The price of cultural misunderstanding is high
If you have followed the international news on Burkina Faso, you may understand why October 2014 was an exciting time to be in the country. The popular uprising grew so strong that the 27-year-reign of President Blaise Compaoré came to an end.
As I watched these historic events unfold, I was struck by moments in which the Burkinabé transformed everyday objects into powerful messages of discontent or solidarity. A spatula became a sign of defiance. A broom became a sign of national solidarity.
No longer household objects – but part of a revolution.
These are reminders of the power of symbolism. A reminder to those of us involved in international business that meaning, culture, and power are tightly intertwined.
Working in a global context requires diligent consideration of the role of culture simply due to the massive potential for multiple interpretations of a symbol or your message.
In this month´s contribution for intercultures, I will:
- Share a powerful example of how a lack of cultural awareness resulted in heavy business loss
- Briefly give you the science behind how human´s respond to symbols across culture
- Offer two simple steps you can take to avoid a regrettable cross-cultural blunder
For this and more check out the full article How to Avoid a Cross-Cultural Blunder.
Don’t leave the meaning of your messages up to chance. What is at stake – and what you have to say – is simply too important.
When you´ve finished, join me in the comments section below and share a real-life example of how a symbol, message or product was (mis)understood.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Sundae- This is a great (and much needed) reminder of how important words are to us as cultural ambassadors. I wrote a post on my “language faux pas” here: http://whattheworldtaughtme.com/2014/03/05/expat-experience-unexpected-challenges-my-language-fox-pah/
The gist of the post is what happens when a language, like Russian, has two words spelled the same but pronounced differently, like flour and torture… interesting conversations ensue and much embarrassment takes place! Thanks for reminding me of that night in Baku… 😉
Thank you for sharing this Jonelle. Oh boy do I know the difference even one letter can make! I hate to admit this publically but when I first moved to Switzerland, I was speaking to my mother-in-law in German and I asked if she “fixed” the jeans. To mend is “flicken” in German. And I forgot the “l”. Which means another F-word. Yep. Mother-in-law. Thankfully, my hubby quickly corrected me!
Thank you for sharing this Jonelle. Oh boy do I know the difference one letter can make! I hate to admit this publically but when I first moved to Switzerland, I was speaking to my mother-in-law in German and I asked if she “fixed” the jeans. To mend is “flicken” in German. And I forgot the “l”. Which means another F-word. Yep. Mother-in-law. Thankfully, my hubby quickly corrected me!
I have to smile at that one… with your m-i-l no less. Oh my. Reminds me of one our exchange students asked his teacher for sh#t of paper. She didn’t know whether he was being smart- or honestly didn’t know how his accent sounded! 😉