‘Treat others the way you want to be treated.’ …But wait, I don’t want to be treated like that!?!

Recently I had dinner with a co-worker of my uncle’s.  He thought it would be beneficial for us to meet (ahem* Never Eat Alone).  She could give me advice on a consulting career and we both had a mutual interest in cultural intelligence.  Two and a half hours later, it is safe to say that the meeting was very helpful, engaging and thought provoking.  Our conversation focused on cultural interactions and how cultural misunderstandings can severely interfere with business relations.

There was one particular comment she made that has continued to stand out in my mind.  I would like to share it with you.  She said:

“You know the saying ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated?’ Well it doesn’t work when you are dealing with other cultures.  Because they don’t want to be treated how you want to be treated.  And be honest, you don’t want to be treated how they want to be treated.”

Such a simple idea – yet so true!  I’ve always known that you should adapt your behaviour when interacting with someone from a different culture.  But I had never heard it phrased so clearly.  It was simple.  It was brilliant.  And I like the way it sounded.  Since it was such a familiar expression that many people guide their life by, it would resonate with people.  Hopefully it would get everyone thinking.

It makes sense doesn’t it?  Just think about it.  I’m sure your business partner in China does not want to be addressed and greeted the same way you want to be addressed and greeted.  Just like I’m sure your associates in Brazil have different leadership styles and preferences than you do; and your colleagues in India are motivated differently than you are.  We need to be aware of these differences and understand how to adapt our behaviour in order to treat people how they personally want to be treated.  If we were to treat everyone the exact same, we could end up severely disrespecting someone.  After all, it only takes a tiny cultural misunderstanding to lose a business contract or to strain a relationship.  Let’s start appreciating and understanding the differences in all of us.

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