Tech & Work

Bridging cultural divides in the workplace

Cultural divides exist everywhere, from country to country, from region to region, even from workplace to workplace, but sooner or later you have to take responsibility for how you come across to the people who work around you.

Cultural divides exist everywhere, from country to country, from region to region, even from workplace to workplace, but sooner or later you have to take responsibility for how you come across to the people who work around you.

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Recently, I wrote about a horrid creature who blamed his brash and abusive workplace behavior on the culture from which he oozed (New York City). He thought that his co-workers (the Department of Education at a university in Kentucky) were complaining about him because they were Southern and just didn't understand his "ways."

Although culture differences can play a big role in how people get along, in this case, using that defense was just a crock. He was using it to excuse some really abhorrent behavior.

His delusional machinations aside, I will say that as a Southerner myself (although Kentucky's classification is up for debate — Southern, Midwestern, East Central), I can imagine that his let's-get-this-done-now pace was a little off-putting to his colleagues at the¬†university where he was employed. I know how my people can be. I have faced the same type of resistance when I try to assert some of my own genetically unexplainable Type A tendencies. But sooner or later you have to adapt to your surroundings. If you have any self-awareness at all, you figure out that you're insulting to people (e.g., their eyes bug out, they're suddenly speechless, there are tears, etc.). If you continue to behave a certain way after you're aware of how you're coming across, the fault lies with you.

I know some things are culturally ingrained and are extremely difficult to change. For example, I have worked with three people over the years who all happen to hail from the same large American Midwestern city. All three were perceived among their work peers here in Kentucky, on the whole, as abrasive and insensitive. Is this a coincidence? I don't really know. Was their bluntness and brashness a product of the faster pace of the area from which they came? Were our perceptions at fault or their methods of communicating? Or maybe a little of both. I do know that they relocated to this city and wanted to make career strides here but their alienating behavior made that difficult.

And before I get blasted in the discussions, I'm not talking about intolerance of different cultures. I'm not advocating total assimilation of cultures into the mainstream. I'm saying that, if you expect a certain result from someone you are dealing with, you have to understand their way of thinking.

I'm also not saying that people in the South are nicer than anywhere else. Frankly, we can be just as mean as the next guy. It's just that down South, we have a delivery that doesn't sound mean. You can insult someone until the cows come home, if you combine it with a sweet sounding phrase. For example:

"He's really a moron, bless his heart."

"God love her, she couldn't find her way out of a paper bag."

OK, all kidding aside, cultural divides exist everywhere, from country to country, from region to region, even from workplace to workplace, but sooner or later you have to take responsibility for how you come across to the people who work around you.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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