As a New York City expat living in Minneapolis, I’ve had some eye-opening experiences around the cultural differences between the East Coast and our fair Middle West. While some local practices were easier to embrace (9-5 work hours, cheese curds, Bloody Marys that come with a beer chaser) adapting to others have proven to be a bit more challenging.
As part of my own little sociological experiment, I began compiling a mental scorecard of wins and losses for each region. Here are a few of my initial observations:
Minnesota - If you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re five minutes late. If you’re late, you’re starting off on the wrong foot, don’t-cha-know.
New York - A 5-10 minute grace period is customary for all in-person (non-financial world, natch) meetings. Mostly because actually having a train pull up at your intended departure time is as likely finding a 1500 square foot rent-controlled apartment in the West Village.
(And don’t get us started on San Francisco, where time is but a concept…)
I have to give Minnesota the upper hand on this one. Why? Because, although it requires extra discipline, being on time (or even a little bit early) is the thumbs-up emoji of behaviors. It doesn’t garner much attention, and it’s rarely misinterpreted. While there are some people who don’t get worked up about timing, there is a large group of others to whom it matters a great deal. It’s a safer bet to assume the person you’re meeting with is the latter. Plus, by establishing timeliness as your M.O, you’ve earned a “get out of jail free” card for the day that your best-laid punctual plans are thrown by an unforeseen circumstance like a traffic jam or a stalled-out F train. (Seriously, will the F train ever be reliable?)
Minnesota: Have you considered…? Did you check into…? Maybe you could…?
New York: Do X. Try Y. Call Z.
I recently attended a local networking event designed to help attendees with business challenges. We were all encouraged to write down advice for other participants, which we handed in on notecards at the end of the session. Great format. After receiving my cards back from others, I noticed a difference in their cards from the ones that I submitted: all the advice I offered ended in periods. Most of theirs ended in question marks. It gave me a moment’s pause: had I been too direct?
After some thought, I think the sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle. In order to help someone else solve a problem, the first step is to ask enough open-ended questions to truly understand it. At this networking event, once the problem was shared, the group had 90 seconds to ask “clarifying questions” (no advice allowed!) in order to better understand the issue at hand. Only then, could we offer our solutions. So, come out of the gates with the Minnesota approach and be a curious, inquisitive advisor - and, most importantly, a good listener. Then, you can put your New Yorker hat on and give it to them straight. If a person has come to you for advice, chances are they won’t be offended if you give it. And by asking the right questions, you’ll be better equipped to give them advice that is truly useful.
FOUR WAY STOP SIGNS:
Minnesota - Everyone sits patiently waiting for someone else to make a move until a) one person finally decides the importance of reaching their destination outweighs the possibility of being considered rude or b) everyone sits politely waving each other on until they die.
New York - 1) Tap break 2) Quickly evaluate other drivers for signs of weakness 3) Mentally proclaim dominance of the streets 4) Mash pedal to the metal 5) Lay on horn to keep other drivers at bay
Because although you can often hear an anguished “PLEEEEASE GOOOOOO” reverberating from deep inside my momtastic MN-licensed Subaru, the chance of having of a near-death experience at an intersection seems much less likely here (though being killed by kindness is a distinct possibility).
Minnesota - I once saw a t-shirt that said “Keep Minnesota Passive Aggressive. Or don’t. Whatever you think is best.” The fact that this t-shirt exists says it all.
New York - Say what you mean, mean what you say, get the hell on with your day.
Winner: New York.
At best, passive aggressive language motivates people to action out of icky places, like guilt, obligation or pity. At worst, it breeds ambiguity and fuels resentment. As someone who is polite to a fault, I admit that I have struggled with this in the past. Somehow the passive aggressive route felt a little nicer, a little less in-your-face. I’ve since come to understand that being more direct is actually the kinder way to go because it’s more efficient - and really, what commodity is more valuable than people’s time? Sarah and I often give each other a passive-aggression check on our emails before we hit send. Regardless of where you live, if you’re ever in doubt, I recommend finding a straight-shooting friend/colleague to do the same.