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Knowing yourself to know others

It is a small splotch on the world map: If it is to thrive, Denmark must navigate in foreign cultures. The take-home message from a University of Copenhagen seminar for ambassadors, VIPS: 'Bridging cultures'

The concept of time, varies widely between cultures. In the Nordics and in Western Europe, it is rigid and sequential.

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday, week 28, at 2 pm, for example, will happen on Tuesday, week 28, at 2 pm. In the Middle East and India, it is a much more malleable concept: one can stretch and distort it. Meeting at 2pm really means, ‘at some point in the afternoon, God willing: there is no way of knowing for sure, those kinds of things are really out of our hands’.

This is according to intercultural communications expert and author, Colin Moon, who did his keynote speech in theIron-fisted autocrats and orchestra conductors
The theme of self-knowledge was a recurring one, throughout Moon’s speech: When the question “What do you think is the most frequent error in cross-cultural teams?” was asked to a series of business leaders, the most common response was “Not being aware of one’s own norms”.

Language, Moon continued, was another cultural barrier, in ways that are subtle and often misunderstood. After a long meeting, Danes will say, “isn’t it time to compromise?”. In the Danish mind, a compromise is something good: everyone gets a slice of the cake, and everyone is content. To American ears, though, ‘compromise’ sounds a lot like ‘failure’, causing them to shiver and recoil in terror: What is the point of talking for hours on end, just to reach some conclusion that is a mix of everyone’s opinion and satisfies no one?

Cultural differences, extend past language barriers, of course. Moon gave examples of flat and hierarchical organisations. When asked if the boss should have all the answers, only seven per cent of Swedes and 11 per cent of Danes thought that they should. Conversely, 77 per cent of Indians agreed with the proposition. Nordic bosses were more like orchestra conductors, giving direction, gently steering, and coordinating, Moon said, while in more hierarchical organisations, they are often seen as all-powerful autocrats, ruling over their underlings with an iron fist.

Following the speeches, the embassador booths opened, serving food and drinks local to the embassies providing them, and the audience had a chance to mingle and experience some different cultures first hand.

See the pictures below! Photos and captions by Victor Yakimov.

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