The goal of this post is to illustrate that perceptions of what is cheeky behaviour, aka chutzpah, vary from culture to culture.
The Hebrew term word chutzpah (חוצפה) is used to describe overstepping the boundaries of accepted behaviour.It has been translated as gall, excessive audacity and cheek. I will use the word chutzpah and cheek interchangeably in this post.
- When a culture emphasizes that authority needs to be obeyed and people need to do what they are told, anyone who does not defer to authority is seen as cheeky. Thus, many Asians perceive the behaviour of many Anglo Saxons, Germans, Scandinavians and Dutch to be cheeky.
- When a culture emphasizes believes that if “ I do not overstep my role because systems are faulty, I am betraying what good corporate citizenship”, he will be seen as cheeky by others who do not share that belief. .Thus, Americans, Canadians and Germans tend to see Israelis as cheeky.
- When people in one culture keeps opinions/thoughts to themselves, people in less discrete cultures as seen as seen as cheeky. Many Thais observe American organizational behaviour as being cheeky, since American staff will express their “opinions”, speak out in meetings, ask questions and not be outwardly overly deferential to authority. Clearly, the Thais have their opinions as well, and they are no less critical of authority; yet keep the Thais keep their organizational opinions to themselves.
Here are two real mind boggling cases on chutzpah/cheek that I have dealt with in the last year.
- An Israeli asks his Indian counterpart to change priorities for the next 2 hours; his Indian peers says, “I need to ask my boss”. When the Israeli counters “Why”, the Indian saw the Israeli as very cheeky.The Israeli saw the Indian as “hiding behind his boss”. The Israeli read the Indian behaviour as obtuse cheekiness.
- Germans often see Israelis as cheeky since the Israelis deviate from plans, making “cowboy” behaviour into an ideology. When as Israeli encounters a German who is following the plan, the Israelis may see this as a major abdication of responsibility and even chutzpah, because the Germans are seen as righteously implementing plans, even if they are wrong.
It is interesting that the Israeli worker sees almost everyone as less responsible that the Israelis are. The reason for this is that an Israeli worker/manager believes that
- doing what you are told is probably the wrong this to do
- procedures need to be questioned all the time
- conflict of ideas bring harmony
- overstepping your role is brings positive results
I facilitate several workshops a year on fostering trust and the cheek/chutzpah issue is a major trust maker/breaker in global organizations where people have an intense mutual dependency.