Our Roles and Relationships
The last chapter discussed some of the characteristics that make us who we are ”gender, age,
”and at the way attitudes about these characteristics mold our
. But being human means we have to find a place for
in the wider world. As social
, unless we belong to the tiny minority who doesn t have to work for a living, there comes a time when we have to conform to societal pressures, usually energetically reinforced by the
variety, and get a job. When that happens, who we are meets what we do.
Of course, it makes sense for everyone if these two very different
of our lives, the being and the doing, are in harmony with each other, for most of us believe that people perform better if they enjoy their work. However, for many millions today the idea of having a choice of jobs, and of picking one that
them, is a hardly conceivable luxury.
When it comes to picking and choosing, the large global corporations have the edge. Their success depends on getting people with the correct personal, educational, and professional profiles to work for them. How do they find the right person for the job? In some countries and areas, like the U.S., the U.K., and Scandinavia, large corporations are likely to perform psychological tests to find the best people,
for management roles. But in other
, like France and Germany, the right academic qualifications (and in the case of France the right university) are given top priority. In all these cultures, who you are is all about your skills, intellectual and
, and when such an organization selects you, it is because it wants you to use these skills on its
That s not to say that in these countries social or family networks are irrelevant ”membership in such networks plays a greater or lesser role in workplaces all over the world. In the cultures of Latin America, Africa, Southern Europe, the Middle East, and most of Asia,
to the right family may be the best indication of future success in an organization, and although this is given the rather ugly
by more egalitarian
, it is a system that
to integrate the social roles of an individual (son, wife, cousin, friend) with his or her work roles. This makes sense in practical terms, because it shortens the long getting-to-know-you process that is essential for a business relationship built on trust. The reasoning goes that if you went to school with your colleague s cousin, and your parents and his are
relatives, you can trust him to
your agreement more than, say, a lawyer with a prestigious law degree from Harvard or Oxford. In these relationship-based cultures your role as employee is not simply to provide your company with of a set of skills; it is to be an irreplaceable part of a unique social network that coexists along with and as part of the organization you work for.
Of course, social networks also exist within companies in more
cultures, even though relationships (especially in such change-friendly cultures as the U.S., Canada, and Northern Europe) may be short-lived as companies reorganize, people move on, or
get promoted. The changes associated with promotion can be particularly tricky for some people. I ve spoken to a number of middle- and lower-ranking managers in European and North American companies who say that as soon as they were promoted to a
role they lost their friends at work ”not that their
left the organization, but these new managers became excluded from the
they had previously belonged to.
A blurring of social and work roles is common in, among other places, traditional rural societies. In the 1950s, the old-age pension was introduced in Sweden, and the old farmers who received it eagerly awaited the arrival of the mail carrier who delivered it, and as a mark of their
would offer him a glass of vodka. This was fine as long as he did his rounds on his bike, but his downfall came when the postal service gave him a little van, which was much more difficult to get back on the road once it had wandered off. The problem ( problem in the eyes of the postal service, that is) was that the islanders didn t distinguish between the mail carrier s work role and that of generous friend. They rewarded him in the same way they would if a long-lost cousin had arrived with the surprise payment of a family inheritance.
This kind of story is not so common now in industrialized Western cultures, where the line between who we are and what we do has become more and more clearly defined as organizations have become businesslike. But wherever we come from, it is at our workplaces where the two strands of our lives, the public and the private, meet. It s important for all of us that the meeting is a happy one.
Do not trust your first
of people from other cultures. Public and private roles affect how people act, and if you are unaware of what their roles entail, you may come to faulty conclusions.