Culture Over Content

In Touch - Newsletter - #14

Welcome to the fourteen edition of "In Touch." As always, I would love to continue the conversation so please hit "reply" and let me know what you think.

Story of the Week: Culture Over Content

The humorous ice-breaker chosen by my wife Christine some years ago, whilst running an online workshop on behalf of a multinational organization with participants from eleven countries, was perhaps not the wisest choice! 

She began by asking the participants to go and find a toilet roll. When they had returned to their computer screens, Christine asked them to cut “as many sheets as you need”. What they didn’t know was that she would then tell them that each sheet corresponded to a piece of personal information that they would then share with everyone online. It was all about getting them to open up and feel comfortable together.

While everyone disappeared to their restrooms, the Indian group remained at their computers. Without missing a beat – and oblivious to the Indians’ awkwardness – Christine encouraged them to fetch a roll of toilet paper so as to successfully complete the exercise. They didn’t move and, after an eerie silence, they told her in unison, “Sorry, we don’t have any toilet paper in the office.” 

Christine pressed on! “Why is that?” she asked, to which they replied, “We don’t use toilet paper.”

Red-faced and feeling that, rather than breaking the ice, she was about to collide with a huge iceberg, she still asked one final question: “Well what do you use?!”

Fortunately, they laughed embarrassedly but stayed for the workshop. 

The moral of the story is that we need to take culture into account when planning an international workshop or business meeting. To avoid making a faux pas, it’s probably best to avoid using humour since a joke that you find funny might get lost in translation, or even worse, offend someone. If you really want to use humour as an ice-breaker, make sure to do your research first and use it with caution.

Words of Wisdom

Expertise mindset to apply:

“Experts are people who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.”


Adolfos Kannetis on chasing your dreams and goals:

“This year I am 80 and I am still chasing my ‘horizon’.”

Adolfos Kannetis 

Inspired by our previous newsletter titled “Beyond the Horizon” 

A Question to Ponder, dear reader.

“How do you make sure you are respectful to every culture in the workplace?”

Hit reply and let me know what you believe.


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Best Regards,

Michael R. Virardi