When you are entrenched in a global marketplace you can’t but help meet, interact and work closely with people of different countries. But does working across boundaries mean a global mindset?

But what we look at as geographical boundaries are actually huge cultural walls. Breaking through these walls with the right awareness, understanding and communication skills is the trick to a truly global mindset.

I am increasingly getting steeped in culture, cultural differences, challenges and the issues culture brings to the workplace. It’s the elephant in the room – looming large as the world becomes a smaller place. And now the elephant has begun to raise its trunk and people are sitting up and taking notice. However taking notice does not tell anyone what to do about it.

The bricks of miscommunication
It’s important at the outset to even acknowledge that there are going to be cultural differences. The second important thing to note is that while it’s called a cultural difference the manifestation is not an outward gesture, it occurs largely in communication – or rather miscommunication. And that’s what builds a wall. It’s built with bricks of misinterpretation, miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Indeed, India is at a huge disadvantage here. Look at the young English-speaking, pizza-eating, mobile-toting crowd and you’ll find that they can be largely compared to the youth of the west. And yet our cultural traits are such that we are at a huge variance from the rest of the world, creating a hotbed of communication conflict. All, unfortunately in the same language.

You speak English?
Let’s look only at English as a language here. English is a second language for most Indians. We have done our entire education in English. For a large number of urban Indians, English is more a native language than our respective mother tongues. For instance, how many of us can read or write our Indian mother tongue and the accompanying script? How many of us speak our mother tongue more than we speak English? And finally, how many of us even think in our own language? We speak, read, write, think and even dream in English. But how close are we to, forget the rest of the Europeans, even the English? Probably as far apart as we are geographically.

Because we speak English our culture is mistaken to be like the English culture. But our DNA does not change because of a deeply entrenched foreign language. Nor does the 5000-year old cultural nuance. Our social norms remain the same. Our mindset unchanged. In that respect the Asian and European nations that speak a different language are at an advantage here. People ‘expect’ them to behave differently.  And also ‘accept’ the difference. Indians who speak English however are mostly misunderstood. We speak pure English, then go on to behave in a purely Indian manner. And this is the stuff that makes the wall bigger, taller, wider.

Breaking the wall
It’s time to take it down. But it’s not enough to want to. What is an absolute must is first to accept that there exists one, second to know that we are on two opposite sides of the wall and the third is the willingness to create a doorway through the wall – a passage so to speak – for the two cultures to come halfway to accepting and acknowledging differences and ready to work with them. That will be the essential first step to the crumbling of the wall. And the first glimpse of what is truly a global mindset.

(And you’ll hear more of this from me.)