Superficiality – the main Reason for Failing in other Cultures

pork mistake

The (censored) picture above is an example of how taking another Culture Superficially not only fails to attract the humans for which the product was designed but also pushes them away, OFFENDING them. On the label, it is written in Arabic “Halal” together with an animal that shouldn’t be there (pig). The manufacturer understood that “halal” is important for humans that follow the Islamic traditions, but didn’t understand what halal actually means, and decided to brand their product like that anyway to enhance it.

This is very costly for the business and is the result of the Superficial assessment of another culture done only on the external layers (rituals and symbols), and not even that properly (a good internet search engine could have helped). Can you imagine the wrong assumptions that are taken at the deeper layers of cultures (values and beliefs) where the passive intake of information is not useful anyway? To understand the Values of another culture in a precise and practical manner you need an expert that can guide you through a process of active reflection.

Below, three not so obvious examples of understanding wrongly Cultural Differences (from my 6 years of providing Workshops on Cultural Differences):

  • Culture X is a hierarchical one, hence the professionals from that culture will obey orders easily. WRONG.
  • People from Culture X are focused on harmony and consensus, hence they will be very friendly when working with you. WRONG.
  • People from Culture X appreciate the group more than the individual, hence they will care for the Society at large more. WRONG again.

The above might provide an “A-ha” moment for the consultants on these topics and for someone that has the awareness of Cultural Differences, but for the others at most will trigger their curiosity. Nevertheless, each of the points mentioned above can be found on the internet as “statements of truth about various cultures” in videos posted by amateur trainers on Cultural Differences. Probably trainers that have traveled through several countries, noticed some differences and then put together a biased superficial course filtered through their cultural programming. Or even worse, have attended a Demo session given by an expert, or read a book, and because the topic is hot, decided that anyone that has the information can sell its practicality further. Nevertheless, a good question to ask would be: can this be harmful? The answer is Yes! Like in the above picture, the wrong interpretation of a cultural environment can achieve the opposite, and taking simplistic stereotypical shortcuts will only destroy more business value (like failed expat assignments, or higher attrition).

Truly understanding the three points above, in your cultural context, will make the difference between for example an engaged and motivated remote workforce and one that hides behind rules and politics with the webcams off.

In order to filter out the “travelers” and the agencies that just sell information, disconnected from the practical application of cultural differences in business or the society at large, you could take into account the following:

  • It is not about the information delivered but about the questions of the participants. I would definitely stay away from programs that are created from Crumbs from the internet or Demo sessions.
  • It is not about fitting the entire material in a short amount of time, but accommodating a program that allows the attendees to test out their prejudices and biases in a controlled environment.
  • Culture is not homogenous, coherent, or simple, but it can still be used to explain why humans from similar societies might be acting differently and why humans from very different societies might be acting similarly.
  • Don’t waste time on the superficial layers of culture. You have Wikipedia for that. (The Capital of the country can be found on the internet and the way the metro ticket looks will not influence your success.)
  • No matter the Cultures in discussion the expert needs to have a holistic view of the world and be able to integrate any culture into the bigger picture.
  • Last but not least, it is about being able to listen and perceive a new point of view with similar words (coming from a participant from a different culture) and integrate it into the reality of the two cultures.
  • The Diversity and Inclusion programs that tell humans from one group how wrong they are and how they should treat humans from another group do more harm than good, as they will teach humans how to avoid the other group in a politically correct manner, instead of ..well.. driving the inclusion…

Oh, and one more thing, the manufacturer of the above product seems to have a good knowledge of marketing messages, as they added the very reassuring phrase about the product: Apparently it was “Slaughtered in the Islamic way”, which would mean that there is a little alive pig inside the can that didn’t touch anything while being placed there.

If you are interested to learn about Cultural differences in a profound and useful way, contact us, we have a Service for teams and a Service for individuals.

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About George Lupascu-Pruna

About George Lupascu-Pruna

George is a practitioner on Organizational Culture, Group behavior, and Cultural Differences, and has worked in many industries for many functions to help his partners drastically improve their ways of working.
If you would like to start a collaboration, and run a Reliable Organizational Diagnosis,

Contact George


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