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Like Fish Out of Water

Like Fish Out of Water

30 Mar 2017
Like Fish Out of Water


In a quotation from Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner we may begin to understand a paradox of cultural bias: “A fish never discovers his need for water until he is no longer in it.”


Those who have not lived and worked outside of their home country will not appreciate the magnitude of this quotation. Even those who have had tenures overseas may have simply transferred their way of life into a new country – without really adjusting.


Hofstede explains that the difficulty arising from identifying culture-related behaviour is because “it takes a prolonged stay abroad and mixing with other nationals there for us to recognise the numerous and often subtle differences in the ways they and we behave, because that is how our society has programmed us”.


Hall similarly states, “Understanding the reality of covert culture and accepting it on a gut level comes neither quickly nor easily; it must be lived”. This implies that to understand other cultures, it is necessary to live (and work) outside your own for extended and repeated tenures.


Therein lies a dilemma and perhaps explains why there are so many misunderstandings when operating globally. Even with motivation, usually executives don’t have time. This raises some questions:


  • How can we really understand someone with an entirely different perspective?
  • How can we explore the nuances and subtlety of cultural differences?
  • How can we remain authentic whilst exhibiting true cultural sensitivity?
  • How can we be adaptive in the face of so many different cultural norms?


As ‘Global Britain’ prepares for Brexit, perhaps its time to get serious about intercultural awareness.



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