Travel broadens the mind

Travel broadens the mind
~ or how to insult people with your first name

From January to the end of March 2006 I had the pleasure of travelling all over Europe during the roll out of a major communication initiative on behalf of a banking client.  This travelling taught me some major lessons.  I never knew just suggesting others call me by my first name could be so offensive...

I can remember way back in the dim and distant past using surnames and phrases like Sir or Madam a lot more than I do now in the UK. I guess I'd accepted the transition as part of growing up from young person to the mature and stable creature before you now...

I hadn't realised the cultural change taking place in the UK, why should I..?  I really was a child in the 60's rather than a child of the 60's so can not claim to be part of that change movement...

There I am hosting a conference of top Bankers in Frankfurt, offering everyone my name ~ my first name ~ and getting surnames in response along with some tough stares. So I naturally turn up the enthusiasm and energy ~ well you are either a radiator or a drain right? ~ be a thermostat not a thermometer, true? And things go from lukewarm to severely tepid; I make it through day one, just...

Through out the day I clocked a major range of looks, from 'why are you insulting me' ~ through 'stupid person' to 'poor chap...he has so much to learn.'

Salvation came in the bar ~ no not the alcohol, although Southern Comfort has been known to pass my lips; for purely medicinal purposes, of course. No salvation came in the form of a conversation on German Grammar. On the existence of three ways of saying 'you' from the very formal to the intimate and how the older or more senior person is the one protocol suggests is allowed to make the transition possible.

And there was I offering my first name out to people I'd never met before, who as clients took up the 'seniority' position. No wonder some of them were put out by my behaviour.

So what has this got to do with Internal Communication or Employee Engagement?

Well image the CEO of a Global Operation, being a friendly chap or chappess, insisting everyone call them by their first name... How about they sign every thing with only their first name..?

 In some parts of their Global Empire that will be applauded as great leadership, bringing down the barriers between top management and front line. In other parts of the world - people will at best struggle to understand it, at worst be insulted by it and along the way what ever message the CEO is pushing out will be lost in the noise of cultural differences.

What other aspects of Cultural Differences have you notice affecting your internal communication or employee engagement initiatives?

Leave a comment...

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