The Almadraba: A Dying Cultural Tradition?

almadraba10Every May, thousands of Atlantic bluefin tuna (atún rojo) swim through the Strait of Gibraltar at over 30 miles per hour to spawn in the Mediterranean. And for 3000 years fishermen have intercepted the large tuna in a fishing tradition called the almadraba in Andalusia and tonnara in Sicily.

The almadraberos are often sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of almadraberos, and feel a brotherhood with their fellow fishermen. They tend to be proud and tough, with a strong respect for history and the sea. They catch the tuna by putting out a maze of underwater nets that the bluefin swim through until they reach a final pool, el copo (diagram of a net, below).

LA ALMADRABA

Tuna swim east to the Mediterranean, going through various areas of the net until they reach the “copo,” where they are hoisted up out of the water.

Once the copo is filled, the fishermen circle their boats, working together to haul the huge net to just a few feet below the surface—the levantá del atún, or “raising of the tuna.” There are so many tuna jumping around in such a shallow space above the net that it creates the illusion that the water is boiling.

At this point the copejadores assume the treacherous task of jumping down into the net to hook and hoist the often 1000 pound-plus tuna, whose tails may be longer than the fishermen are tall, into the surrounding boats. Most copejadores have suffered many injuries over the years: broken knees, ankles, wrists, and noses. Some people call the practice slaughter, equating it to what they perceive as the savagery of bull fighting, while others perceive it as a noble tradition.

PESCA-ALMADRABA

So what is endangering the historic almadraba tradition?

  1. Tuna have been overfished: there are half as many bluefin tuna in the Atlantic as there were 39 years ago. Some almadraberos report that they used to catch 1000 tuna a day, whereas now they are lucky to catch that amount in an entire season. The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (thunnus thynnus) has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN’s “red list”) since 2011. But conservationists do not generally blame the almadraba for the species’ decline.
  2. Technology such as sonar tracking and huge vessels have brought stiff competition to traditional fishing methods such as the almadraba. Most research that I have seen in a web search equates overfishing to the larger, high-tech vessels and, ironically, to tuna farming—fishermen catch the young bluefin and then fatten them up in farms—rather than to traditional fishing methods such as almadraba.
  3. Do you like sushi? Japanese regard the cold-water Atlantic bluefin as the best fish in the world for sashimi, and atún rojo has turned the southern Spanish coast into a gastronomic destination. With prices for bluefin in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish auction higher than ever (you’ll remember one fish sold for $1.8 million in 2013), demand has skyrocketed, which has resulted in the overfishing.tuna2_l

Video of the raising of the nets:

Video of how the almadraba nets work, and a bit of history and geography:

Video of the levantá del atún, right through to the filleting of the meat:

What traditions in your culture are in danger of extinction? How do we determine if it’s time to let go of a practice and flow with the changing times, or hang on to our ancestral practices? And, what makes a tradition a tradition?

Remember How We Used To Celebrate? Culture and Holiday Rituals

image002

Photo from Martha Stewart

Below is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia.

Another year of enjoying Halloween in the USA just passed. Each year, I notice a bit more shifting of the traditions. For example, commercial haunted houses are proliferating; they seem to be a way for teenagers and young adults to express their Halloween fervor. These days, children don’t only go trick-or-treating around their own neighborhoods as when I was a kid, but often their parents will drive them to neighborhoods that are known to celebrate the evening more vivaciously. Many houses and yards are decorated more and more elaborately every year, probably analogous to the Olympic-grade “competitive” Christmas decorating seen in some parts of the US these days. It’s not just a jack-o-lantern on the porch anymore! And, living in Texas, I have noticed that, over the last five years or so, Mexican Day of the Dead-style imagery has become very popular and even somewhat trendy. (Sometimes I want to remind people that Christians already have two days of the dead, forgotten by many: All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2.

I look forward to Halloween and all the fall and winter holidays every year. Like most people over the age of, say, 30, I have fond memories of the way holidays were celebrated when I was a child, and contrast these memories with the way the holidays are celebrated today. But I never realized how intensely emotional and culturally bound these personal representations of holiday traditions are until I participated in an intercultural panel discussion of holidays, years ago, at a SIETAR meeting (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research).

modernmarketingjapan.blogspot.com

Photo from modernmarketingjapan.com

The discussion began with an Anglo-American woman telling the story of how the practically sacred—for her—ritual of decorating the Christmas tree was misunderstood by her Japanese immigrant husband. He saw it as merely one more task in the holiday preparations, like wrapping gifts or putting lights on the house. She didn’t understand his apparent indifference because the tree-trimming ritual was such a fundamental part of her assumptions about Christmas. This triggered an argument that neither of them really understood. This same woman was shocked to find out, sometime later, that one of her closest friends from a similar background also viewed tree-trimming as a task, rather than a pleasant ritual.

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Next, an African-American man related how his grown children had begun to insist on celebrating Kwanzaa, which he definitely wasn’t interested in. After a couple of years, he began to accept and enjoy it, and Kwanzaa eventually became an important new part of their family life together.

Photo from dawn.com

Photo from dawn.com

A Pakistani man told of how he felt excluded from the apparent “universal” joy of Christmas. He struggled to understand why small gifts were presented to children in socks—didn’t that seem unhygienic? (This upset some of the Christians in the group.) He also shared his feelings about the “universal” joy of Eid, and how that deep down, he couldn’t really understand the indifference of his US American friends and colleagues when Eid came around.

A Mexican-American woman found it puzzling how many Anglo-Americans celebrated Easter as a seemingly frivolous children’s holiday. To her, it was a solemn occasion. The Asians saw New Year’s as a time to be with family, rather than at the most glamorous or wildest party of the year. (Do any of the US Americans remember having a family New Year’s Day dinner, or do you still celebrate the holiday in that way??)

But for everyone in the room, the most touching moment was when a woman told her story of growing up mainstream Christian in the US, and how her parents converted to another sect when she was about ten years old. The new sect did not permit Christmas to be celebrated with gifts, decorations, feasting, and parties—it was a serious and purely religious event. As she told of how she and her brother had suddenly become walled off from all of the traditions, activities, images, music, and food surrounding their previous understanding of Christmas, she began to cry, having never had the chance to consciously mourn and articulate this loss. All of the hearts in the room were breaking for her: same holiday—different symbolism. At that moment, I realized just how truly profound a part of our being our cultural symbols of the holidays are. They are irrational, deep within us, and sometimes the source of surprisingly intense emotion.

Having the opportunity to verbalize, compare, and process these intimate personal and cultural meanings was a tremendously valuable experience for everyone in the room. Going beyond the “face value” of the symbols to their significance was a powerful bridge-building moment, and I think we all felt the universality and peace of the holidays a little more brightly that year.

Post-script: As I was writing this, I received a text from a friend in Japan about a “peanut bird wreath.” It was accompanied by a photo of a woman wearing a pin that consisted of a silver pine cone, a yellow ribbon, and a cluster of peanuts in their shells. My knee-jerk reaction, seeing the word “wreath” and a silver pine cone, was that this was some kind of Japanese interpretation of a Christmas item. I immediately thought, “The ribbon is not supposed to be yellow, and peanuts have nothing to do with Christmas.” A few moments later I received a follow-up text informing me that they were at the Bird Festival. Gomen nasai. I guess I am a cultural being!

3 Fundamental Skills for Intercultural (and Life) Effectiveness

Chef

A, B, C of intercultural effectiveness, and a film recommendation

For well over twenty years I travelled 25 days out of every month. I loved it. Always a new place, thriving off the energy of the people I had the pleasure of working with, each week or two entering a new industry and learning how things work. The fundamentals of human interaction that I dealt with did not vary significantly by industry; the content, however, did.

When my son was small, he and the nanny travelled with me. As he got older, he accompanied me. He sat through my training workshops, he accompanied me on some consulting gigs, and he enjoyed babysitters, daycare and children’s learning clubs around the world. Ten years ago, when my son was about eight, I began scaling back my travels. The impetus for scaling back was that my son was now old enough that it became challenging to take him out of school; he would miss too much. And, there was no way I was going to miss his childhood! An additional reality was that the constant travel was ruining my health, I always felt tired, and, I was honestly just ready for a change.

So, I stopped the 25 days/month travel schedule. It was difficult to say “no” to interesting and high-paying work, but I’d set my priority. I started staying home. I started a small publishing project (Cultural Detective). I absolutely loved it. I was now able to take time to cook regularly, a passion I love. I was able to exercise daily, and meet new people locally via exercise classes and groups. I was able to go out for coffee with girlfriends, and to be present for friends’ major life events—so many things I’d missed when I travelled a lot. Of course, I also missed the travel, and seeing my far away friends.

Now, when I occasionally travel (every couple of months), I find myself grateful for the experience rather than resentful. The journey is enjoyable again. Thus, on a recent flight to Vienna, I relished having two seats to myself. I was grateful for the free-flowing, high-quality red wine on Tirolian/Austrian Air. I read the in-flight magazines on two different airlines and got several blog post ideas. And I very much enjoyed watching a Blended Culture movie entitled, Chef.

The film is an enjoyable reminder of some fundamental intercultural competencies and life truths…

Chef is a 2014 movie starring Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr., about a chef whose family and career have both become frustratingly dull. He’s caught up in the busy-ness that can be modern life, and failing to pick up on the cues that his relationships and creativity require a major shift. He reminded me a bit of myself, actually. Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Going through the motions, not paying enough attention to what really matters, focusing primarily on accomplishing all the tasks on your plate?

In true Hollywood style, by the end of the movie the chef figures it all out, and happiness reigns as the credits roll. Along the way, the film is an enjoyable reminder of some fundamental intercultural competencies and life truths.
  1. Attentiveness: Stay alert to what’s around you (family, friends, work environment), as well as to what’s inside you (your passions, talents and desires). Prioritize your activities so that you feed what’s important to you and minimize that which diminishes you. Staying externally attentive will help ensure that you adapt appropriately in cross-cultural situations, while internal attentiveness will help ensure that you do not lose yourself, your ethics and your talents, in the process.
  2. Bravery: Don’t be afraid to take risks. There are many euphemisms for failing to do what we know we need to do: “going through the motions,” “paying the bills,” “not rocking the boat,” “keeping one’s head low.” Staying true to oneself and what you know to be “right” often requires bravery and trust. I’ve seen many times that foreigners or outsiders can effect positive and needed change to a system when old-timers can not. I’ve worked with many people who try so hard to “fit in” to cross-cultural situations that they lose who they are, their authenticity. Be brave enough to adapt, and be brave enough to be yourself.
  3. Creativity: If you’re not feeling energized, if you fail to see connections between the different areas of your daily life, if you’re not frequently generating ideas, experimenting with innovative projects, or exploring new territory, take note. You are probably pushing and trying to do too much too quickly. Slow down, step off the rat race, refresh, restore and recuperate. You are far too precious, and your insights and talents are too needed, in this world of ours. How can any of us bridge cultures if we don’t have access to our innate creativity? And, let’s remember: it takes all of us to be creative if we are to form a truly inclusive society or organization.

That went well.. not! Meeting the victims

Dianne Hofner Saphiere:

So happy that the families are exercising their voices, and their indignation. I applaud their success in getting Mexico’s President to, for the first time ever, put his official signature on a document of this type. I pray that my adopted country (Mexico) can find its way toward equity and justice. Remember that egalitarianism is one of the core values of Blended Culture people, for precisely this reason. Every life is valuable, we all have contributions to share, without each of them the puzzle will not fit together. Intercultural competence demands we fight corruption and power imbalances.

Originally posted on The Mex Files:

I seldom translate news articles any more not only because I have too much to do, but because Mexico Voices more often than not picks up the same stories I would have translated, and generally does a much better job.  And, is able to get them posted much sooner than I could.

Jane Brundage translated Blanche Petrich’s report that appeared in yesterday’s Jornada on the meeting between the parents of the disappeared Ayotzinada students, the widow of the student killed (and skinned), and a few other victims of state-tolerated (or perhaps state-sanctioned) terrorism.  What appears from the article is that while the adminstration attempted to spin this as an “message: we care” moment, bringing in those survivors and victims are a tougher lot than was anticipated.

There was not a single moment of relaxation during Wednesday’s (October 29) meeting at Los Pinos. Not one smile, not a single “thank you…

View original 582 more words

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.