As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches in the United States I have been thinking about gratitude. When working across cultures, gratitude is a necessary skill, not just a nice-to-have. Why? A study by Dr. Carol Kovach of UCLA showed that diverse teams have a greater potential for high performance than single-culture teams, but they also have a greater potential for failure. If you’ve worked in a diverse team you know the challenges you can face. How do we move the needle to the other side, the side where the team thrives from the diversity of thought and culture?
We need multiple skills to do this, but gratitude can contribute significantly to success. We can be thankful for cultural challenges, as they help us to widen our repertoire of communication skills, problem solving, comfort with ambiguity, and more. Sometimes we have to consciously seek out these lessons. The post below was originally published in June of 2012. I share it with you now as a message of gratitude, and to all who celebrate I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!
June 29, 2012
Greetings, readers. It’s hard to believe we’ve been in India for over three weeks now. I have grown accustomed to the sounds of the children playing and reciting lessons at the school directly behind our apartment. I am starting to know the streets of our neighborhood and I enjoy walking to the little markets daily. I will miss that when we return home.
I have been mildly ill for the last two weeks, but rather than feel sour about what I am missing, I’m enjoying the little things: a walk to the park down the street, writing, taking a stroll to the store for snacks, and just being in India. Bangalore is one of the most exciting cities in India with sparkly nightlife and good museums – is it strange that I am content just to cook simple food at home and listen to the sounds of India?
Yesterday I did a training program for an Indian man moving to the US. Taking the taxi to the company site reminded me that so much of my experience in India comes in images: a group of goats on the side of the road, architecturally fascinating buildings and temples, jasmine sellers, a whole family on one motorcycle, gleaming cars next to vegetable carts, auto-rickshaws snaking through the choked traffic, women laying bricks, small shops selling anything you can imagine, and people everywhere.
These snapshots happen every time I walk out the door. People ask me why I keep coming back here. Because I am never bored. In the last fifteen years India has changed drastically and yet I see so many familiar sights that comfort me like men sharing a meal from a street cart.
Lately so many of my clients have been talking of an “international work culture” where everyone collaborates across time zones and languages. They say that global boundaries are fading and the world is flatter due to technology. I hear this wherever I go. Why does it make me uncomfortable?
Perhaps because I believe it’s not true to the degree that people are saying? Or perhaps because I feel a loss of the sharp colors of culture around the world? I do see the advantage of global collaboration through creating a shared culture, but I do not believe we have to sacrifice the differences that spark wonderment.
I remember when I first came to India in 1998. I was stared at constantly and at the time I hated it. I felt like a monkey in a zoo and I took it personally. At the same time, India did feel so different to me than my home country. I was filled with curiosity as I wandered the deserts of Rajasthan and the mountains of Sikkim.
In the last few years I’ve seen very few people stare at me. I’ve become a common sight and in some ways I like it. But I couldn’t help asking myself what has been lost. The world is not flat, is it?
Then last week we joined my Indian Auntie and Uncle, Narayan and Chitra for a Rotary Club event at a retreat in the hills outside of Bangalore. As we hiked through those hills we came upon a small house. Because I’d been sick I asked permission from the family to sit on their porch and rest, which they gladly gave.
As I sat there the children came out to greet me. They stared at me thoroughly, as did their relatives. I was delighted! It felt great to be stared at again because it reminded me that those glorious differences which spark my imagination and provide me better ways of doing things are still alive. I talked to the kids and one of the elderly men. He said something I will never forget.
“My advice? Live as you are. I can live my way and you can live yours, but just live as you are.”
Well said. Long live India!
Until next time…