VOICE June 2015 - page 2

It all started in an elevator
Culture boils down to three simple words: WHAT, HOW,
and WHY? The culture of any given group of people is
what
they do,
how
they do it, and
why
they do it.
The
what
and the
how
are relatively easy to work out.
The
what
and the
how
are concrete and visible, at least to
the trained and informed eye. The
what
and the
how
are
typically the type of things you would find in cultural
“Dos and Don’t” lists, things like how to
hand over business cards, gift-giving eti-
quette, greetings, listening habits, and so
forth, and they are absolutely useful
things to know. But what I find really
separates the wheat from the chaff when
it comes to cultural intelligent people, is
understanding the
why
.
Here’s an exercise I use in my cultural
awareness workshops. Imagine you are
waiting for the elevator on the ground
floor of a public building. In fact, there are two elevator
doors. Standing next to you is another person who is also
waiting for the elevator. You do not know that person.
Suddenly, both elevator doors open at the same time. The
person standing next to you takes the
left-hand elevator
.
Which one do you take, the same one, or the other one?
I have been asking this question to my fellow Norwegians
for the last ten years. The vast majority of Norwegians
say that they would take the OTHER elevator. This pat-
tern of behaviour has changed little in the last ten years, a
pattern that is repeated in the other Scandinavian coun-
tries. However, when I ask the same question to work-
shop participants in countries such as India, or Brazil, the
response is very different, most people in these countries
opting to take the same elevator.
I then tell my Norwegian audiences that the person who
took the elevator was actually me. It was an episode that
happened to me during my first year after I moved to
Norway. I was the one who took the elevator. And yes,
the Norwegian behind me took the other elevator that
time too, even though I attempted to invite him in to my
elevator by holding the door open for him by dangling my
leg in front of the infrared door sensors and smiling at
him.
At this point, the Norwegian audiences offer me a num-
ber of explanations for their fellow Norwegian’s behav-
iour.
“He probably thought you didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“He thought you preferred to take your own elevator.”
And my personal favourite …
“It’s much more efficient if you take your elevator and he
takes his, then there is no need to stop unnecessarily to let
one of you get out. After all, Norway has lots of elevators
and only 5 million inhabitants so there are plenty of eleva-
tors to go round!”
What characterises all of the explanations is that they all
have as their basis some kind of POSITIVE INTENTION. It
is the positive intention that is the WHY of a particular
behaviour. What is interesting is that at the time of the
incident, I did not see any of these positive intentions. All
I saw was a strange, antisocial and rather cold individual.
The positive intention of the man who took the other ele-
vator is the Nordic need for a lot of personal space. This
makes a lot of sense in a country that has the same sur-
face area as France and yet whose population is no more
than that of Munich.
By recognising and identifying the positive intention, as
well as describing other people’s “strange” behaviour in a
positive way, you end up with a world view whereby
Norwegians don’t “ignore” you in elevators, but rather
they “show respect by allowing you a larger than average
space bubble.”
Similarly, Norwegian managers are not, as one Brazilian
colleague said to me once, “distant and somewhat laissez-
faire with their management style”, but rather they
“believe in empowering their employees by allowing
them a sense of space and flexibility in order to manage
their tasks as they see fit”. They even have a name for this
in Norwegian: “
frihet under ansvar
” (Responsible Free-
dom).
It is the positive intention that is the
WHY of a particular behaviour. What
is interesting is that at the time of the
incident, I did not see any of these
positive intentions.”
RE-SPECT: the key to cultural
intelligence
The
what
and the
how
are concrete
and visible, at least to the trained
and informed eye. The
what
and the
how
are typically the type of things
you would find in cultural “Dos and
Don’t” lists.”
1 3,4,5,6,7,8
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