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Flexible judgement “It only took me a few seconds to decide that I could trust you,” a client told me recently. I guess this was intended as a compliment, but it left me feeling a little uneasy on a couple of counts. First, there was the logical conclusion that it might have taken her only a few seconds to decide not to trust me, although in that case I guess she would not have told me, at least not so directly. Secondly, her reaction goes against what I have been trained to do when working internationally, which is to be slow - not quick - to form judgements. The reflex to form instant intuitive judgements about people can be strong. The online job agency, Monster, found that, on average, interviewers take 385 seconds to make up their minds about a candidate’s suitability for a post; and half make judgements based on a handshake. I hope they are all thoroughly attuned to how hugely varied attitudes to shak-
ing hands can be from one person to the next, and across genders and cultures. I use a tool called The International Profiler (TIP) to help people think about the special competences and behaviours they need for working internationally. Worldwork, the agency that devised TIP, calls one of these competences flexible judgement, and provides this explanation: “(People working internationally should) avoid coming to quick and definitive conclusions about the new people and situations that they encounter. (They) can also use each experience of people from a different culture to question assumptions and modify stereotypes about how such people operate.” In other words, if I find myself working with people from a different culture – national, corporate, professional, or whatever – it is a good idea for me not to make hasty judgements about them based on my own world view. The internal logic determining how they work may be quite different from mine and it would be
TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
presumptuous of me to decide, with little observation or reflection, that my way must be better than theirs. There is a political dimension to this that is pertinent to the way countries deal with others, but I will leave that for another time. By the way, I am getting on fine with my client. She still trusts me, and it never occurred to me not to trust her in the first place. Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: email@example.com.
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