by A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.
In today’s global business environment, more and more of us are required to understand people who comes from countries and cultures different from our own. While there is no short and easy way to learn about a given culture in any depth, there are some general principles that lead to success in communicating and conducting business with people of backgrounds unlike our own.
Getting Started with Cross Cultural Communication
Here are some important points to understand:
1. Direct experience is the best way to begin to learn any culture. Just as the best way to learn a new language is to become immersed in that language, so too is it most helpful to learn another culture by jumping right in. This may not always be practical, but radio stations, music, trips to religious organizations or other clubs that cater to members of a specific group – all of these things can be helpful ways to begin.
2. Differences can feel like a threat at first. No one likes to feel like a stranger, and feeling unable to communicate or to decipher aspects of behavior that don’t fit with our own habitual experiences can make any of us feel alone. This is a natural part of human experience, but even so, it is important to keep these feelings in perspective and remember that differences are less important than commonalities.
3. We tend to overlook similarities and notice just the differences when we first begin to interact with members of another culture. And then, when we apply the standards of interpretation that we would use in our own cultures to the behavior of those in the unfamiliar culture, we will draw mistaken conclusions. We all share 98% of the same DNA, and we are all far more alike than we are different, but that’s easy to forget in the beginning.
4. Stereotyping due to overgeneralization is a common occurrence, especially among those who only interact with another culture infrequently. When we are faced with uncertainty, the human mind naturally seeks to create some order or system from what we observe.
5. Cultures are always changing, especially as they interact with each other. Even from within, cultures move and flow and change through time, even when they think they don’t.
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