Friday, 9 May 2014
The side effects of an introduction
The other day at morning tea I met with a colleague and realised that there was an odd coolness between us. Usually I get along pretty well with people, so this surprised me and left me trying to work out where things went astray. My conclusion is that we lost our way the day we met.
We met in a work context, but not a formal one. In making small talk, my purpose being to get to know this person I was to be working with, I probably asked about life before PNG. The reply I got felt like the reply one would get at a job interview as previous training and work experience was detailed. As he is an American, I’m told that this sort of introduction through qualifications is natural and normal. As an Australian, I heard it as arrogant. Ok, I’m Aussie, the idioms that came to mind were a lot more colourful than ‘arrogant’. Without realising it, I started to dislike the guy.
In response, when he asked about my past life, I would have given a general reply, mentioned sailing and not detailed all my university degrees. He probably walked away thinking me underqualified and out of place, for Australians typically undersell themselves in such a situation. Our introductions are usually low key and we do not like to be seen as self-promoting. Since then I have felt that this colleague does not value what I have to contribute. Maybe if I told him I had the equivalent of nine years full time tertiary study this might change, yet I struggle with the idea that my value is in my qualifications. I prefer people to get to know me as me, not as a collection of letters which can go after my name or as a job title.
So what now? Being aware of the fact I’m cool to him because of his cultural introductions and judgements I can start to change my attitude and get to know him as a real person, not as a stereotype. Knowing that qualifications and experience are more important to other cultures, I can try to remember not to hide my achievements.
Working in a multinational organisation means constant awareness of different ways of being polite, introducing and relating. So far I have negotiated this fairly well, but in this case, the relationship was derailed at the start. I am not too worried though, as I have plenty of other friends from the US to remind me that most of the time, that cross cultural relationship works well too.