We are all products of our personal and cultural past. Everything we have seen, read, heard and experienced changes the way we see our own present and future, ultimately affecting how we perceive and judge others around us.
Whether our view of the world is as an inclusive and open one, or as a distinct number of groups, some for and some against us both as individuals and teams, will have been decided by our subconscious long before we are even aware of how we really feel. These perceptual filters, when we are cognizant of them, can be removed or adjusted if we take the time to think them through.
However, even then, our subconscious can surprise us with actions and reactions we can’t really understand, much less analyze. Relatively benign manifestations of this occur when we are presented with, say, a selection of food or drink completely alien to our own experiences. This can result in some fairly strong reactions, such as when someone tries a very spicy meal for the first time, or is offered a type of meat or vegetable they have never tasted before. These reactions are usually seen as non-offensive and, may often be a source of amusement for all parties.
The insidious and destructive side of these reactions occurs when they are triggered, either subconsciously or consciously, by an unexpected cultural difference where the reaction may be one of surreptitious withdrawal or outright abhorrence. These reactions can, at best, cause great distress to the host individuals and, at worst may lead to a long-term, or even permanent, breakdown in a business or personal relationship.
To avoid these potentially damaging outcomes, you need to develop filters on your perception of the meanings and intent behind inter-cultural relationships. Before you turn away in surprise or recoil in disgust, try to think through what is happening and see it through the eyes of your cultural host or visitor. For instance, just because it is rare in most Anglo Saxon societies for colleagues to hold hands when discussing things, does not mean it is the same in all other societies. Similarly, if your international visitor shakes your hand for what you consider to be an uncomfortably long time, accept it as a cultural difference to learn from not something to be upset by.
Appreciate Cultural Differences
Intercultural interactions and encounters are an ongoing learning experience. The longer you spend immersed in other cultures, observing how other peoples act and react, the better you will become at understanding that these differences are what make the world a better and stronger place. Multi-cultural teams bring diverse perspectives and expertise to any project or organisation, which can only serve to produce a better result. Such opportunities, while freely available simply by engaging with international partners, can on occasion, be proven fragile by unconsidered or spontaneous reactions to some of the very differences that produce the benefits. So, be careful out there and try to look on every new experience as a positive one.
Intercultural interactions and experiences are an ongoing learning experience. The longer you spend immersed in other cultures and observing how other peoples act and react, the better you will become at understanding that these differences are what make the world a better and stronger place. Multi cultural teams bring multiple perspectives and divergent skills to any project or organisation, this diversity only makes the outcomes better. These opportunities are freely available simply by engaging with international partners, but can, on occasion be proven fragile by unconsidered or spontaneous reactions to some of the very differences that offer the benefits, so be careful out there and try to look on every new experience as a positive one.
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