Intolerance and culture

The perception of what triggers intolerance is highly impacted by culture.

Don from Amsterdam is very intolerant about beating around the bush when there is a problem that is on the table. His Asia colleagues’ face-saving “tricks” drive Don to distraction; he even finds American “politeness” as “forcing me to guess what they mean”.

Steve from Albany is intolerant of deviation from planning methodology, just because of an opportunity which “floats by”. Steve loses it when opportunism subjugates due process.

Pierre from Paris is intolerant of initially looking at new ideas from a positive angle. He believes this positivism blinds the quality of appropriate in-depth analysis. When his US colleagues start “wow wowing”, Pierre loses it.

Manfred from Munich is intolerant of discussion without appropriate facts. Manfred views a “low-fact discussion” as a waste of his time. When his British, Canadian and US colleagues start “what-ifing” and ignore constraints, Manfred loses it.

Adi from Jerusalem is intolerant of too much of a detailed explanation. Since speed is her default survival strategy, Adi gets intolerant when people don’t get right to the point. She wants to hear the conclusion first and then the facts!

Som from Bangkok is intolerant of people who overly emphasis  products’ capabilities with superlatives. Hailing from a soft spoken, toned down and mild culture, Som views North American marketing pitches with huge intolerance.


Understanding what hits your “intolerant” button and that of your colleague is an important global skill.

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2 thoughts on “Intolerance and culture

  1. It is interesting to be aware that culture can be indicative of the circumstances that will trigger intolerance. It is by the way not the only explanation…so let us not forget that personality can still explain intolerance.

    This being said, nowadays global executives and leaders are more concerned about what to do with the cultural differences they come across when operating in international contexts than about knowing the cultural root of their intolerance.

    As a matter of facts, during intercultural interactions, the cultural adjustment is sometimes expected from one side (seller, supplier, managers…) sometimes from the other side (employees adjusting to a foreign firm corporate culture, or adjusting to a new business culture for these from transitional economies).

    The complexity of intercultural interactions, makes it often unclear to foreigners assigned in one country which cultural norms/values prevail in which circumstances.
    This is an area that is so far very neglected by intercultural experts.

  2. Some of these may also be personal rather than cultural. One of the most difficult things that I’ve had to learn over the years is that I make “intuitive leaps” that most people don’t. I’ll go from, say, A to D, skipping B & C because they’re so obvious to me. It took having a boss who not only had to think A-B-C-D, but really needed A1-A2-B1-B2 (etc.) for me to realize this & “slow myself down” to be better understood!

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