How to Recover from a Cultural Faux Pas

Here is another valuable Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review. To sign up for a free subscription to any/all HBR newsletters, please click here.

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A social mistake in another culture isn’t easy to recover from. Maybe it was a joke that misfired, an unintentional violation of personal space, or a misreading of the context that resulted in someone losing face.

o Before working in another culture, make an effort to understand the etiquette for apologizing. Find out what verbal and body language people use when faux pas occur.

o For example, do they say, “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry,” or even smile, laugh, bow, or look away? Do they show contrition or humility, address it publicly or discreetly, simply ignore it?

o Keep in mind that most cultures don’t have one-size-fits-all rules for reacting to mistakes, and context is key. Observe how people in the culture behave, and talk to those with whom you are building relationships.

You could also consider working with a cultural coach so that you’ll be prepared the next time you realize you’ve made a mistake.

Adapted from “How to Recover from a Cultural Faux Pas,” by Melissa Hahn and Andy Molinsky

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