During a recent cross-cultural training session for an American going on assignment to Singapore, I heard the following anecdote. I thought I'd share it with you because it illustrates how something so seemingly trivial in one culture can be so important in another culture.
A few months ago, this client had been promoted from 'President' of his business unit in the USA to 'General Manager of Transportation for the Asia Region.' The promotion was significant, and the transition for the company was complicated so it occurred over several months. During this time, he made several trips to Singapore, where the position was based. On these trips, the need to forge relationships with high-ranking government officials was impressed on him. He learned that the previous G.M. had been unsuccessful in establishing these vital relationships.
On one such trip, my client happened to be in Singapore at the same time an international awards banquet was being held to honor people in his industry. He applied to attend, submitting his U. S. title, and was planning on attending with the colleague he was going to replace.
Arriving at the banquet together, the General Manager found his name on a list and went to his seat on table 45. My client found himself wandering around a little lost, having been unable to find his name on any list. When someone walked up to him and asked if he needed help, he responded quickly that he couldn't find his name, and that his name was **** *******. "Ah, Mr ********. We have been looking for you. Please follow me". My client was taken into the ballroom, and seated at table number 1, flanked on each side by the two government Ministers his predecessor had been unable to meet. The evening ended with them on first name terms, and plans to meet again soon in a more business-friendly setting.
What's in a name - or should I say "title"? In some cultures, access, respect, privilege, and opportunity. In other words, EVERYTHING. Don't let cross-cultural ignorance keep you from succeeding. Consult with us.