User Tip: Bridging Cultures

Bridging Cultures2
One of Cultural Detective‘s valued and respected long-time users, Meg Quinn, recently shared with us a new technique that she has developed for introducing her learners to building more powerful cross-cultural bridges.

When she introduces the Cultural Detective Worksheet, Meg asks participants to think about three different approaches:
  1. Assimilation (bridging from just one side)
  2. Adaptation (“true” bridging in the CD sense), and
  3. Time Machine (What might the parties do/have done before all this came to a head? This is how some of the author-suggested Bridges in the CD series are framed.)

Meg has found that such an introduction helps learners to move beyond their initial responses, think more deeply and more creatively, and develop bridging ideas that are more realistic and enduring.

Thank you for sharing, Meg!

Trainers and educators love the flexibility that Cultural Detective allows them. It is easy to adjust your presentation to help your audience think in more innovative ways, as Meg has done. And whether working with students, experienced professionals, government officials, or your local community group, you can always find a “hook” that resonates with the participants and gives them the opportunity to understand and apply the CD Method to their personal lives.

Readers, please be sure to share with us your tips, designs, and experiences; we are happy to pass them on.

Clean House and Change the Bedding to Greet the Lava

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

The gem of a video clip below offers a glimpse into an aspect of native Hawaiian culture of which many people may be unaware. As lava flows on the island, there are vast cultural differences in how the native and immigrant cultures view the event. While native Hawaiians prepare to welcome a guest, others talk about ways to change the course of the lava to flow in a more convenient direction.

I am so proud of what the government in Pahoa, district of Puna, county of Hawaii is doing, and not doing, to “divert” the lava flow that is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. The clarity, patience, and wisdom they show in their answers to community members’ questions make me wish they worked in my county.

In the video, you will see Pi’ilani Ka’awaloa, an INCREDIBLE cultural resource person!!! She demonstrates wisdom in her people’s truth, and openness to teaching as well as acting in collaboration with others. She tells us that the native Hawaiians have adjusted to western culture, in that they now “buy” their land. But she also tells us they will never “own” it; it belongs to the goddess Pele.

“We would never tell Pele to go here or there in her own home! If she feels she needs to clean her house, then let her clean her house!”

I believe you will very much enjoy the cross-cultural differences visible in this Question and Answer session after a county informational meeting on the lava flow. What a challenge to bridge two such vastly different cultural orientations, on such a very sensitive subject as saving our homes and businesses.

 

I learned about what is going on in Pahoa from a friend I have only met virtually, Tim Sullivan, who lives there. Some people say that online “friends” aren’t real, but I can assure you that via social media I am now connected with many people whom I respect and learn much from. Tim recently wrote an extremely insightful and powerful blog post on the cross-cultural aspects of the lava flow in Pahoa. Be sure to check it out.

I think this short video clip would be an excellent piece of material to debrief using a Cultural Detective Worksheet. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! And may blessings be upon all those who make Pahoa their home.

Are Emoji the Newest World Language?

World_Languages_by_Number_of_SpeakersHow many languages are there in the world? Do you know just how many have died off? Or will go extinct soon? How about this: do you know how to rescue those that are endangered? And what about new languages emerging in our world today? Are there any? If so, what are they? Do you know the world’s newest language? We put together this short quiz to get you thinking and test your knowledge.

When a language disappears, it often takes with it a great deal of the history of a community. It limits what scientists can learn about human cognition: fewer languages mean fewer data sets. Loss of a language too often means a loss of social and cultural identity, at least partially.

Much of the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual life of a people is experienced through language. This ranges from prayers, myths, ceremonies, poetry, oratory, and technical vocabulary to everyday greetings, leave- takings, conversational styles, humor, ways of speaking to children, and terms for habits, behaviors, and emotions. When a language is lost, all of this must be refashioned in the new language-with different words, sounds, and grammar- if it is to be kept at all. Frequently traditions are abruptly lost in the process and replaced by the cultural habits of the more powerful group. —The Linguistic Society

We’ve published here on this blog several instances of native peoples in the Americas breathing new life into their languages, cultures, ceremonies and traditions, and we’d very much like to encourage such efforts. If we all do our part, we can preserve, and help thrive, many of the endangered languages in our world. And what about new languages that are emerging? Some of them aren’t really “new,” they are just redefined. Here again from the Linguistic Society:

Consider the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian, spoken over much of the territory of the former Yugoslavia and generally considered a single language with different local dialects and writing systems. Within this territory, Serbs (who are largely Orthodox) use a Cyrillic alphabet, while Croats (largely Roman Catholic) use the Latin alphabet. Within a period of only a few years after the breakup of Yugoslavia as a political entity, at least three new languages (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian) had emerged, although the actual linguistic facts had not changed a bit.

Others, however, really are new. My guess is that the newest language in the world just might be emoji (絵文字), or the language of emoticons. “That’s not really a language!” you might be thinking. And, right now, I would agree. But there is a definite trend.

From iConji.com

From iConji.com

  1. Emoji is one of the 260 languages into which Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been translated.
  2. The iConji project aims to build a successful successor to Esperanto, a language that unites speakers of any language.
  3. The emoji narration of Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love (view video below) has had millions of viewers.
  4. The Unicode Consortium has standardized hundreds of emoticons, and
  5. Members of the Noun Project are working on a visual dictionary—an icon for every object—and they currently have 60,000. You can be part of history and upload your own icon!

History of Emoji Very cool to me is how emoticons came to exist. It’s all due to the low-context, difficult-to-decipher reality of digital communication. Virtual workers in the early 80s found it wise to start labeling jokes with smiles :-) so that others wouldn’t misunderstand them. Soon after the smiley face came the sad face :-( and the wink ;-). Then, in 1999, NTT Docomo’s Kurita Shigetaka figured visual cues would improve the mobile phone experience. His initial efforts were inspired by manga, Japanese comics. These Japanese roots are why this language is called emoji: picture, 絵 (e), plus character, letter, or writing, 文字 (moji). We see Paleolithic cave drawings, Sumerian cuneiforms, and Egyptian hieroglyphics as languages, so hey, maybe emoji are, too. Do you speak emoji? I think this is also a generational culture difference; young people seem to speak it much more fluently than I. Guess I have some learning to do!

Cultural Resurgence Among the Tlingit of Southeastern Alaska

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

I recently traveled in Southeast Alaska, where I was thrilled to see gorgeous country and amazing wildlife, and also learn a tiny bit about the native peoples who inhabited the area prior to the Europeans’ arrival. Alaska is a beautiful, largely unspoiled area, much of it covered by mountains, glaciers and rivers. Southeast Alaska is a harsh land in the winter, but has amazing natural resources. In the summer you will find indigenous berries, incredible wild salmon runs, and an abundance of other seafood. The natives had a saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.”

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Today, nearly a fifth of Alaska’s population identifies some Native heritage, the survivors of peoples in the area for the last 15,000-30,000 years. They have adapted to the growth and decline of glaciers, and the changing land, climate, and resources. Prior to European contact, they probably numbered 80,000-90,000, with dozens of distinct cultures. After contact so many died, primarily due to disease, that by the first US Census in Alaska (1880), the Native population was just under 33,000.

Many of the traditional ways have been lost, but increasingly many people are working to save the remaining fragments of their cultures. Totem poles have disintegrated—wood doesn’t survive forever in this temperate rain forest. Traditional arts and crafts methods and skills have almost been lost—only a few elders remember the old ways. And native languages are rapidly losing speakers. Yet there is hope because the younger generation realizes what is slipping away. Cultural arts centers are teaching traditional carving methods, beadwork, and weaving, and the young are learning dances from their elders.

Jim Heaton, Master Carver, Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska, August, 2014

Jim Heaton, Master Carver, Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska, August, 2014

I was privileged to hear Joe Williams, a distinguished member of the Tlingit tribe, share a little about his culture. The Tlingit (pronounced roughly like “cling kit” or “clink it”) are the indigenous peoples of what we now call Southeast Alaska. Their name for themselves is Lingít, meaning “People of the Tides.” Click here for a good short history and cultural context of the people.

Joe told us many stories about the flexibility, ethical standards, and bravery of his people. He is a great communicator, able to bridge cultures with humor. You can see a short clip of Joe talking about his culture here:

Joe was not taught the Tlingit language or traditional ways when he was young. At that time in the US and Canada there was blatant cultural imperialism and systemic discrimination against native peoples. Native children were taken from their villages and placed in boarding schools miles from family and home. The emphasis was on “civilizing” native populations by forcing them to give up their language and customs, adopt Christianity, speak English, and generally act like “good” Europeans.

Fortunately, this attitude (and the law) has changed, and multicultural diversity is more valued in the US these days. Many tribal members from the younger generation are learning, cherishing, and preserving their native heritage for those who come after them. There are organized programs for tribal members to learn their native language. I met adult language students who receive their Tlingit vocabulary-word-of-the-day on their smart phones! Who says you can’t blend the old and the new?

When asked if his culture would survive in the crazy modern world, Joe told us a story—a traditional way of teaching/learning. One day, after being away from home for several hours, he returned to find his wife working in the kitchen and his three-year-old granddaughter visiting. His granddaughter was playing under the dining room table and singing a Tlingit song. He was very excited and rushed out to the kitchen to tell his wife. She replied, “Yes, and she has been singing the same song all day—would you PLEASE teach her another one?!”

Cultural transmission in action?! Perhaps Tlingit culture will survive another 10,000 years, after all!

5 Things Mexicans Say to Avoid the Word “No”

Excellent article by Susannah Rigg

MEXICANS ARE VERY POLITE and can seem downright formal compared to residents of other Spanish-speaking countries. People greet each other in elevators, on buses, and shared taxis almost always with “con permiso,” — “with your permission,” — and “propio” — “you may grant your own permission, as you don’t need mine.”

I love all this about Mexican culture. However, it took me a long time to realize that, because of all the politeness, Mexicans really struggle to say “no” and will find any number of ways to avoid the accursed word. Here are just a few examples.

1. Yes

It’s very common in Mexico that yes means no….

Read more here

How to Get Promoted in 3 Hours

mexican-american flagsI’m going to tell you a real story, of an actual person, who was promoted to a management position from an administrative assistant position because of a three-hour workshop she conducted for her bosses.

How’d it happen? The woman, let’s call her Yolanda, worked for a very large multinational in Texas. The firm, of course, did a lot of business with Mexico. Over the ten years or so Yolanda had been with the company, she’d worked for a succession of bosses, most of whom did not understand Mexican culture and had committed many errors, losing opportunity and revenue, as well as credibility, for themselves and the company. Yolanda is Mexican-American, and her bosses’ actions used to frustrate and embarrass her. She could see that her bosses could be a lot more effective, she wanted to help, but she didn’t know where to begin to explain Mexican culture to her bosses. She was an administrative assistant, not a consultant, executive coach, or trainer.

Enter Cultural Detective. Yolanda looked over the Cultural Detective Mexico package. It made sense to her. She intuitively understood the values in the package’s Mexican Values Lens. She could tell stories from her own organizational experience to illustrate each value and correlating negative perception. Yolanda had so many stories, stories that were real, that had cost her company money and, in some cases, staff.

Yolanda got her four bosses to agree to a three-hour “lunch and learn,” during which she’d teach them about Mexican culture. She was excited, but she was also scared. She wasn’t a facilitator, she’d never studied culture or cross-cultural communication. But, she knew her organization, she knew her bosses, and she knew both US American and Mexican cultures. So, she gave the workshop her best.

At the outset of her seminar, Yolanda told her bosses a story—a story they clearly recognized from their own experience, a story of a time they’d been frustrated, and less than successful. They all knew the details; she had only to remind them of the event she was talking about. Yolanda drew a Cultural Detective Worksheet on the flip chart. She asked her bosses what they had done in that situation. Then, she asked them to think about why they had done what they’d done—what was the underlying “common sense” that motivated their behavior? That wasn’t so easy, but they did it. And it proved pretty insightful. They hadn’t consciously thought about the reasons for their actions, hadn’t spent time thinking about how culture-bound their behavior was. This was Yolanda’s first successful “aha” of the three hours.

Next, she asked them what their Mexican colleagues had done in the given situation. Yolanda encouraged her bosses to quote the words that were said and the actions the Mexicans took. Of course, her bosses said things like, “I couldn’t trust them,” “he wouldn’t tell me the truth,” or “they went behind our backs,” but on the flip chart she recorded the actual words and behavior of the Mexican colleagues. Yolanda then asked her bosses to do the same thing for the Mexicans that they had done for themselves. She said, “Maybe your colleagues really were dishonest, untrustworthy, conniving. But, for the sake of learning, for a few minutes let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. What could have been the positive intentions behind their words and actions? If we look at your side of this Worksheet, you have all positive intent, nothing negative. Let’s see if we can’t fill in their side the same way. Maybe at the end we decide to throw it all out, decide that they were just bad people. But first let’s see.”

Her bosses came up with several guesses—possible motivators of their Mexican counterparts’ behavior. Then Yolanda filled in a couple more, explaining the reasons these colleagues had probably acted and responded the way they had. Her bosses said things like, “That makes sense,” “I’d never considered that before,” and “so I did exactly the wrong thing; I shot myself in the foot!” Her bosses experienced their second “aha” of the workshop.

Next, Yolanda handed out a copy of Cultural Detective Mexico to each of her bosses. She walked them through the Mexican Values Lens, telling stories from her organizational experience. She asked them how they felt about each of the values, and reminded her bosses that each Mexican is unique—that the values in the Lens are societal tendencies. After introducing the Values Lens, she focused her bosses’ attention back on the Worksheet. Now they had lots of ideas about why their Mexican colleagues might have acted the way they did. And even more importantly, her bosses had lots of ideas on how they could have acted in ways more conducive to achieving their business objectives—to bridging cultures. A third round of “aha” learning was achieved.

The three hours sped by quickly. Her bosses learned so much. Their ability to do business in Mexico and with Mexicans was greatly enhanced. They learned about themselves, about their own personal and US cultural values, which enabled them to better explain themselves to any new colleague, whether Mexican, Chinese, or US American. And, very key to me, Yolanda’s bosses learned what a valuable asset she was as a cultural resource. They began using Yolanda as a sounding board, asking her to help them write emails and reports, and also to help plan strategy. Within a couple of months, Yolanda left her job as an administrative assistant because she was promoted to a more prestigious and much better paid management position. She achieved her dream of being able to travel for business, and she loved the kind of work she was able to do. Her company gained an employee who was confident and able to use her bicultural heritage in ways that added value.

Now, I’m not promising that using Cultural Detective will get you a promotion, but if you and your organization work across cultures—and what organization doesn’t these days—you will definitely gain a whole lot of skill and expertise by using Cultural Detective. Add it to your priority list! Start building your intercultural competence by attending one of our free 90-minute webinars, or subscribing to (and using!) Cultural Detective Online today.

A value for culture leads to business value

Dianne Hofner Saphiere:

Thank you for helping us promote and build intercultural competence, Marjorie and Don! Very nice article!

Originally posted on Marjorie Munroe's 5 Minute Mediator:

As a Canadian I am informal, consensus building, highly individualistic, and reserved before building trust and relationships through successful projects. I also define myself to a large extent by not being a Yank.

Do these generalizations sound familiar?

Cultural value lenses help us understand each other.

I learned from Don Rutherford, a facilitator who has consulted for many years with different organizations around the world, that identifying trends and generalizations about different cultures can help us work together more effectively. Don pointed out that generalizing vs. stereotyping is an important distinction.  Generalizing helps to make better decisions. For example, I generally know that if I leave the house at 8 to get downtown it will take me 20 minutes longer than if I leave the house at 9, and I organize my day accordingly.

Don produced the Canadian Values Lens for Cultural Detective.  When Don introduced Michelle and I to the Cultural Detectives Value Lenses we were struck…

View original 172 more words

Let’s Investigate What Makes Cultural Detective Unique

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Country Navigator™, GlobeSmart®, CultureWizard™, Cultural Navigator® and their logos are the property of their respective parent companies.

We get calls and emails every day, asking us how Cultural Detective compares with some of the other intercultural tools on the market. Thank goodness people are passionate about developing intercultural knowledge and skills, and that there are so many intercultural tools available! That’s a big change in the last two decades, and a huge step in the direction of building intercultural competence in our organizations, our communities, and ourselves!

Most of the well-known development tools in the field—Cultural Detective®, Country NavigatorTM, GlobeSmart®, CultureWizardTM, and Cultural Navigator®, among others, use a values-based approach to understanding cultural differences. Such a method has proven significantly more effective than a “do’s and don’ts” approach, because behavior depends on context. Thus, do’s-and-don’ts advice is frequently erroneous because it has little or no connection to a specific situation you may find yourself confronting.

In addition to a shared focus on values, these tools share the aim of improving cross-cultural understanding. That, however, is about where the similarity ends. Comparing Cultural Detective and the other tools on the market is difficult because, according to leading intercultural competence researcher Doug Stuart, “it’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Both fruits are tasty, and they go well together in a salad, but they are oh-so-different on nearly every other criterion!

Goals

Cultural Detective (CD) is a process-based tool designed to improve communication and collaboration. The other tools mentioned above are designed to compare and contrast cultures. There are strengths in both of these goals, and they can complement one another very well. But the differing goals make these tools fundamentally different species.

Dimensions

Dimensions-based tools allow users to easily compare whether Chinese are more group-oriented than Japanese or Brazilians, and how we personally compare with the national averages of each of those places. The creators of the best of these tools conduct a lot of research to produce statistically reliable comparison data. According to Doug, the strength and weakness of a dimensional comparison (for example, where a culture or an individual stands on Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism) is that we get a clear general picture of how different two populations may be, but no specifics on how that difference looks behaviorally. The numbers on the scales produced by these tools are culture-specific, but the categories are universal and broad.

Process

Cultural Detective helps develop skill and strategy, both culture-general and culture-specific. The core method is a process designed for use and practice over time, in specific situations and multiple cultures, so that it becomes second nature. Thus, Cultural Detective provides appropriate stimulation at all stages of intercultural competence development. Users develop critical thinking skills to discern similarities, differences, and how best to leverage them for mutual benefit.

Context

Cultural Detective is contextually grounded—the method centers on stories or critical incidents. This reinforces the need to understand people as complex individuals who are influenced by multiple cultures including gender, generation, professional training, sexual orientation, spiritual tradition, organizational and national culture, and lived multicultural experience—not just passport nationality.

Inside-Out vs. Outside-In

Cultural Detective looks at culture from the inside-out. Values Lenses focus on the core values natives of the culture hold near and dear. These are the same values that often confuse non-members of the culture and get in the way of cross-cultural collaboration. This approach enables a native, or someone very familiar with a culture, to explain the culture in a meaningful way to a newcomer. We might consider these Value Lenses as extremely culture-specific “themes” (internal discourse, logic or “common sense”) that are intimately tied to behaviors, and easily and meaningfully illuminated through stories. A culture is a unique expression of these themes, which are difficult or impossible to capture successfully within broad global dimensions.

The other tools mostly look at culture from the outside-in, comparing national cultures according to well-researched categories such as Power Distance or Achievement/Ascription. A table of cultural dimensions that contrasts China and Japan tells you nothing practical about how people behave. Comparing Cultural Detective Values Lenses for China and Japan offers a completely different, immediately applicable line of inquiry: what are the underlying motivators of people’s behavior? Both approaches have their strengths, and many successful coaches, trainers, and educators use them in combination.

Self-Assessment

Many of the other intercultural tools on the market provide users a self-assessment, which, when completed, statistically compares them with their home society and other cultures. Users love seeing themselves, their values and style, especially when correlated with numbers or illustrated in a chart—it’s interesting and engaging.

Cultural Detective users reflect on their personal values, developing a Personal Values Lens that they can compare and contrast with those of team members, their own or other cultures. One approach is dimensions-based, the other based on qualitative analysis. Used in combination, one enhances the other. But they are two very different animals.

Experiential

Cultural Detective Online encourages learners to upload and analyze real stories from their own lives. Users can easily integrate the system’s Values Lenses and Worksheet into analysis of their personal critical incidents. They can invite team members to help them fine-tune the story and the debriefing. As Doug says, “While the cultural themes of Cultural Detective Value Lenses are very transparent to natives and, thus, easily illustrated by stories, the dimensions-based tools usually require an experienced cultural trainer to create ‘critical incidents’ illustrating universal dimension differences, which are more difficult to specify behaviorally across cultures (unless one is very familiar with both cultures). Simply summarized, universal dimensions are generic; they provide a good ‘first look’ at how different two cultures might be. To actually understand those differences as they play out behaviorally, we need the Cultural Detective’s Value Lenses.”

Cultural Detective is not your father’s intercultural tool, to paraphrase an auto industry advert. It utilizes a “culture-specific” approach, while simultaneously building users’ “culture-general” understanding. It provides not just a knowledge base, but a personal skill base from which to strengthen intercultural competence. Best of all, it can be used in a variety of settings to help facilitate intercultural communication and collaboration. Our global team of 130 continues to work hard to collaboratively build a productivity tool that will deepen your learning and jumpstart your effectiveness. Give it a spin! Join us in one of our upcoming free webinars to learn more, and receive a 3-day pass to Cultural Detective Online!

Alone, Asian, Atheist in the Middle East

Obey-Middle-East-Mural

Middle East! Turn around and look East! (Obey Middle East Mural, Shepard Fairey)

Many of you followed Phuong-Mai Nguyen’s journey through the Middle East, as written live right here on the Cultural Detective blog. Last year in Estonia, Mai, the co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam, keynoted the SIETAR Europa congress. In that speech she shared the ten lessons (‘commandments”) she had learned after almost a year of living in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. Her remarks have now been republished by The Islamic Monthly, and I’m confident you’ll be eager to read them.

As Mai tells us, her learning “touches on threats of Islamism, the tendency to self-victimize, and the need for all of us to establish a genuine relationship with moderate Muslims in the West.” The full article reprinted from her speech contains some of her powerful photos as well as her personal learning and viewpoints. 

The ten lessons she learned from her journey include:
  1. Thou shalt not watch TV
  2. Thou shalt stay thyself
  3. Thou shalt empower thy man
  4. Thou shalt fear God
  5. Thou shalt turn around
  6. Thou shalt break free
  7. Thou shalt seek guidance
  8. Thy land shalt be named
  9. Thy land shalt be named again
  10. Thou shalt acknowledge my new identity

Please, read her remarks and let us and Mai know what you think! I have been fascinated by the fact that she chose to make this journey, and the opportunity to view such an experience through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman.

Best, Dianne

 

4 Methods of Learning Culture

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“…the things we take for granted can trip us up and cause untold discomfort and frequently anger.” Edward Hall (“How Cultures Collide,” Psychology Today, July, 1976.)

It is generally acknowledged that it is important to understand one’s own cultural values before we can begin to understand another’s worldview, let alone develop intercultural competence. Cultural Detective Self Discovery offers a way to investigate our own values through a series of guided questions designed to help us discover more about ourselves. Below is an excerpt from Cultural Detective Self Discovery by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, George Simons, and Kate Berardo in which we address various approaches to culture learning.

Why learn about such a complex thing as culture? Certainly no one can learn everything about every other culture or even about one’s own, so why try at all?

At a very practical level, having the ability to work across cultures is a key skill in daily life and the workplace. When we think about “culture” as different organizational departments, communities, regions, companies, nations, genders, or religions, we realize that we cross cultures daily and constantly.

While we can never learn everything about every culture, what we can do is know our own values and how they affect us. We can be determined to go beyond auto-pilot thinking and to question our assumptions. We can approach working across cultures with curiosity and the intent to learn about others. Doing all this helps us to communicate more effectively and to avoid misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings and conflicts. In communities, this translates into greater cohesion. In the workplace, it means higher productivity, creativity, and synergy.

Encountering people who see the world differently, act differently, and speak differently challenges us to understand others and become more open and creative.

As Cultural Detectives, we want to understand what makes people tick. So where do we begin? There are a number of approaches to learning about cultures:

The Etiquette & Customs Approach
First of all, it is useful to know about people’s customs and habits, for example, when and how they greet others. There are many books on this topic, from professional studies to popular travel guides. There are videos and websites that help us know how to behave in everyday encounters with people who are different from us. Knowing what behavior is expected in particular situations can help us enormously—we can more quickly feel comfortable and blend in a bit, and we can prevent some unintentional insults. The downsides to this approach are that it is 1) difficult to memorize a long list of do’s and don’ts; 2) too easy to misunderstand which situations call for which behavior; 3) too easy to act stereotypically—in other words, the rules will not apply in all situations; and, of course, 4) most people do not expect outsiders to behave like insiders. Learning customs and habits is one way of getting to know others, but is not the only—nor necessarily the most effective—strategy.

The Language Learning Approach
We can also learn the language of our colleagues, clients, students, or neighbors. This could mean anything from learning their slang or TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) to mastering Arabic, Mandarin, or Verlan. Language is, of course, a key to understanding how people think, how they see the world, and what is important to them. It is supremely valuable for communicating across cultures. But, learning another tongue takes a long time. Learning their language may not be a step that you have time to take before interacting with people from another culture. Yet, you will certainly benefit from picking up that phrase book and learning at least a few polite words. So what then?

The Cultural Dimensions Approach
Another approach is to learn models of culture that help alert us to those areas where in our differences are likely to show up and where the differences will make a difference. For example, some people have a deep respect for authority and hierarchy—the boss is important and is to be treated accordingly, while other groups are very egalitarian—in meetings it is hard to tell who the boss is or even whether there is one. Or, you find that some people are likely to proceed on their own as individuals while others are inclined to act only when everybody in their group is in agreement.

To catch sight of the broad range of differences within which people think and act, it sometimes helps to use the dozen or so dimensions of difference developed by Western intercultural researchers. These models can help us recognize, classify, and respond appropriately to differences. They are categories of the ways in which people may be different. But they do not necessarily tell us why these differences work the way they do, or how these differences are viewed by our colleagues and neighbors.

Some of these categories of cultural difference ask us to look at ourselves and others to see whether…
  • We feel in control of our lives and our world, or if fate, destiny or other forces outside of us have a decisive impact on our lives.
  • We think deductively or inductively.
  • We focus, when we first work together, on taking action or on forming relationships.
  • We believe that rules and laws apply uniformly to everyone, everywhere, or that rules and laws need to be applied differently in different circumstances.

You can learn more about such categories from the work of Edward Hall and Geert Hofstede, who are among the pioneers of modern intercultural studies.

The Cultural Detective Approach
A powerful way to understand the motives of others and ourselves is by learning about core values. As a Cultural Detective we want to know what lies behind peoples’ many differences and what drives the gestures, words, and preferences of the people with whom we interact. What better way to learn than to have people themselves tell us what they value and how it motivates them to speak and act? The Cultural Detective Method begins by looking at a culture’s core values as they are seen by the people in that culture and by people who have experienced the culture deeply.

We encourage you to learn more about yourself and your core values via the Cultural Detective Self Discovery package. It has been used extensively by educational institutions, businesses, NGOs, and individuals throughout the world, and is currently available in a printable PDF format.

We are pleased to announce that Cultural Detective Self Discovery will soon be available as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online. Watch here for details in the coming months!