Although you don’t condemn their beliefs, you retain yours, which means you are different. And your odd behavior will be noted by locals.
Some might even view your conflicting behavior and values as offensive. Then again, you are entering their culture, so you cannot expect them to adapt to you.
But choosing not to adapt comes with a caveat: you must explain yourself.
Otherwise, a monkey moment might derail your success across cultures.
Monkey Moments in Language
A “monkey moment” is an encounter of cross-cultural misunderstanding.
When you choose to continue in your own cultural behavior while practicing active tolerance, explaining yourself to your cross-cultural counterparts is key to diplomacy and respect.
Don’t ignore the disconnect; explain why your behaviors or perspective differs from theirs. Building bridges of cross-cultural understanding allows you to be a monkey without all the negative connotations that come with it.
One specific example involves language: the formality of “you” in some cultural environments.
Consider the Swiss and the German, for example.
Germans are more formal than their Swiss neighbors, which means they use the formal, “sie,” for a longer period of time in workplace settings than the Swiss. Swiss move on to the informal, “du,” much sooner, even with their higher-ups.
For those who come from cultures without this distinction, using “sie” is like using someone’s last name, while using “du” is like being on a first-name basis.
When a German financial manager moved to Switzerland, he insisted on using the formal, “sie.” In doing so, he formed a cultural barrier between him and his team.
The more formal language made him appear less approachable and even arrogant.
Cut to a couple years later: the German manager wanted to enroll his executive team in a Swiss bike race as a team-building exercise.
Though the team excelled in the race, they weren’t remembered for their success: they were remembered for their use of the formal, “sie,” amongst themselves. Some viewed the strange usage as similar to a team captain insisting on being called “Mr. Johnston” by his teammates.
Not only did this tarnish the CEO’s rep; it tarnished the company’s image.
When the CEO finally understood his monkey moment after four years of working with his senior executive team, instead of simply switching to “du” unexpectedly, he explained his behavior to them and his rationale.
Describing how he’d grown up in a traditional German family, he explained that informal language always sounded inappropriate to him in a professional setting. He also expressed that it wasn’t that he wanted to be formal; rather, he wanted to communicate respect to his colleagues. However, being that Swiss culture didn’t view the informal “you” as disrespectful or inappropriate in a work environment, he proposed that from that point on, they would switch over.
Although in this situation, he chose to adapt to the culture’s approach to language, he would have avoided misunderstanding straight off had he explained himself from the beginning.
Still, in the end, his explanation made him a stronger leader and managed to bring his team together.