Let’s review what we’ve learned about value rankings:
- Values are ideals we align ourselves to, not behaviors we practice
- All values are good
- All values are ranked
- Value ranking determines decisions and behaviors
All this is great theory, but how does it actually help you? It’s nice to analyze a situation, but what if you are right in the middle of it?
Let’s walk through a step-by-step process with two examples: one from professional life and one from personal life.
Pierre leads an Indian team that provides data warehousing solutions. While Pierre is on holiday, he gets a notification that there has been a serious security breach, compromising a lot of data. Pierre is furious and calls a meeting with all of his direct reports and their teams as well. He is very aggressive with them and demands to know who was responsible for the breach. He gets frustrated when the entire room stays silent except for one or two people who give what he calls “excuses”. Pierre gives one more tongue-lashing and then dismisses the whole room while he tries to figure out what to do.
Carol has become very good friends with Janaki. They visit each other’s homes and go out for dinner together. Carol even begins to confide in Janaki some personal struggles her family is facing while being in India. Later, Janaki invites Carol to come to a party she is throwing with a lot of her friends. When Carol arrives, Janaki grabs her arm and takes her around to meet everyone. Janaki introduces Carol as “my Canadian friend”, and Carol starts to feel like she is being put on display for others. Janaki also introduces Carol to a few people she “has to meet” who immediately try to soft-sell her on their products and services “geared for expats”. Carol beings to doubt how sincere her relationship with Janaki is.
How to apply value rankings to cultural situations:
Step 1: State the real values at play.
Easier said than done. This takes a lot of practice and insight, and is often the hardest step. If you are new to a culture, you will not likely be able to identify the driving value behind a behavior you notice. If you are new to crossing cultures, you may not even be able to identify your own driving values or think through the “why” of your behaviors.
Also, you are probably under so much stress that you have a hard time seeing what the “real” issues are. This is where a friend or advisor can help you sift through the information, and suggest some underlying values.
Although the above situations might have multiple elements to consider, let’s interpret them this way:
Professional Example: Pierre highly values excellence, company reputation, relaxing holidays, and honesty. His team highly values fixing problems quickly, protecting those in your circle, not dwelling on negatives and not speaking out of turn in hierarchy.
Personal Example: Carol highly values privacy, intimacy with friends, respecting boundaries, and separating money from friendships. Janaki values networking, building a large social circle, sharing friends, and “scratching each other’s backs”.
Step 2: Emphasize that you both value the same things.
We tend to see most cross-cultural interactions as two values in binary conflict. Honesty vs. saving face, privacy vs. openness, hierarchy vs. egalitarianism, and so on. The problem with seeing cross-cultural conflict in this way is that it nearly always creates a winner/loser scenario. Eventually, one group just has to suck it up and go along with either the majority, or higher status group.
However, in most situations, both groups value the same things. Does Pierre’s team value excellence, honesty, and reputation? You bet. Does Pierre value protecting friends and respecting leadership roles? Of course. The same is true for Carol and Janaki.
Remember that all values are good by themselves. Just imagining a positive motivation for their behavior is a big step.
Step 3: Empathize with their values.
Ask yourself “If I ranked [their high value] over [my high value], would this action make sense?”
Pierre can ask, “If I valued protecting my circle more than corporate reputation, would I have stayed silent in the meeting?
Janaki might ask, “If I valued intimacy of friendship over expanding my circle, would I have been upset?”
If you can answer “yes” to this question, you have made a huge jump in understanding their culture, and are about 80% of the way to a solution.
Step 4a: Reinterpret or realign behaviors to values.
Remember that behaviors are not the same as values. It is important to be able to separate a behavior from a value.
Let’s take the example of respecting authority. In the US, if you go into a meeting with a top-level person, you should look her in the eye, shake her hand, and add comments to the discussion to show you are listening and engaged. In traditional Indian companies, you might quietly enter the room, bow your head slightly, stay quiet, and say the word “yes” a lot.
Different behaviors, same values.
In Carol and Janaki’s story, Carol might be able to say to herself, “Janaki and I both highly value our friendship. She expresses it by introducing me to people who might be able to help me. I would prefer if she kept personal and business separate. But, since I am in a new culture, I can adjust and reinterpret her ‘networking parties’ as a sign of friendship.”
Step 4b: Find a behavior that matches with both top value sets.
Maybe reinterpreting or realigning a behavior to a value won’t work for you. Or maybe you are doing some clean up work from a botched interaction. What is another option?
Pierre values corporate reputation, excellence, and honesty. His behavior was calling everyone into a meeting and yelling at them for a big mess-up.
Instead of trying to realign this behavior, what else could he have done that would match both his top values and his team’s top values of communal protection and hierarchy? Meeting with all of his direct reports individually and then as a small team might have been a better option in this case and would have satisfied all values.
Value rankings can be an incredibly valuable insight for overcoming challenges in any scenario, but especially corporate and cultural ones.
Go ahead and think through your last clash with someone. Walk through the different steps, and see if you can come up with a new brilliant solution to the challenge you face.
- Everyone has the same values, just ranked differently.
- A behavior is not a value, just an expression of one.
- Focus on staying true to your values, not your behaviors.
Photo Credit: js42 on Flickr