it applies to anyone who'll have to manage their manager.

The comments have a lot of great advice in them.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sneak Preview of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Highlights from their press release:

Selected for the Sundance Film Festival, John Carney’s ONCE is a modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin, starring Glenn Hansard which tells the story of a busker and an immigrant who fall in love over an eventful week, as they write, rehearse and record a number of songs.

CRÉ NA CILLE is the first ever Irish language feature film in JDIFF. It is directed by Robert Quinn whose Dead Bodies was the closing film of the first JDIFF in 2003.

Nominated for five categories including Best Film at the IFTA’s and starring Iain Glen, SMALL ENGINE REPAIR is a comedy drama about a man who goes from small town zero to country and western musical hero. Doug, an aspiring country singer, has spent his life as a loser in a small town with nobody taking his heartbreaking voice and talent as a musician seriously. His wife has left him and only his best friend believes in him. But Doug has one last chance to make it…

Films without distribution that will have their only Irish cinema screening at JDIFF include Woody Allen’s SCOOP which stars Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson; COLOUR ME KUBRICK starring John Malkovich is an insider look at the making of the great director’s last film Eyes Wide Shut and another iconoclast of the cinema, Lars Von Trier has granted a rare screening of his latest work and a return to the black humour of his earlier work with THE BOSS OF IT ALL. New documentaries on show will include French director Philippe Pilard's film, NEIL JORDAN, PORTRAIT.

Some titles that reflect the best available from the current awards season include Zhang Yimou’s epic CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER – a front runner for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and HALF NELSON which stars Ryan Gosling who has received several awards already and may well get an Oscar nomination.

(The all CAPS format is a copy and paste from the press release)

Can't wait to see Curse of the Golden Flower!! :o)

Joost - where's the content?

Despite sounding like a sweet and having a name that apparently makes a lot of sense to Dutch people but not much outside the Netherlands, I thought Joost was at least a step up from "The Venice Project" which didn't have much of a ring to it as a desktop application..

I had better get my disclaimer out of the way quickly: I like Joost (the application, not the name). I like the interface. I like having full screen streaming video on my pc. It's a cool concept.

Now back to being a negative nelly :o)

Where is the content? I've been using it since December and there appears to be little or no new content in the past month. I'd like to know what the plan is for Joost long term.. if they are slow to allow user-submitted content and if the content that is there is updated so slowly, the application will die a death. Like a website that isn't updated regularly, who will come back to a streaming tv app that keeps showing the same five programmes on each channel?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

So that's how they do it!

I've often wondered how "professional" bloggers find the time to blog. Most of them seem to have 9-to-5 jobs and yet they seem to churn out multiple articles a day without, apparently, disrupting their jobs or lives.

Now I have an answer.. at least from one blogger anyway :o)

Fred Wilson from A VC says "Is it because we have all this free time on our hands? No, not really. I write most of my posts between 5am and 6am in the morning when the rest of my house is sleeping."

When you read about the daily routines of senior business people you often see that they get up at some un-Godly hour to either go to the office or exercise or whatever.

Not being much of a morning person (though I can wake up when I have to, like for early morning flights) I wonder if this means I'll never be a senior business executive or famous blogger ;o)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Venice Project invites

To anyone who asked me for an invite for the Venice Project I'm afraid that I can't provide them at the moment as I only got issued a couple and they're gone. On top of that I have a few friends who would like invites so they'll get any invites I get ahead of anyone I don't know, sorry :o)

LinkedIn tips

Guy Kawasaki has a good list of tips for LinkedIn users.

I've been surprised at the amount of people I know who I've found on LinkedIn. It's a great way to get in touch with former colleagues and acquaintances.

The comments on Guy's article give some tips on how to use LinkedIn more effectively. While I've found the social networking aspect of it interesting, I haven't used it much for networking beyond people I already know. I haven't gotten any job offers or requests to get in touch (i.e. where someone asks you to put them in touch with someone you are linked to) so I'm not sure how big activity across the network is. A friend of mine did get a couple of job offers through it though so it definitely does work for some!

Key to using these types of sites is being active and keeping your profile up to date. A lot of people create an account, add a few links and then never log back in, thus not really getting value out of it. Maybe social networking for business purposes follows the 1% rule and is therefore a bit overhyped?

I think the key thing that LinkedIn seems to be missing is free messaging facilities. At the moment you can't invite someone to your network unless you've worked at the same company or gone to the same college as them or if you know their email address. That makes sense but doesn't allow for getting back in touch with old classmates or colleagues. LinkedIn also doesn't allow existing contacts to message each other within the site, like users can within Bebo or MySpace. I think because of this lack of interaction between users LinkedIn doesn't count as a "social" networking site.

Business relationships are as much social as they are about exchanges of goods or technical knowledge and I think LinkedIn misses that point, which is a shame.