Monday, April 9th, 2012
Passover is not to be Passed Over
Usually when I blog, I talk about media or presentation styles and techniques. Every now and then, I like looking at cross-cultural communication and the role it plays in business relationships. After a true awakening of my own, this weekend, I decided my next blog would be just that. Recently, I went to a video equipment warehouse in New York City with the goal of upgrading all of the Lothery & Associates equipment. I arrived at 10 a.m. that Friday and started shopping. I tested and tried everything and asked no fewer than 100 questions, and the staff was knowledgeable and pleasant.
After about 2 hours of milling around, and picking out everything, I actually bothered to notice the large number of Orthodox Jewish men working in the store. There had to be about 25, at least. In New York, it’s no big deal to see an Orthodox Jew, but so many working in one store stood out for me. It was at that time I also noticed that there was a flood of customers shopping in a mad frenzy! I had never seen so many people in a store at one time. Upon check out I asked the cashier if they were always that busy. She said, “I think it’s because we were closed yesterday.”
I was shocked to hear that they would be closed on a Thursday. Was it a power failure or some other unexpected event? She quickly followed up with saying it was a Jewish holiday yesterday. I had to Google it while standing there. It was the Purim holiday. Then it hit me, the store was owned by a Jewish family. Just as I was about to ask a follow up, they announced over the PA that the store would be closing in 15 minutes (on a Friday), so I asked if that was the normal closing time. She said it was a Jewish holiday.
Fast forward to last week, I was online to fill out my customer satisfaction survey for the equipment I purchased that day, and saw in big flashing red letters, “Reminder, we’ll be closed on Friday April 6, 2012 for Passover. I noticed that the regular store hours showed they were closed on Saturdays and open until 9 o’clock on Sundays. I just shook my head in disappointment in myself. I have never once thought about the fact that the majority of the retail industry in this country operates on a Christian calendar. I grew up with dozens of Jewish friends, been to at least 30 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs as a young person, and never once did I notice that schools, stores, and employers operate on a Christian calendar.
Now, here’s why I’m disappointed. I’m someone who performs diversity and cross cultural communication training, and realize I’ve overlooked such an interesting point: there are thousands and even millions of people who, if they want to work for most corporations, they have to either burn all of their vacation time to observe their own holidays or give up their own religious observances just to fit in. How often do we stop and realize there are Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jewish people in our country? We do have freedom of religion, but do we have true freedom to observe and practice, if we are of a religion that has smaller representation?
What if I had traveled all the way to Manhattan on that Thursday and found it closed for a religious observance? Would I have been tolerant? Would I have been frustrated at the fact that I felt “I had been inconvenienced, or would I have been respectful of their holiday?” I was embarrassed that I even asked myself the reflective question, because it means there is doubt whether I would have had the right answer. I’ve since found a new respect for those who do operate on a schedule that conflicts with their own religion and wonder what the solution is to ensure that all have the right to their religious observance? Is there one?
That is clearly a debate far greater than what I can tackle in a blog, however, there are some lessons learned that I’d like to share, with regards to cultural competency:
- Cultural competency begins with your ability to observe. Observe the practices, norms, and behaviors that are a part of person’s culture and upbringing. Recognize what is different from yours and what you can do accommodate or close the gap between the two.
- Effective listening skills are essential to understanding others, and what’s important to them. This allows you to connect with their interests and needs in whatever presentation or conversation, so you can motivate them to give you their best work.
- Opening your mind is the best way to prevent jumping to conclusions, getting defensive, and creating friction when there shouldn’t be.
- Continue your education. Life is about eternal growth and development. Learn more about the cultures of people around you, so you can appreciate the differences, enrich, your own life, and find a way to create an environment where your best employees (regardless of background) will want to stay and give you their best because you appreciate all that makes them who they are. Attend cultural fairs, seminars, develop new friends, and join new organizations. Do anything to expand your small space in the world.
I’m grateful for this experience and look forward to my next revelation (large or small), in hopes of improving my ability to relate, motivate and involve the new people who enter my life. I hope you are curious enough to join me in that journey.
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