Several years ago, I was a guest speaker at a PriceWaterHouseCooper conference in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea. I was asked to do a lecture about culture bridging for the accountants attending the conference. PWHC’s accountants were all educated and competent in their professions, but by virtue of the fact they were from western and Melanesian cultures did cause a bit of friction in the work place. Because the group I was addressing was made up of accountants, I wanted to draw attention to how they counted on their fingers. Now that was basic, wasn’t it? It was almost silly to ask the Western accounts to hold up a hand and count to five using their fingers. In our Western we count on our fingers starting with a closed fist and when we get to five, our fingers are extended with an open hand. Go ahead, try it to prove me right. But in Melanesian or Papua New Guinea culture they count opposite from us in Western culture. They start with an open hand and then have a fist when they get to five! So, in the presentation I had the Western hold their open hands up and then proceeded to have the Melanesian or PNG accountants raise a hand and count to five. The roar of laughter was no small thing as all the accountants realized that they got to five in completely opposite ways. The point of this simple exercise was to show that we can be culturally frustrated with a coworker because they are different – not because they did something wrong. Both cultures got to five, but they did it in different ways. One way wasn’t wrong, and one way wasn’t right. That simple little exercise opened the door to helping well educated accountants to stop and think about little stresses that were caused by not taking time to understand a coworker’s cultural upbringing in something as simple as counting on your fingers.

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