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Next Task: Invest in Relationships

Next Task: Invest in Relationships

Is your culture task-oriented or relationship-oriented?

My Tunis-based organization recently hosted an event to evaluate and celebrate our projects for people with disabilities. One of our long-term partners shared some difficult feedback with us.

He said that we used to be more relational. We used to treat our project partners as friends by calling them just to say hi, stopping by to have coffee, and spending time with their families. But now, he says, our interactions with them are primarily focused on work.

While that feedback was hard to hear, it was remarkable coming from someone from a culture that rarely gives direct negative feedback and, therefore, was a testimony to the long history of trust, collaboration, and friendship that he had developed with our team.

Generally speaking, American culture is significantly more task-oriented than Tunisian culture.

Think of it this way: Are you more likely to sacrifice some quality time with your friends and family to finish an important project at work and earn a raise, or the other way around?

In Tunisian culture, building and maintaining relationships is often valued more than completing tasks or achieving goals. As a stereotypical task-oriented American, this challenges me, and I am making an effort to adapt by making phone calls instead of sending quick texts or emails and by welcoming visits that I might previously have categorized as interruptions.

I took our project partner’s message to heart, and when my mom and I traveled to the south of Tunisia last month I called and asked if he would be willing to introduce us to his home town of Matmata. He took us to visit the home where he was born, built in the traditional style for that region—underground, insulating the residents from the heat of the Sahara sun in summer and the cool desert winds in winter. Our visit with him was on Christmas day, which also gave us the opportunity to talk a bit about his familiarity with the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth.

This visit was an amazing reminder that building and maintaining relationships with our local partners is not a distraction from work, it is an integral part of our work. Paul reminded us of this in his first letter to the Corinthians (13:3): If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Though I will likely never be as relational as my Tunisian friends and neighbors, improving in this area is a task I can keep working toward.






About the Author: Julia is an IDEAS Associate and moved to Tunisia in 2021. She oversees community needs assessments, project development and implementation, local partner relationships, and impact measurement for an IDEAS partnering project. Enjoy other blogs by Julia, such as "What Is God's Theme for Your Year?"