Sense and Sensitivity

Week two of new job! Hurrah!

I’ve been doing some cross-cultural training to prepare me to do business with people in India–the making friends thing is an area I have some experience in, but formal business, not so much. So there are PowerPoints and books and training documents to read.

The major message I’m coming across is that in Indian business culture, there’s a lot more subtlety, a lot of indirect communication to avoid having to be negative or perceived as blunt or rude. Instead of saying “no,” someone you’re working with might keep repeating the question, ask if you think it can be done, say “probably” or “we’ll try,” or just change the subject entirely. There’s a lot of reading between the lines that American business-people aren’t necessarily used to.

While reading the book my manager gave me that underlines some common miscommunications between Indian and Western colleagues, I laughed out loud a couple of times. Not because the situations were absurd–rather, because I could see the implied meanings in the Indian examples pretty clearly, and the book expected me not to be able to.

My entire adult life has been a process of learning to be less sensitive to nuance in communication, in other peoples’ faces, in tones of voice–or, rather, to continue to notice these nuances but not to let them dictate my own behavior or feelings. I’ve been training myself to be able to disappoint other people; to pose tough questions and demand fair treatment instead of just dealing with problems myself. To be comfortable with letting other people be uncomfortable when it’s their responsibility, not mine, to take care of something.

Now the challenge is going to be to walk the line with one foot on either side. I’ll need to use my sensitive skillz to notice different communication styles and decode what team members are actually meaning to convey, but also hold other people accountable for the work they’ve committed to complete.

How will that go? Will I backslide into over-sensitivity? No one knows! But seeing as, at 5pm, I turn back into a high-powered executive director who has to get stuff done to make sure this performance of “Rocky” happens, I think my chances of balancing are decent.

Which reminds me: Only a little over a week til Rocky opens! Get your tickets now!

But speaking of culture shock, if you’ve never experience Rocky Horror before, you might want to do some research.

You know. To avoid those problems that come with…what’s the word. Right. Sensitivity.


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