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HOWZIT!

Sometimes inspiration for this blog comes from the most unlikely of places. Last Friday night my husband and I were talking about the joy of understanding colloquial language. I had just finished a coaching session via Skype to a Client in South Africa, and the Client mentioned that if he didn’t do the self-awareness work that was staring him in the face, that the ‘tokoloshe’ would still be ‘under the bed’. OMG, how to explain that to non South-Africans … basically it means that the fear / danger would still be present. My insight when recounting the story was that if I had not understood the colloquialism, it would have taken quite a bit of explanation on my Client’s part to explain the concept. And our rapport and shared experience would have been lost. I would have been ‘different’ to him, having ‘not got’ what he was saying.

And so my husband proceeded to tell me a great story about his arrival in Singapore. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting James, let me just say that he is not known for his introverted nature. The man is loud ! And as is his way, he greets people effusively with a big smile in the morning. But when he started work at Ogilvy Singapore, no-one greeted him back. He initially figured that people were a bit more conservative than his Saffa counterparts, until one day he said ‘good morning’ to someone – and was greeted with a big smile and a ‘good morning James’ in return. And then the penny dropped …. Our custom is to say ‘howzit’ when we greet someone, irrespective of the time of day. It means ‘hi, how are you, I hope you have / or have had a good day, what’s up?’. But if no-one understands your colloquialism, you’re not communicating.

And that is why multi-cultural awareness is so important. I’ve just read a report by Korn/Ferry stating that one way for leaders to broaden their skills base is to work overseas. Last year, The Journal of NeuroLeadership published research on how the culturally intelligent brain not only detects – but can bridge cultural differences. And with the world becoming smaller – and business challenges more complex, I think it is critical not only for leaders, but for all global citizens to understand how to operate effectively in a globalized world.

I see it on a daily basis in my practice, as I coach leaders who are French, British, American, Swiss, Australian – and how one of their primary challenges when coming to Asia is not only understanding the Asian context and environment, but that of the myriad nationalities who live and work in Singapore. My guess is that it would be no different in New York, London or Abuja.

I hear it in my children’s voices when they easily say hello in Mandarin, French, Zulu, English or Japanese. Even if they don’t know what to say after ‘hello’, they are immersed, without knowing it, in a polyglot of cultural differences – and my wish is that they assimilate an intuitive understanding of all of them. My wish is that it makes them better global citizens, and that the lesson of multi-cultural acceptance and understanding that was born in South Africa, continues and serves them in whatever journeys they take.

This exposure to difference – different culture, different values, different food, different languages – this difference make us all so much more. There IS strength in diversity, in flexibility and in being comfortable with the new.

And life of course is so serendipitous – today I saw the great pic that ends off this post on Feel Good Lifestyle’s facebook page. Not all of us can experience working and studying abroad; not all of us want that experience. But we can all travel. If not you – encourage your children to.

And if you ever meet me and I say ‘howzit’, know that I’m simply saying ‘hello & I care about you’ in another language.

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Comments

  1. Awesome post Janine….

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