When Yes = No
How you can get very
Your new country isn't your old country. How people
behave and respond can be quite different.
"Yes" is better than "No"
Western-style assertiveness is not so common in the rest
of the world. A story to illustrate: In the
summer of 1993, I was teaching at a university's summer
program (socking away a little extra cash while I was on
paid vacation from my college!). The weather was very
hot and sweaty - and the classrooms had no air
conditioning. And I mean HOT and SWEATY - we were
soaking with sweat.
students suggested that we have our class across the
street in an air-conditioned coffee shop - a great
idea! Only about eight students in the class, so
we would easily fit in a big corner booth. I asked the supervisor if it was okay - and he
said, "Yes." A few minutes later he said, "So you are
not having class today?" I replied, "Of course we are,
we are going to meet in the coffee shop - as the
students requested. That's okay, isn't it?" He said,
few minutes later he - again - said, "So you are
not having class today?"
Well . . . we went through this cycle several times
before I got a bit upset and told the supervisor, "If
you don't want us to meet at the coffee shop - just SAY
'NO'!" Needless to say, everyone was upset. But, it
didn't need to be that way - I really should have picked
up on it the first time - or at least the second time
the supervisor asked if I was not having class.
Many cultures are not as direct as our own. You'll need
to pay attention and listen for underlying content - all
the time! You can make your coworkers and supervisor
very uncomfortable if you make them confront you, or if
you become confrontational. It can really stress your
relationships and sour your work situation. Be careful,
you really don't understand
your supervisor in the context of a culture question.
You can say, "I am a bit confused here. In my culture
my boss would say '[fill in the blank]' - are you
wanting me to '[do or not do something]?' Please help
me understand." This kind of a statement takes the heat
off the situation - and saves "face" for everyone
involved. You can even have a good laugh about it -
instead of everyone being upset.
Develop a little finesse
dealing with cross cultural communications - and your
life will go much smoother overseas! It's all part of
learning to be a skilled expatriate.