By Barbara Schwarck, PCC, MPIA

I recently attended a global HR conference in Europe where I had the pleasure of observing people from many different cultures. If I am not mistaken there were people from all five continents present. It was a mix of women and men, white and brown, internal and external consultants, married and single, gay and straight, etc., etc. etc.; you get the point. As I was observing all of us (including me), I noticed that despite the many differences there were plenty of similarities between us. The phenomenon of being different yet the same left me in an inquiry that I am still processing a week later.

I am an expert in cross-cultural communication. I have lived in several different cultures and have first-hand experience of why it is important to bridge the gap between cultures. Germans have a tendency to be more serious than Americans. We (I am German after all) take things more literal and we like to dive in right away when we are solving a problem. We also are a bit more black and white than our American friends across the Atlantic Ocean. But enough about the differences. As I was talking to people from the U.S., Brazil and Lebanon, I was wondering how different we really are. I saw mothers who wanted to talk to their sons, husbands who stayed up to check in with their wives and overall people who wanted to be respected and valued and get the sense that they contributed and made a difference.

My experience has always been that it has been easier to remedy my cultural faux pas as long as I respected the other person who was the recipient. And it has always been okay with me when someone made a mistake when I felt that it was an earnest mistake. What did not sit well with me were people who did not respect me and/or judged me. Personally, I don’t like that no matter where you are from.

Perhaps cultural difference can be more easily overcome when we can respect, value each other and embrace each other in an open way. Maybe it does not matter what I look like or whether or not I make eye contact when I look at you as long as if I am not telling you, or you telling me, there is something wrong with either one of us. When judgment is absent, mistakes are easily remedied and rapport can be restored. After all, we don’t like to be made wrong and, in general, people respond much more positively when they feel welcomed.

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