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Engaging with different cultures
One of the most important abilities I have learned is how to connect with people whose background is very different from me in an engaging way. What moved me from being someone who was apprehensive of mingling with those different from me to someone who relishes differences?
This ability is what has helped me get invited to four consecutive sessions at JP Morgan. This time for a session to a mix of online and in-person audiences to people in 3 countries — India, the US and Philippines.
The journey started when I joined IIT – I was 16. A Malayali who had never stepped outside Kerala before, and who had never spoken a sentence in English.
It took me about 3 months to push myself out of my comfort zone and start mingling with non-Malayalis.
But then I realised how much I can learn from others and how similar we all are. (of course, at that age, one of the key aspect to learn is the way you give ‘gaalis’ (swear words) in all the different languages and what exact intonation to use when delivering it! I did that very well, I can tell you!!)
The next step was XLRI. Coming from a predominantly South India background at IIT M, the sudden exposure to a much more cosmopolitan crowd at XLRI really helped me understand the culture of a far wider population.
The next big step was joining Compaq computers and a slew of MNCs after that.
All of a sudden, I was rubbing shoulders with people from across the world. By then, I was loving the experience of understanding engaging with differences.
So how did I inculcate this ability?
1. I make it a point to understand cultural cues by listening a lot. The more closely I listened, the more I learned about their hot buttons, taboos, pop culture etc.
2. I read a lot. And when I read, I don’t only ingest the story. I immerse in the whole cultural context.
3. I am very careful never to make a joke of someone’s culture.
4. I respect differences and never for a moment think that my culture is superior to theirs.
So today, this ability has helped me go beyond the boundaries of India as a speaker.
I wish Mars was full of green, four-handed Martians!! How delightful it would have been to learn their culture! And dish out a few choice ‘gaalis’ in Martian to my bosom Martian buddies, while I execute a hi-five to the four hands with my two!!
Keynote Speaker, Author, and Overall Awesome Dude
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