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.
My latest article emphasises other western biases of OD.
If I have learned nothing else from you – and I have actually learned a lot – this is one of the premier insights you have given me.
Allon, you have some amazingly pointed insights. This was even more enlightening in MANY ways! AND, it will help me complete my next assignment. Thank you!
you forgot your expierience in bridging India -Israel caltural gaps
Allon, you are leading a mind shift in OD, one that is essential as we deal with the polarities of homogenization and differentiation.
Thanks so much, Allon, for this uncomfortable (rather than inconvenient) truth. Culture is about pain and always will be. It’s like psychoanalysis, which Freud himself said was one of three impossible professions, along with pedagogy and politics (government). Roland Jaccard once said that after 20 or so years of psychoanalysis he hadn’t cured his neuroses but he had become an observer of himself. That’s what interculturalists should be promising rather than an illusory “bridge to nowhere” (it’s not often that I quote Sarah Palin!).
Sarah Palin reminds me of Gloria.
Simple and beautifully written.
The real art of negotiation is to get what you aimed from the beggining but to make the other side he is the winner. (This is what your wives are doing to you daily 🙁 )
Dear Allon, nice to find you here and see your post had been shared by one of my itim colleagues! And thank you for yet another wise word.
Thanks Alette for your kind words