It’s a risky business, but I would say if you get a low-risk opportunity, do it. Human behavior is very complex, countless number of books have been written on the subject, scholars still do their PhD on related topics and we still don’t understand human behavior. Why is it so?
The nature of my job gave me numerous opportunities to interact with people from all over the world, with different cultures, languages and sensitivities. Over the years, I’ve made many mistakes as well, but one thing that didn’t change was my desire to continue to experiment and learn.
Real world can be harsh. Sometimes I pushed the boundaries too much and immediately received the flak, on other occasions it was just a gentle reminder of new surroundings. Each mistake resulted in me making adjustments, either in the way I approached people or in the way I reacted to certain usual things. Fortunately for me, there were many more instances when I got a pat on the back or was loved and admired for my behavior.
So what did the trick for me? Experiment – adapt –experiment – adapt and experiment again until you and the person you’re dealing with fully understand each other. If you’re persistent enough, you’ll realize this adjustment is mutual. Among others, I find the following two characteristics very useful in this experiment based interaction.
Understanding direct and indirect signals and feedback we receive from our partners is vital. I hate being alone and always try to join social groups or create one myself. When I first came to France from India in 2001, it was like a completely different planet to me. Everybody behaved strangely. I went to a birthday party and they asked me to pay for my food! People go on vacation and spend weeks just surfing the waves! Different sense of humor, different eating habits and many more. First month in France was very difficult. Then I took a moment to pause and think, why only me? Maybe it’s not them, maybe there is something wrong with me? Then, I started reading signals and observed more. It was clear that a common Frenchman or woman thought differently compared to a common Indian man or woman. It just needed minor adjustments in my behavior to understand the joie de vivre. Though fundamentally I’m still the same person as always 🙂
I think this one came naturally to me. When I was 2 years old, my family moved from our ancestral village in India to a big city, Agra. Coming from a family with modest means, it was not easy for me to build a place for myself among city-kids. As a teenager I had to constantly reflect and evaluate myself, to adjust to the expectations of those around me. Now there are business coaches that tell you the same thing and charge thousands of dollars. I would even go on to say that self-reflection should become a habit. One should be aware of his or her actions at all times, believe me, it’s not so common. Even in my professional life I’m surprised at executives who continue to do what they’ve been doing in their countries without any respect or consideration for local customs and values. Beats me. Self-reflection helps us complete the loop, you do something, get feedback, evaluate your actions, adapt – do it again.
For me, experimentation doesn’t stop only at personal relationships, I do it at work as well. It has helped me understand people’s resistance to change and why teams reject new tools or methodologies or organizational setups. It’s just a matter of experimenting and adapting. MBA classes in that sense are like gold mines, there are people of so many different, unique and often strong characters. It gives us those many chances to experiment and learn, with relatively low risk. I’ve already collected a fair share of flak in my new surrounding and the experiment continues!