Michael Gilmour's Blog

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Learning to be a Good Alien

Learning to be a Good Alien

This past week I had the pleasure of heading to business conference called, DomainFest that was Macau. Besides the fact that it was a brilliant conference I learned a lot about being an alien. No, I’m not talking about something that creeps around in the dark on a strange planet. You’ll have to read my book “Battleframe” to find out about those…..I’m talking about being a stranger in an entirely different culture.

While I sat in the Qantas club waiting for my flight to Macau I browsed the Internet to learn at least some of the do’s and don’ts of interacting with Chinese. I didn’t want to do some cultural mistake and upset anyone inadvertently.

The first thing that I found was the Chinese culture is VERY different from western culture and that it would take a lifetime to learn the subtle differences. In the end, I gave up and decided to be as “good” an alien as possible. So what do I mean by this?

Two words summarise the attitude that all of us should try to adopt upon entering the turf of a different culture, they are, “Be Humble”. As a broad generalisation, humility is not a typically western trait. We tend to come in telling everyone why they are wrong and we are right. This, in my opinion is a BIG cultural “no no”.

Humility involves changing both your outward and inward responses to situations. For instance, I may not understand what is transpiring in a Chinese social setting where there are various people from a company at different levels. This can be very off-putting….but I can make the decision to reduce my natural voice volume and hand gestures. In short, I’m trying to reflect the behaviour of those that I’m interacting with.

Remember that humility involves not emphasising your own achievements but acknowledging those of your host....so be mindful of doing a bit of research beforehand.

Humility is also a realisation that you don’t know everything and that people from different cultures may view the world very differently from you. For instance, westerners tend to highly value freedom while those from Asia place a higher importance on security. This one difference in mindset can completely change your interactions.

Freedom tends to be very individualistic while security has a more group mindset. For example, a person from Asia is very concerned about their job security and working for a prominent successful company. Westerners tend to be more loyal to their career path and taking the next steps forward.

From an interaction perspective, when you ask an Asian to “sponsor a project” internally in their organisation then it’s a REALLY big thing. They are essentially being asked to trust that you will deliver results….because if you don’t then their job security may be on the line.

Understanding these little but also substantial differences in culture is sometimes hard and requires all of us to be humble in the recognition of our differences. It’s sometimes tough being an alien in another country but it can also be extremely fulfilling.

From a writing perspective I find that fleshing out a culture is one of the most interesting things that I do. It's a great challenge to alter actions, language and behavior of characters to reflect a culture.

I would encourage everyone to attend conferences like DomainFest as I believe that it will not only be an outstanding event but an opportunity to learn a little about the diversity of cultures in the world.

Have a great weekend!

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