For almost my entire professional life, I have been bridging acute cultural differences with my clients and coaching other consultants how to do similar work.
Some of the cultural gaps (UK-USA; Germany-USA; France-UK) are challenging but bridgeable via mutual adaptation on the part of both sides and some basic emotional intelligence.
However some of the cultural gaps are phenomenally large and immensely challenging. US-Japan, Thailand-US, Philippines-Israel, Japan-Mexico as well as all post merger integration work come to mind.
Probably the most frequent question I am asked by people I coach is “how do we bridge these gaps and meet somewhere in the middle”.
My answer is that meeting somewhere in the middle is just another western cultural bias.
Some cultures are more flexible (Dutch, Scandinavian e.g.) whilst others are more rigid and self centered. Some cultures value meeting in the middle/compromise whilst others see meeting in the middle as weakness. Some cultures look at their way of doing things as the right way (US), others look at things more pragmatically, whilst others have their way of doing things embedded in religious or ideological context.
Meeting somewhere in the middle is rarely the way differences get bridged.
Working in acute diversity means living with lots of pain, constant attempts at mutual adjustment, power struggles and constant misunderstandings.
Building solid personal relationships, making the right staffing choices, not over-relying on process, possessing a good sense of humour and acquiring cultural humility do the trick, NOT meeting half way.
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