The news was all a flurry with talk of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding on Saturday. Many comments were about the British monarchy's traditions and the strength of the royal family's protocols. This way of living and the expectations the royal family will perform ceremonial acts in particular ways has been developed over the years to create a strong royal culture. But some of the commentary was about how Meghan Markle made the wedding "her own." Markle added personal touches to her wedding, while remaining respectful of the traditions of the royal family's values surrounding ceremony.
Lessons from the royal wedding can be applied to how you work with people from different cultural traditions and practices. You often need to determine whether there are firm boundaries and constraints, or whether there is wiggle room to make modifications to the protocol. At heart is your understanding and respecting the values behind the ceremonial acts so that when you negotiate modifications you are keeping the values intact. Here are three tips we can learn from the royal couple.
1. Balance traditions with modifications.
An example of one way in which the new royal couple balanced tradition with a flair of their own was in the wedding cake. They honored the tradition of the main part of the cake being placed on a golden throne, whereas it is lemon instead of fruit cake, and it is not tiered as has been the tradition.
It is important to know the ways in which you can update traditional protocol that also resonates with the ways you want to make your own mark. You grow up with values and beliefs about the way things should be, and these customs can differ when you engage with others from different traditions. Identifying ways in which values are respected so everyone can be comfortable goes a long way in building mutually beneficial relationships.
2. Consult others before making changes.
The new royal couple was mindful of the timing of how and when they would make changes to tradition. They consulted the Queen before making any modifications, great or subtle, to the wedding ceremony and reception.
There are ways in which to make changes to protocol, and it's never a good idea to surprise others without forewarning, as that may catch them off guard and make them uncomfortable. It is a good practice (and a sign of respect) to explore changes, first in more informal conversations. That way you can identify resistance points, understand the reasoning behind the traditions, and figure out a way to ensure buy-in from others.
In Japan there is a concept called nemawashi, in which changes are explored behind the scenes before being proposed or implemented. In this way you are alerting those affected by the changes so they can add modifications and you will be more likely to assure their buy-in.
3. Identify the degree of acceptable change.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were measured in the traditions they followed and how they tweaked others to better suit what they wanted. They chose their transportation from a range of given possibilities, and they married in St. George's Chapel, which held particular meaning to the Prince. They took bolder steps with the music selection as they blended the traditional with gospel.
There are degrees of cultural changes that you will find more acceptable. If the amount of change is too radical you may experience push back and resistance can be high. It is important for you to gauge the range of cultural modification that is manageable with the people with whom you interact and the environment in which you are promoting the change. As long as the changes are in alignment with the implicit and explicit values, your proposed changes are more likely to be acceptable.