A professional colleague uses this picture in a “Working Overseas” workshop he occasionally delivers. Apparently, this is a version of a print advertisement that the Coca-Cola Company used (for a short time) in their Middle East market. While I have been unable to explicitly confirm its veracity, I nevertheless wanted to show it to you because it is a perfect illustration of why it is important to be aware of the cultural context in which you operate.
On the surface, the advertisement looks pretty straightforward: if you’re parched and exhausted, drink the promoted cola beverage and you’ll be in perfect form to go running across the desert. Reasonable premise, until you realize that Arabic is read from right to left! Oops, perhaps not quite the message you intended!
Humorous indeed; and whether it’s true or not, it clearly highlights the importance of fully understanding the culture you are operating in. In the case of this advertisement, it is the cultural differences between world regions that changes how people receive and understand messages. But on a much more micro scale, the culture of an organization can also act as a filter to how people accept and interpret messages. If you’re a leader, then you need to be aware of the cultural context in which you operate. If you don’t understand the filters that people use, then you run the risk of your message being misaligned or misinterpreted.
Have you seen examples of communication that have been misunderstood because of organizational culture? Do tell.