The Professional Version of BaFa' BaFa' helps participants understand the way culture affects behavior, attitudes and values. Once they have this understanding, they can develop strategies for modifying their behavior or the behavior of the organization to accomplish the diversity goals of the organization or train people to interact with other cultures.
The discussion and analysis section of the program is designed to help participants discuss these issues in an open and productive manner and begin developing an action plan through which the corporation can take advantage of the diversity within the work force.
Below you'll find a series of hints for adapting to another culture taken from the Professional Version of BaFa' BaFa' Director's Guide.
• Study the other culture before you go. Do learn as much as possible about the other culture before you arrive. If you are not the type that is likely to study a culture beforehand, then use the confusion, frustration, and puzzlement that is generated when you enter the culture as a way of motivating yourself to learn as much about the culture as possible while you are there. When you study about the other culture, try to answer those questions about the culture that often create uneasiness for an outsider but are not understood. For example, do they like to touch one another when they socialize? Do they have a different sense of personal space? Do they have a strong sense of territoriality? Do they think of time differently than you do? What does loyalty, family and honor mean? When, what kind, and to whom do you give gifts? What kinds of topics are appropriate for conversations? Remember that culture represents the way different groups of people have solved problems. The fact that they may have developed different solutions than you are used to does not in any way demean you or your culture. More important, your job as an outsider is not to point out ways in which the solutions your culture has developed are superior to their solutions.
• Do find a cultural guide. Do try to establish a close relationship with a person who understands both your culture and his or her culture. Ask this person to be your cultural guide. If you can’t establish a relationship with a person who knows both cultures, try to establish a relationship with a person from the other culture who is thoughtful and open to frank discussions about cultural issues.
• Do try to speak the language. Countries vary greatly in their expectations for foreigners. At one end of the spectrum are the Japanese who expect no foreigners to speak their language and at the other end of the spectrum are the French who expect most foreigners to speak their language. Both types of countries appreciate it, however, when you try to speak their language, even if you just learn “ good morning”, “thank you”, “how are you”, “I am fine”. If you are in a country like France that expects most foreigners to speak their language, start out by saying in French, “I’m sorry, I do not speak French well do you mind if I try? I am trying to learn.” Or, “I’m sorry I do not speak French, may I speak English?” This acknowledges that you are the one at fault and not them. If you ask, “Do you speak English?” It often is taken as an insult. They believe that you don’t respect their language. In addition, for some, it’s as though you are implying they are dummies in their own country if they don’t speak English.
• Do create a climate for asking questions. Do establish a climate for asking questions wherever you go. This climate is set by saying something like, “I would like to understand your culture better. Do you mind if I ask you questions?” As you learn about the other culture, do express, delight, surprise, and wonder whenever it is appropriate.
• Do use “I” statements to express your thoughts. Do express all comments about your experience with “I” statements. For example, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” “I think that is a beautiful building.” “I like the way you make me feel so welcome when you greet me.” “The traffic frightens me.” This is much different than saying, “That is a beautiful building” or “the traffic is awful.” Such statements often come across as judgmental even when they are meant as a compliment. In most cultures, the person of superior status has the right to declare what is beautiful, nice, or exceptional. However, when one uses “I” statements, the element of judgment and superiority is not conveyed.
• Do learn how to properly greet and address people in the culture. Pay particular attention to the status of the members of the other culture and learn as quickly as possible how you should address and greet each person you encounter. Be aware that informality is often taken as a sign of disrespect. Err on the side of being too formal and too polite rather than being too casual. If you are in a culture that expects a certain amount of formality and politeness, they will respect you for it. If you are in a culture that values casualness, they will quickly tell you in subtle and not so subtle ways to loosen up. It’s also important to remember that they may use certain words to refer to themselves, but it may not be appropriate for you to use the same names. Ask if in doubt.
• Do take your time in trying to establish close relationships. Other cultures are sometimes suspicious of friendships too quickly formed. Again, err on the side of taking too long to establish a relationship. If you are in a country of instant friendship, they will quickly let you know that you are being too formal and that they want to be your friend.
• Do eat and enjoy any food that is prepared for you by a host. “Thanks but no thanks” is not an acceptable response. Turning down food is a serious insult in most countries, especially if the host has prepared the food. Also, it is important to honor their eating customs and habits. If they slurp their rice out of a bowl, you slurp your rice out of your bowl. If they use chopsticks, you try to use chops sticks. If they belch at the end of a meal, you belch at the end of a meal.
• Do be aware of the proper way to dress. You immediately set a bad example if you are not dressed appropriately for a situation or occasion. Shorts and bare shoulders are unacceptable for visiting certain shrines and people of status in some countries. Shoes are often not worn in homes or holy places.
• Do not constantly talk about the way it is back home. You are in their country and you should be there as totally as possible. Constantly, comparing your culture with theirs generally comes across as rude, insensitive and unappreciative of the country you are visiting.
• Do become aware of the meaning of gestures. For example, the “OK” sign made in the U.S. with the thumb and index finger is an obscene gesture in Brazil. Holding up the palm with fingers extended is an insult in Greece. Showing the bottom of one’s feet is taboo in certain Middle Eastern countries. Thumbs up means “OK” or “ good” most everywhere except Australia, etc.
• Do try to drink the wine of the country. Whenever possible try to live, eat, and participate in their culture and do not try to discover your country in theirs.
Organizations big and small use BaFa’ BaFa’ to reinforce the positive aspects of cultural diversity, to prepare employees for overseas assignments, to build sensitivity towards cultural differences within the work place, to introduce corporate culture to new employees, to help employees adjust during mergers or right sizing, discuss conflict management, or to encourage discussion between groups that have never worked together before. Contact us to learn more about the Professional Version of BaFa’ BaFa’ or call us at 858 450-3400.