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August 4, 2008

Excusing bad behavior

As someone who has traveled a lot one of the most common excuses I hear for poor behavior is “culture”.

So for the record let’s just sort some basic facts out. Culture is those elements of the tradition or lifestyle that define a people, those elements that are ingrained into who they are.

For example, not eating pork (take your pick), excessively long lunch breaks (Latin America and parts of Europe) or short lunch breaks at your desk (The UK), these things are cultural and come from a long history and tradition.

However, not confronting an issue because the “culture” is to avoid conflict is just bad practice, not acting because the person didn’t appeal or lobby emotionally enough is not culture, it is just ignoring pressing issues, retaliating harshly when offended, or paying bribes – all of these things are not cultural, they are practices.

There is a need to differentiate between practices within a company and practices that one sometimes comes across internationally. Within a company it is okay to refer to these things as cultural, because there is often an immediate recognition that they need to change and a new culture needs to be overlaid in the organization.

However, often when you come across practices such as these in the international scene the word culture is often used to mean “unchangeable”. This is garbage and it is an excuse for bad behavior. They are bad, negative practices that people accept because they do not have the intestinal fortitude to try to change them.

The term culture has become watered down in its organizational use today. Try to differentiate between those things that are truly cultural, things that come from a long history and tradition and define what a people are.
Bad practices are just bad practices no matter where in the world you find them.

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