If you gain, I lose

Whether traveling abroad or working at home, businesspeople routinely face the challenge of understanding cultures that are different from their own. When misunderstandings arise, relationships can suffer and in business it can be costly. Increase your cultural intelligence and sharpen your business acumen at the same time! The key to this is all about understanding the cultural values of those whom you are working with.

Are you wondering how to do this? You'll be glad to know that cultivating cultural intelligence is a skill that can be learned. In this piece we will look at some basic cultural values. Before I do so, I want to share a couple of comments from Today's Zaman readers on my piece “A noble killing” (March 31). Here are the comments:

Dear Charlotte: Thank you for your article. I wondered if other readers couldn't help but think about our culture's own dirty little secrets. In fact, America and other civilized countries have trouble recognizing the rights of innocent children whose lives are snuffed out for some similar shame that like it or not, as comparable to these “honor killings.” There must be such an evil in someone's heart for them to believe it better to kill their daughter (or in some places, their sons) so they can continue to live in their fantasy land. And so it is true for nations who pride themselves on civil rights, but allow people to kill their children for financial or other selfish reasons, and in particular in New York City -- as a means of birth control. From: K. Eliane

Dear Charlotte: The crucial point is that, as you say, “honor and shame is a core value ... for everything that matters in life.” Yet, apparently this core value supercedes life itself; that is, to uphold this value, physical life is wiped out. Almost always the victim whose life is torn violently away is female. Daughters, wives, sisters, mothers can all be slaughtered in the name of "honour." So in Middle Eastern culture, "everything that matters in life" aligns in a hierarchy, and the lives of "errant" females are ranked of lesser value than so-called honour. The end result is that murder is used as a means of social control. There is no cultural whitewash that can cover this up. A culture that would sanction, implicitly or explicitly, the slaughter of any of its members in order to uphold such a value must question the origins of how this hatred of the female came to its culmination expressed in the act of murder: where does this come from; why is the practice given such deference (even to the extent of judicial leniency); why do females often support or participate in it; why is the power of Islam, the predominant religion of the Middle East, otherwise so pervasive in all aspects of daily life, not called upon to end this heinous practice? From: Kinneddar

In each of the comments can you spot the idea -- If you gain, I lose. Both Today's Zaman readers make valid points. It would be good to hear from more of you and what you think.

Understanding honor and shame better and how it applies to cross cultural partnerships, especially in the workplace, is crucial. I would like to explore five points which include the following: equality/hierarchy; direct/indirect; individual/group; task/relationship; and risk/caution.

I came across a great book on this: “Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures” by Brooks Peterson. Dr. Peterson's book is packed with dozens of engaging case studies and illustrations which help the reader to not only recognize our own cultural style, but others as well, especially in the vital areas of management, strategy, planning, personnel communication and reasoning. Peterson explains that a style based on equality means that people prefer to:

- be self-directed;

- be flexible about the roles they play in a company or on a team;

- have the freedom to challenge the opinion of those in power;

- make exceptions, be flexible and maybe bend the rules; and

- treat men and women in basically the same way.

Peterson defines a style based on hierarchy as being people who prefer to:

- take direction from those above;

- have strong limitations about appropriate behavior for certain roles;

- respect and not challenge the opinions of those who are in power because of their status and their position;

- enforce regulations and guidelines; and

- expect men and women to behave differently and to be treated differently.

I wonder if you can spot your style. How about where you work? We'll look at the idea of “If you gain, I lose” in further detail in my piece on Saturday.