Guest post by Mark N. Turner, MSOD
In late March, I wrote a short response to colleagues suffering from what I call “disbelief fatigue” around the spread of the coronavirus. In essence, disbelief fatigue stems from repeated shocks to one’s system of common sense and rational, logical thinking; in this case, the fatigue appeared as an (understandable) aftershock of the pandemic.
My impulse when it came to responding to these reactions? Inviting colleagues to use Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart platform to help them understand why cultures around the world are reacting to the pandemic in so many diverse ways (in both manner and effectiveness).
For those that aren’t familiar: GlobeSmart is an intuitive online learning platform that promotes global collaboration and inclusion; it helps organizations and individuals understand work-style differences based on five dimensions of culture. I’ve used GlobeSmart for years to help gain insight into different cultures around the world.
My observations employed the platform to narrow the focus through the lens of the five different GlobeSmart dimensions and particular cultural reactions.
Independent – Interdependent // Egalitarianism – Status // Risk – Certainty // Direct – Indirect // Task – Relationship
Take a look at China, the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region), and Korea. As the graph shows, these three regions are very interdependent, tend to favor certainty over risk, and are far more relationship-oriented than the United States. Germany is somewhat similar to the United States, although Germans also generally value certainty over risk and are even more direct in communication than Americans.
What Cultural Differences Mean With the Pandemic
These differences between the cultures have implications. The fact that China, Hong Kong, and Korea are far more interdependent cultures shows up in how coordinated and cohesive their respective responses have been to the pandemic, although such centrally-driven approaches can also have their downsides. On the other hand, American culture is one of the most fervently independent cultures in the world. U.S. residents are generally more willing to act on their own initiative and embrace risks compared to people in many other cultures – a trait seen in the culture’s wide range of state and locally-based responses to the virus, as well as the protest movements against restrictions on business activities and personal freedoms.
These differences also come out in the “task-relationship” dimension. China, Hong Kong, and Korea deeply value relationships. Combine that with strong interdependence and a risk-averse culture, and it’s easy to see how these cultures reacted to the pandemic when compared with the U.S. response, for example in the almost immediate adoption of face-masks, which were already commonly in use to protect others from the transmission of colds or flu.
In Germany, a desire for certainty over risk paired with a direct, task-oriented nature seems to have produced another distinctive working combination. While both Germany and the U.S. are relatively task-focused, it’s generally accepted that Germans are more attuned to structured, sequential, and process-driven activities, even though people in the U.S. tend to have a strong drive for getting things done and are willing to actively experiment, for better or worse, with their own solutions.
What We Can Learn
So what can we take from these responses? By viewing the pandemic as a mixture of generalized cultural norms in a crisis context, we all should be able to learn from others globally by adapting the best of their words and deeds to our own cultural environment.
The first step in this? Accept the limitations of ourselves as human beings. One default mindset that is easy to fall back on, especially in a time of crisis, may be ethnocentric and even egocentric. If we seek to bridge differences, unite people from various backgrounds, and arrive at new solutions, it is necessary to quiet such powerful negative impulses. Avoiding isolation and examining closely what has worked well for others enables us to adopt new best practices and ways of seeing and being in the world, while retaining the best aspects of our own culture.
What We Can Do: The Opportunity and the Challenge
Perhaps at no time in our lives have we been presented with both opportunity and challenge simultaneously so clearly. Know this: the actions you take (or choose not to), will always be with you. In this piece, I posited ethnocentrism and egocentrism as obstacles to learning and change. In your heart of hearts, you know what role you are playing at any moment, and that’s the beauty of being human. You are the world’s expert on you. You get to choose how you see the world, but not how the world sees you.
So, how can you get started?
Try thinking about this question first: What is the smallest change that would bring about the biggest impact for you and those around you? If you could do anything to improve our collective situation, big or small, what would that be? This could be something as simple as kind words to a stressed supermarket clerk, thanks to a healthcare worker, a warm message to an overseas colleague, or providing a listening ear to remote team members who are feeling excluded.
If you’d like assistance in getting started, GlobeSmart offers a set of inclusive actions across five dimensions – with ways of being and doing that can bring you closer to those who possess a different perspective. I’ll leave you with this simple mantra for this day and the days to come: stay healthy, keep your sense of humor, and help others. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
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About the Author
Mark N. Turner , Founder of PN Productions
Mark’s mission is to co-create and facilitate learner-centric, brain-friendly performance solutions for global professionals. He applies his life’s experiences to enable clients, partners, and communities they support to become exceptional contributors to our collective future. He is steeped in co-created world-class program design and implementation, facilitating and moderating an array of interpersonal discovery, early career, emerging leader, leadership, and executive development programs.
Mark holds a Master of Science in Organization Development from Pepperdine University among his educational credentials. In partnership with clients, he leverages multiple assessments, including GlobeSmart’s Global Team Assessment, MapsTell, Birkman, Harrison, Hogan, The Leadership Circle, and more.
He’s an avid traveler and adventurer conducting professional engagements in a dozen countries, and exploring a couple dozen more. For fun, he’s explored many countries by bicycle with his wife of 25 years.
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