Have you ever had a conversation with someone who later revealed that their experience of that conversation was totally different than yours?
Maybe you entered a meeting with a new employee. Thinking that starting the meeting with small talk might seem unprofessional, you got straight into describing a new project and assigning tasks. Your employee, accustomed to a more casual conference approach, mistook your straightforwardness as dislike toward him. Once he got to know you, he discovered this wasn’t your intention at all.
This isn’t uncommon. We sometimes attribute a mismatch in communication to a gender, age, or social differences. When differences in culture enter the picture, however, having a conversation can be even more complex, and the consequences of a misunderstanding harder to ease.
The “Right Way” to Converse
At the same time as we focus on what brings us together, it’s important to talk to someone from a different culture knowing a little bit about how they may understand the conversation differently than you.
Let’s look at what is typical in a few countries. In the US, conversations are typically viewed as an opportunity to exchange information. But in Mexico, the foremost goal of a conversation is, commonly, to build the relationship between talking partners.
A professional interaction in Germany is one that leaves no room for misinterpretation. The Japanese use subtlety, general statements, and broader references in a polite exchange on a sensitive topic.
What’s in a Difficult Conversation?
These “communication trip wires” — the ways social norms surrounding difficult conversations vary from culture to culture — are organized into four categories in “Having a Difficult Conversation with Someone from a Different Culture” by Melissa Hahn and Andy Molinsky:
- Getting Down to Business vs. Relationship Building: what is the primary goal of a conversation?
- Direct vs. Indirect Communication: how is sensitive information most respectfully communicated to someone else?
- Low vs. High Context: do the environment and social differences between conversation partners impact the way a message is interpreted?
- Informality vs. Formality: does emphasizing casualness of a meeting diffuse tension, or some across as incompetence or unpreparedness?
Hahn and Molinsky go on to describe these differences in useful detail. “When you think of it this way, having a difficult conversation with someone from another culture can appear perilous — and it can be. So, what can you do about it?”
Enjoy the rest of their insight and discussion here: Read More
Do Your Part
Our Build Cultural Awareness Initiative provides opportunities to learn about other cultures, faiths, and people of different backgrounds. Get started doing your part today:
- Check out more of our posts about Building Cultural Awareness. Read, watch, and learn about the #BuildCulturalAwareness topic.
- Engage your family, friends, and colleagues in meaningful conversations. Ask someone else to join the discussion so you can make new friends and learn from their experiences.
- Share your ideas, photos, related stories, and facts about your culture or something you’ve learned about another.
Communication is an extremely important aspect of our everyday lives that is so easy to overlook. Whether you are in conversation with coworkers, with friends and acquaintances, or with your family members, practicing strong and honest communication is a key player in fostering good relationships.
Lately, it seems there are a slew of issues in the news that create divides between peers and loved ones. Politics and topical issues have a tendency of polarizing people who discuss them – and even sparking animosity and irritation.
At the Dignity & Respect Campaign, we know how important certain issues might be to you. We believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and feelings, but we also believe in acceptance – which means respecting others’ opinions and feelings, even if they differ from yours. This concept corresponds directly with the Fourth pillar of our 7 Pillars: Finding Common Ground. This model for behavior focuses on the ability to work through differences and gain agreement, while maintaining dignity and respect. To help you better understand this concept, and maybe even work through some ways to foster it, we’ve created a list of helpful tips for you:
Practice active listening. When you are in conversation with someone, regardless of whether the topic is a heated one or not, it’s a good habit to practice active listening. This means to be intentional about listening and make sure you are giving your full attention to the speaker. Also be sure to listen without interruption, and provide feedback to the speaker. Let him/her know what you heard so you can clear up any misunderstandings right away before you contribute to the conversation.
Be self aware. Understand how your culture and background shape you. Understand the differences between you and the person you are communicating with. For the most part, misunderstandings between people of different cultures, generations, or backgrounds occur not because of what was said, but because of how one party said it. The best way to stop these mishaps from happening is to not assume sameness, and not assume that the other party immediately understands what you mean. Take the time to get on the same page.
Disagree. Conversations are not a game that you play. The point in a discussion is not to win – there is no right or wrong when it comes to opinions. It is very important to remember this, and especially important to remember that it is not your job to make someone agree with you. This is a key component in respect. It is okay to disagree. The purpose of conversing is to learn from someone else – not to sway them to believe what you believe. Hopefully, they can also learn from you.
These helpful tips can go a long way in creating healthy and respectful conversations. The more we effectively communicate with one another – even on sensitive issues – the more we can acknowledge our differences and promote acceptance of those differences.