The importance of getting to grips with Cultural innuendos is becoming more and more important for leaders in today’s diverse work environment.
Things said or body language exhibited can unknowingly lead to unhappiness, conflict and even loss of sales.
Let’s look at a few of real life incidents to underline the importance of cultural sensitivities:
A Chinese employee working for Pepsi in the west could quite easily interpret “Come Alive With Pepsi” as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” if translated into Chinese.
If a saleslady of yours is promoting the soft drink Fresca was in Mexico, she may well receive invitations to join the local lesbian club as fresca is slang for “lesbian.”
The UK food company, Sharwoods ran a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It did not take long for them to realize that Punjabi speakers interpreted “bundh” as “arse”
When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova inSouth America, they were perplexed at the slow take off of sales. When they learnt that in Spanish, “nova” means “it won’t go”, they hastily renamed it the “Caribe.”
Clairol promoted the “Mist Stick,” a curling iron, in Germany and quickly discovered that “mist” is slang for manure. The same happened when Irish Mist (alcoholic drink) was introduced to the German marketplace.
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into “Schweppes Toilet Water.”
Even pictures or symbols may suffer serious misinterpretations : Employees at the African port of Stevadores saw the internationally recognized symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed the box contained broken glass. So in their haste not to waste space, they threw all the boxes into the sea. Ouch!
In South Africa a supervisor having an informal chat to a staff member, quipped “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – this was insulting to the staff member who lodged a formal complaint. He was aggrieved at being called a ‘dog”.
A factory in South Africa endured a work stoppage when the Safety Manager placed a sign on a wall bearing a horse’s head with a red line through it. The words “No horseplay” was written below the image. The spokesman for the striking workers stated that for years the workers had been betting on the horses and felt that the decision by Management to stop this practice was grossly unfair and intrusive.
As leaders driving the change agenda we need to be aware of the importance of cultural differences and the impact that even small innocent gestures and comments can unleash. Managing diversity is a soft skill but can well contain hard lessons.
Understanding the Global Workplace was first posted on November 30, 2011 at 7:26 am.
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