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.