You Go Left, I Go Right

Today’s blog post is from our CEO, Kevan Hall, on, of all things, friendliness.

Christmas market, Cologne

I visited Cologne Christmas Market at the weekend. There were visitors from all around the world crammed close together in busy Market squares.

It was noticeable that people from countries where we drive on the left, like the UK and Japan tend to veer left in a crowd and others, from countries where they drive on the right will move to the right to get past others. When these two meet in a crowd it often causes mild confusion when one turns left, the other right and the system they are used to does not work.

I thought this was an interesting metaphor for working across cultures. It is the little assumptions that sometimes get in the way.

It was also illustrative to see how individuals deal with this, most smile and move around, a few look annoyed that someone is being ‘difficult’.

I travel a lot so, recognising the difference, I tend to adapt to the culture I am in and move to the right. Others who do not recognise it just do what feels natural and probably wonder why the crowds are so dense as they fight past the flow of people heading in the same direction.

But what do I do if I encounter a Japanese person coming towards me? Do I go right because we are in Germany, or assume that they will go right, because they too understand that the  rules are different here.

It’s the same working across cultures. Do we adapt, or carry our own rules? Step one is to understand that the rules are different and to respect them. If it is a small thing, why not adapt? It will make life easier than fighting the crowd, particularly if you are a guest, and it is something that might offend. If it is more significant and important to you, you might choose to retain your own way of doing things – but at least then you are aware of the difference.

Either way, like the people who smiled in the crowd, an open and friendly attitude to differences will carry you a long way.

To find out more about Global Integration’s cross cultural training, contact us at your nearest Global Integration office, or reach out to one of our team of experts.

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