Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What exactly is respect?

When you ask people from different cultures, what they deem important about their values - most people will say: "respect". The truth is, that respect is not the same thing to all people. We have huge misunderstanding daily in South Africa on the basis of our perception of respect. Do we greet by standing upright and give a firm handshake, making eye-contact, or do we adopt a slightly submissive stance, with a weaker handshake, and casting our eyes down?

Do we greet everytime we see each other in the day, or do we greet once and then walk wordlessly past the person in the workplace, thinking that we have already greeted and then being perceived as being rude?

Do we say on the telephone: "Hello, how are you?" even though we have not met, or do we first introduce ourselves, before we ask how the other person is?

What I have learnt, is that people have huge differences in the workplace on approach to respect and these differences create misunderstanding on a daily basis.

Have you ever had someone walk away from you as you are conducting a conversation and wondered why they would do something so rude? Has it ever been explained to you, that the simple act of walking away in certain circumstances could be a sign of respect for you?

These are all questions I ponder about, as I make my way around the different interpretations of respect in South Africa.



pissedoffpete said...

I totally agree with the respect thing. I have learned to deal with it when I answer my phone and an obviously african voice says "Hello how are you." I politely say "I'm fine how are you" Then we introduce ourselves and get on with the conversation. So far, all good.

What bugs me,however, is when it turns out to be a call from a call centre which is providing service to me. I have an obviously German surname. It must be apparent to anyone from a call centre who calls that I am not black -- so why impose that culture on me! It is insensitive, and a tiny bit of training by the calll centre operator could sort it out.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pete

I think you should not dismiss people being courteous by their own standards without necessarily knowing in what way yours differ from their own. When I'm in Germany people are couretous to me in German ways. I don't expect them to be conversant with alternative usages from all over. In a world where people are butchering each other, shouldn't we deeply appreciate courtesy in whatever form it is profferred?


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