The myths of intercultural communication
“I wonder, would this work for German or Japanese people too?”
People often ask me questions like these in trainings. They believe every culture behaves in a certain way, and it is almost as if they have been brainwashed that cultural generalizations are true.
Ever heard one of these before?
‘British are stiff and controlled’
‘Asians don’t show emotions’
‘Americans are fake’
‘Dutch are too blunt’
‘Japanese are strange’
A few examples on how these opinions might influence ones behaviour:
Your South American colleague sends his answers to your question 2 days late.
….You see proof of a lazy nature and become agitated.
Your manager from Switzerland comments on your presentation and focuses on some key figures.
….You see proof of his cold and distant management style and become defensive.
Your Italian colleague comments loudly and with lots of gestures on the latest project development during the video-conference.
….You conclude that she is a typical drama queen and block your listening.
But what happens if you let go of your (cultural) concepts and show a sincere interest in the human being in front of you?
Become aware of the details in the way people speak and behave?
Look beyond the surface, and try to see the actual human being.
Find out what this unique person in front of you is really meaning to say.
- Are they speaking slow or fast?
- How is their breathing, shallow or deep?
- What can you notice in their change in posture when they listen or speak?
- Do they speak loudly or softly?
- Where are their eyes going?
- Does the sound of their voices seem gentle and melodic or static and more monotone?
- What emotional state are they in?
- What personal beliefs does this person stand for?
- What are they NOT saying?
Find the unique nuances!
Whether the person in front of you is an extroverted, loud and nonchalant German, a very direct and confronting Belgian or a warm, open and emotional Japanese human being, stop clouding your judgement with opinions. Try to see the actual person standing in front of you.
Look for the human in one another.
Only then you can truly connect, cooperate or lead.