Service as a Citizen of the World

By: Ron Kaufman

Many of us enjoy doing business with people from countries, ethnicities, and backgrounds that are different from our own. This brings into our lives, and the lives of those we serve, a wonderful sense of the colorful, cultural, and amazing world in which we live and work.

This colorful combination is also loaded with opportunities to accidentally misstep or inadvertently create negative impressions. Since our definition of service is “taking action to create value for someone else”, then service can be enhanced when we are conscious of others’ backgrounds and their cultures, and the manner in which they prefer to be served.

Let me tell you a story from my own background, and how I accidentally offended the host from one of my most influential clients (this was before my time with Uplifting Service).

I was in Taipei, Taiwan. I had not traveled internationally much for business, and this was my first time in Taiwan. I was visiting the offices of a major product manufacturer. I had done business together with my contact person for over a year via email, but this was our first face-to-face meeting. My married last name is Ihara, which is Japanese, and can be a bit misleading as I am actually a tall, native born, Caucasian American.

The dilemma began when I was offered a beverage – a sweet, sugary fruit drink in a can. I follow a careful eating regime and would have been very happy with water, so I declined the fruit drink. I was offered a bottle of soda, which I also declined. Uh-oh… you can see where this is going.

Had I been smart (and culturally sensitive), I would have accepted the fruit drink, opened the can, and let it sit idle on the table. But I wasn’t sensitive or smart. The third drink offered was a small box of milk – the kind that can sit on a shelf for years and still be consumable. Oh dear, not a good situation. I did accept the milk box, but didn’t open it. And this whole episode clearly offended my host. Fortunately my error was forgiven, but not before I received a “look” from my host that I remember until this day.

It was a difficult lesson to learn, yet it opened my eyes to the amazing world of cultural etiquette. Even today I am extremely grateful. I will not make the same mistake again, and this experience created an excitement to learn much more.

As a woman in Senior Management in America, I have learned to lead with a firm hand-shake, make direct eye contact, use open communication, and show a genuine interest in the lives of those with whom I interact. I genuinely like people, and am really fond of most of those with whom I do business. I enthusiastically greet my associates, often, with a hug (male, or female!). This direct approach works very well for me in the United States. But as you can imagine, this behavior is not appropriate for all the regions and cultures of our very diverse world.

As you read this, you may have your own thoughts about how this approach would be received in the culture where you work, or where you grew up.

And it’s not just race and gender that contribute to the diversity in our world. We are also a world filled with differences in age, language, religion, physical abilities, dietary preferences, social standards, legal frameworks, business practices and more.

But this exploration doesn’t need to be a minefield. With some basic courtesies and considerations you can serve others in a considerate manner that is appreciated by all of your customers and service partners.

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