1). Thai..ke Thyme: Project managing your R&R time

A Grand Palace indeed!Sounds a bit of a contradiction doesn’t it? I mean project management is often a tad frenetic, so how do you project manage restful time?

It occurred to me (maybe I’m a smidgen slow) this is exactly what makes for good R&R!

My family live in different continents; hard because we are emotionally close although even though we live far from each other. Despite this distance, we use modern technology to keep in contact “hurray for computers”. We get together every other year to holiday and reconnect. We each pick a place we would like to visit (new place), debate, make a choice – then the real planning starts.

We set goals and objectives for the holiday. The regular no brainers; reconnect, relax, laugh and of course have fun. Our aim, to enjoy being together as a family (that’s the theory!).

Holiday destination: 1st October – Thailand, my sister Lauren won the “destination to visit”. Her husband Ant, my mom Ann-Marie and myself set about planning this vacation.

Our extra special and unique holiday goal this year; to celebrate my mom’s 70 “something” birthday; make her feel special and hugely loved because we both saw her seldom – and together even more rarely! We organised how to get there, what to see (all had different requests), where to stay to make the most of time, how long we would be at each place, costs – usual holiday things.

After 12 months of strategic planning, we touched down at Suvarnabhumi Bangkok Airport within a time span of 20 minutes of each other. We planned it that way to ensure we wouldn’t overwhelm my mom and lose her in this strange place, as we all arrived from different continents. Great project planning, arrival mission accomplished! All four of us at the airport, safe and sound, so far so good!

Seeing my mom and sister was wonderful for me. It had been a hard year for me on many fronts and we just enjoyed being able to give each other hugs and speak face to face. Our transportation plan went off well and we arrived at our hotel in China Town.

China Town is a bustling place, masses of people at any hour of the day. The girls clogged into one room leaving my brother in law to a bit of peace and quiet while we showered and got ourselves refreshed and ready to explore. We planned to go sightseeing immediately!

The hotel staff were very friendly, apparently we all spoke English, but clearly different wavelengths. We found a solution to the strange Eengrish we were speaking to each other. With smiles and pointing at maps we found a common frequency for communications. Off we went, and arrived where we had wanted to be, the Grand Palace.

We entered and were immediately asked if we would like a guide. We politely said no thanks. We were then immediately told we were not dressed properly. A bit perplexed we enquired what was wrong as we had consulted the website in advance and dressed accordingly (long skirts, covered shoulders etc). They just said no, pointed at the short sleeves and said emphatically no, so we left to go and buy longer shirts (which just happened to be outside) and re-entered to go exploring on our own.

We wondered around and saw all the wonderful sights that we had expected to see. During these wonderings we noticed pockets of people who were mulling around guides, some listening intently and some not. The guides seemed not to take offense whilst waffling on in somewhat stilted English or French or Italian or ?

We also noticed that the tourists in these groups were not anywhere as compliant as we had been when we initially entered the Palace and were refused entry. We sat in the hot sun and bounced around our thoughts on why when we were dressed more modestly than some, we were given a hard time. It then dawned on us that there could be two reasons for the hard time.

Firstly, when we had declined to use the guides to show us their wonderful Palace, without intending disrespect we had “dissed” them. Or they were upset with us because by declining a guide we had not provided the opportunity to earn money. They had taken the next route of action and had made our entrance slightly more complex by forcing us go and purchase items we did not need (possibly they had a business partnership with the clothing stores outside?).

In all our fabulous planning, we had not taken into account the culture, motivations and differences each of us had at the centre of our being. We had chosen not to use a guide as we were still getting back in touch with each other. We were talking over each other in the excitement of catching up and wanted to sightsee at leisure jabbering on between ourselves and not be disrespectful to a guide by not listening attentively to all they had to say. They had interpreted our declining a guide as disinterest or possibly disregard for their need to earn an income and had therefore made our entrance more complex, causing a strange dis-ease amongst us.
How many times in a project do we assume that we have a clear and level understanding of the core values that each side has going into the contract. How we have assumed that what is important to us, our thoughts our values, our ethics and cultural “getup” – the very fibre of who we are collectively, is the same collectively, as those that the customer may have.

Without intending to be disrespectful towards the Thai people, the negativity caused by our apparent disinterest and their response to us, resulted in us at odds with each other, “wear longer sleeves!” Maybe if we had thaiken a guide, and explained that we may not always pay full attention but meant no disrespect – possibly we would have all had an enjoyable experience and not been slighted by each other’s actions.

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1 thought on “1). Thai..ke Thyme: Project managing your R&R time”

  1. Thank you for a beautiful reminder of the complexity of multi-cultural project teams, Eldette! Cultural sensitivity is an issue that is very real for me in my current work. Understanding and respect are key. As an American I have a global to overcome – the “Ugly American” stereotype, and I take very seriously my responsibility to counter that stereotype in both business and pleasure. On a recent project in China, several American guests at a celebration dinner chose to order steak and mashed potatoes instead of enjoying the feast that had been specially chosen and ordered for our multi-national group. The host was offended, even though their intention was simply to have a familiar meal after a week of oddities. Lack of awareness of our impact on others, and I include myself in this as I’m sure I am an unintentional offender at times, can lead to needless tension in cross-culturally mixed teams. With so many resources available to us all via the internet, we can prepare somewhat in advance, as you and your family did. But some issues are so nuanced that we all need some kind of “guide” to help us navigate the complex waters of these interactions. Thanks to your lesson, I’ll welcome the help when I’m fortunate enough to be offered guidance.

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