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Cultural Chemistry: Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps Paperback – July 22, 2016
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Each chapter closes with work space to explore 4 R’s, namely: Rewards–What’s in it for you?, Research–What do you need to know and why?, Reflect–How do you feel about what you’ve learnt?, and Reach Out–How can you make a meaningful connection? These assist the reader to join the content of the book to their personal experience and real concerns in order to help them plan going forward.
This is neither a textbook nor a research piece, but definitely an easy-to-read, wake-up book for those still largely unconscious of the role that cultural variety may play in their work and social lives as well as their travels, as well as those whose curiosity may have been raised by faux pas and misunderstandings at home with people of different backgrounds that may contradict one’s best intentions. Some failures are worth a chuckle, while others cost real money. Hopefully, it stimulates the kind of curiosity that will lead to continued exploration, learning and competence. In any case it invites readers to turn off their cultural cruise control and mind the road.
The author explicitly deals with the dangers of stereotyping from the examples given, and she takes care to remind the reader that context and personality differences may produce unexpected words, feelings and behaviors. Culture itself is described as a river, ever changing and evolving. There is an extensive fine print disclaimer at the outset to warn the reader that she or he is alone liable for decisions made on the content of the book. In any case, what is offered is of the nature of starting points to be tested against actual experience.
I’m a fan of the Netflix production, Suits. A key character, Louis Litt, doesn’t do many things right, however in an episode, he prepares a tea ceremony and presents a thoughtful meaningful gift to a potential Japanese client.
I think Patti McCarthy, a Melbourne based cultural adviser would be impressed with Louis’ planning.
In her book, Cultural Chemistry, Patti has captured more than I was expecting to read – it’s a feast to devour (10 chapter courses) – everything you need to do, say and how to behave, no matter which culture you want to digest. Whether it’s about food, feet placement, doing business with the French and Finnish or is flatulence acceptable; every aspect of cultural understanding is expressed in a delicious format to make these global lessons stick.
We’re introduced to smart phrases which you will recall when discussing cultural matters with your team. For example:
Cultural Cruise control – turning the control off is essential if you wish to maximise the opportunity to absorb the new culture. What works for one culture can be detrimental to another. In Australia, we casually invite people to use our Christian names whereas in Malaysia this is taboo if you’re in senior management.
Be a Sherlock - investigating every aspect of the culture to ensure there is no embarrassment, ‘loss of face’ and importantly, no loss of business.
Cultural Wavelength – deepen your relationships by tuning into ‘their’ wavelength. We know in leadership that we engage others best, when we adapt to be the leader that the others need us to be.
There are many simple yet useful reminders including communication differences. ESL, English as a Second Language took me back to my five years of studying Japanese and then attempting to act as a translator. There is a polite unspoken difficulty experienced by so many when English is their Second Language; – consider the acronyms and colloquialisms we Australians populate our narrative during meetings.
I really enjoyed learning more about the system of identifying global societies as either Individualist or collective. Consider this: are you one who thinks about yourself e.g. has a phone conversation on speaker on the train for all passengers to hear or do you consider creating harmony as being more important e.g. not singling out one person who’s caused a problem rather asks the team to fix it. Knowing which system you’re fitting into might enable you to quicken the relocation process.
We’re introduced to a model, the Four R’s to create a circuit breaker – enabling a cultural awareness change of personal habits as you embark into relationship building projects no matter where you find yourself in our global economy.
Here’s the four R’s model:
Rewards – what’s driving you to learn about this culture – what’s the benefit of increasing your understanding – what will happen if you don’t engage with the culture?
Research – at one level you can learn about the dos & don’t and at another level you can make sense of culture by learning about what is value in these countries.
Reflect – how do you feel about this new cultural information; how different is it to your beliefs, values and your own culture; and how will you use and adapt this new intelligence to your habits and behaviours?
Reach out – how will you adapt do be able to connect with others in what can be an entirely different culture. What’s your strategy?
Patti, in a virtual capacity, coaches you at the conclusion of each chapter, asking you the 4R model questions enabling you to have a meaningful conversation with your team members, if you use this tool to be a proactive global learning team.
We know that we learn through story-telling and Cultural Chemistry has the concoction measured well with succinct stories occupying most pages – heightening your awareness of how important this information is by identifying with the differences and similarities of customs, rituals, beliefs, motivations and values.
Reading Cultural Chemistry will enable you to quickly answer these questions:
Q: Which nationality expect you to have a Plan B in addition to Plan A?
Q: Where are you if you’re expected to put on plastic shoes to visit the lavatory in someone’s home?
Q: Which nationality don’t appreciate receiving clocks for introductory gifts?
Q: Which month is a bad month for Filipinos to make a decision?
Q: Which cultures (in addition to Australia) would you classify as individualistic?
Q: Where is it frowned upon to reheat leftovers and eat lunch at your desk rather than eat lunch with the team in the canteen?
Whilst we might have some idea of the etiquette, protocols and even rituals of other cultures, it’s not enough if we are serious about respectfully, ethically and indeed successfully leading and achieving the goal associated with having a new cultural relationship.
I always think of leadership as setting up staff for success, not failure. Providing guidance, coaching and the opportunity to discuss and explore solutions. This is a delightful delicacy of a read; a recipe for cultural success and a must for your leadership library.