At the start of this year I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Tom Verghese. I was starting to look for work and was actively trying to network with cross-cultural trainers, who were perhaps already where I wanted to be. I wanted to learn from their experiences and to be honest, check that I wasn’t totally crazy wanting to be a cross-cultural trainer.
Tom kindly sent me a copy of his book, “The Invisible Elephant” after our catch-up. I was thrilled to meet him and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation (there is no high like people who have the same passion conversing over their favourite topic). So of course I was highly anticipating reading his book.
But it turned out nothing like I expected! We had discussed his university research and even how he had interviewed Hofstede (one of the founding fathers of cross-cultural research as we know it today), so I think I was expecting something quite academic.
Instead I found a very practical, easy to use guide that anyone could pick up and utilise to increase their understanding of cross-cultural communication – a fantastic surprise! I think I would describe it as one of the best handbooks for cross-cultural communication that you can find.
The main tool Tom uses in his book is called “The Cultural Mirror.” He focuses on 9 characteristics of cultures and then plots them on a graph for comparison. For example, on one of the lines, collectivism is at one end and individualism is at the other. After providing a description of these and providing examples, the idea is to plot on a continuum where you think your culture sits. Then another line below that might be the High context vs Low context communication line. Again you plot where your culture fits on the range. One you’ve completed the 9 lines, you play a game of join the dots, and this gives you a snapshot of your cultural mirror. As he explains in the book, it’s critical to understand your own cultural traits before analysing others’. He includes examples of some of the cultures he has worked with to compare – very fascinating.
Whilst learning about this tool is extremely useful on its own, Tom has taken it a step further and actually guides you in how to practically apply this in life, particularly in the workplace. He looks at how these factors influence our perceptions and ultimately our decisions. He provides a useful table of do’s and dont’s to encourage your mindfulness in cross-cultural situations. Finally, he provides a useful guide of suggestions for when you come across situations where you are dealing with cultures opposite to you, as a way of helping you improve your cultural intelligence. E.g if you’re from a monochronic time culture but your team is from a polychronic time culture.
I thoroughly recommend you check it out. You can also find further info on Tom and his resources at his website: www.culturalsynergies.com
I love the last line of the book too: “You might as well embrace the elephant and enjoy the ride.” Absolutely!!!
P.s. I read this while I was on holiday in India earlier in the year – nothing like reading about cross-cultural communication when you’re living it at the same time 🙂