I work with many organisations – companies, associations, voluntary groups which are internationally diverse, and all have cultural challenges when communicating. I run some of them.
These days it’s so easy to offend, for example religious groups, women’s groups, LGBTetc groups, old-age groups, snowflakes and white supremacists. So, if you are running communications between members of a group, do you also have to police it?
Aspirant Middle Classes
Of course it depends who are in your groups. Personally, to quote Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t belong to any group that would have me. In reality, I wouldn’t belong to any groups where the members are easily offended. Being easily offended is the prerogative of the aspirant middle classes and the uneducated. Maybe because I am much older, I find it difficult to be shocked or offended about anything and it’s a good place to be. But what about the others? My personal advice would be to take them on an educational journey where they too are not shocked or offended by anything.
Loosening and tightening conventions
Societal conventions had been loosening for a long time and now they are tightening again along different lines. In western worlds, many topics which were never openly talked about now are commonplace – such as being agnostic, gay, and others are no longer tolerated such as racial prejudice. But it depends on who you are and the society you are in. And now you have repression in USA where you cannot show the statue of David, talk about drag queens etc and books are mistakenly being re-written so as not to offend.
Adherence to norms and conventions
In a multinational group is it reasonable to expect its members to behave according to the ‘social norms’ each currently lives in? NO it isn’t. In an international organisation, knowledge, tolerance and understanding of others’ social norms is essential, but adherence to them is not. Fear of offending would mean no conversation of substance, no humour and nothing meaningful.
Gin and Tonic
I have worked within the Middle East, particularly teaching Diversity, and it is a minefield when teaching meaningful content. However, preparing young Kuwaitis for a visit to London, they have to accept and respect that they will be in the presence of Alcohol. Equally it was years before I would drink Gin&Tonic in from of my Emirati client in Abu Dhabi. This was my paranoia not his.
The art of double-entendre
The use of ‘double-entendre’ (no English word for this), is endemic in British humour and language. I used it a lot when writing for Al Arabia News. It was a way of getting past the censors. Equally, at least in the UK, swearing used to be fairly common in business meetings and before that it wasn’t, especially in mixed sex groups.
Inclusivity and directness
Inclusivity will tell you not to stereotype on race, sex, age etc as most people do not fit the stereotypes. Directness in some cultures can shock, indirectness in other cultures can lead to lack in understanding.
You can chose to be offended
So, in the organisations I run and belong to, I contribute my British double-entendre humour, know about different religious and am open about my lifestyle which is not tolerated in some of the countries of my colleagues. I would police none of it, provided it had useful content. Keep the humour about being bald or fat or German coming- it’s a way of being educated about different cultures and a way to get to know each other. Its a gift to participants, giving them the chance to plagiarise humourous content to amuse their own followers. It’s up to others how they interpret, and if they chose to be offended, it’s their problem not mine.
Smart Coaching & Training works with 20 associates, in four continents speaking 12 languages and raised and working in a wide range of cultures. See our associates here
In conjunction with Professional Speakers Association (Spain) , SCT’s David Rigby will be present at the TEDx Marbella Spain event on June 9 focussing on Entrepreneurs