Bridging the Gap
The gap. The one that exists in every relationship — either professional of personal, business or pleasure, for formalities or for leisure. It’s there. Sometimes we don’t even know it’s there, but we all chose to ignore it in some way for the sake of convenience.
You often think of your own way of conduct to be what suits the situation the most, and you take pride of that. you are critical thinker, you are efficient, you are solution oriented and you are straight forward — you know how to get things done. Seal the deal. Show results…and it works wonderfully. Among your peers you are THAT person that everybody counts on to know what do to and how to do it. Good job, you’ve made it to the pinnacle of your small bubble-like society, where everyone comes from the same background and same-ish education. But what happens when you apply the same habits and conduct to someone whose mother tongue is different than yours? Will your message be clear enough? Will the little precisions you know oh-so-well to do in your own language strike to the point, or just confuse?
It is easy to assume that the human brain is essentially the same everywhere and that if you speak the same universal language — you will be understood. But rest assured that language is influenced as much from culture, as it is from its history, geography and even climate. What people say in one country, doesn’t mean the same in the other.
Take for example India, where people are educated to avoid saying the word “no”, and rather use alternate ways that have less of a negative impact such as “Let me see about that”, “I can try” or “maybe it’s possible”. All these instances are usually a “no”, but will they convey the same message in the US or Europe? There are a few reasons for this kind of cultural-language barrier, and the main one is fear of incompetence or future negative prospects to the “no” sayers…In India, utilities and infrastructures — like power, transport and internet are seldom trustworthy, causing as much uncertainty of success as uncertainty of failure, thus positive commitments are taken with a grain of salt, and negative ones are avoided. Moreover, the fear of competition (as in India there is a lot of) prevents the usage of a strict “no” because “if I say NO, then someone else will probably say YES, and replace me”. The same goes for interpersonal relationships, as given lack of governmental/professional support — people ask each other for favors and support, as it shows goodwill to be cooperative and allow for such dependency. The Indian culture is well formed around reciprocity at work, and that’s why it is more likely to hear a YES or any positive alternatives, rather than a NO — which would be detrimental to the relationship, giving way to the fact that just because a person is cooperative and assistive, does not mean that the outcome is assured.
It’s the Culture Gap, which reveals itself in many ways, by language, attitude, hand signals, temperament and so on. This gap is created primarily by us humans trying to differentiate ourselves from another by raising walls and fences, creating imaginary borders and boundaries, and being jealous about the ‘way’ we do things. Try to tell a French person how to eat their baguette, or a Japanese how to dip the Sushi. Most of all, we like to perpetuate this gap and even fight about which one’s way is the best.
In France, many cultural gaps can be found, surprisingly (or not) in the kitchen. An experienced chef coming from the Normandy area, searching for new professional culinary adventures in the Provence area, would find it quite odd to see that his new all-southern staff refuses to cook with butter, but only with olive oil. This is due to the fact that during the development of both regions — the north of France had more suitable climate for cattle grazing, providing more milk (and butter) then the hotter, more arid climate of the south, suitable for oil trees plantation. Thus, the culture gap settled this way and is perpetuated by chefs from all over the country trying to prove who has the best recipe.
It is important to note that cultural gaps are what makes us unique, and should be celebrated and developed. It is also important to know when and in what way we should address these cultural gaps and how to find the right formula for your business relations to be in a win-win situation with you partner-from-another-culture, even if the differences are tiny and might seem insignificant.
In business, it will be foolish to think that culture-battling your partner will give you the upper hand. In contrary, not changing one’s ways and sticking with ‘what’s working’ and the way we are used to do business, will only damage the healthy process of relationship building, either by preserving the existing gap and creating ‘working distance’ between the sides, or by further enlarging the already existing difference and possibly cause future trust issues and dishonesty from both sides. Adaptation Is key and making good research before you engage is a must.
Not bridging the gap might win you a “fight”, but not the “war”.