Intercultural communication is about how we can communicate effectively with one another. A frequent approach to improving intercultural communication is to develop our understanding of ourselves and of others. And probably the most common way of doing that is to teach about cultural differences, often referred to as the “dimensions of culture.”
There are many different versions of the dimensions of culture. I generally find them valuable as tools to help us compare cultures, or to cognitively learn about ourselves and others. And I also find they really limit us. While not intended this way, their use has a tendency to reify culture, to cause us to think about culture as a “thing” rather than a process. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Cultural Detective Worksheet: it’s a process for understanding self and others, for leveraging similarities and differences in order to collaborate in more innovative, rewarding, and satisfying ways.
Enough about that. This post is about cultural differences. In my training one of the ways I talk about cultural differences is to ask people to think of them as a map of the terrain, and to use them as a scanning tool. In a given interaction, which difference(s) got in the way? For example, was status important for her and not for me, and I just missed it? Was it a different sense of responsibility that really upset me? Maybe he likes to do several things at once, and I’m more one-thing-at-a-time? Was it the fact that I don’t think religion belongs in the workplace that caused him to think I’m not trustworthy?
That is how the map above came to be. It is a graphic summary of some of the cultural differences or dimensions, at least as I saw them back in 2008. It is available for you to use freely under a Creative Commons license. You can introduce the various cultural differences to your team and then, when you get mired in cross-cultural miscommunication, you can take out your map of differences and decipher just which dimension might be causing the problem. Or, maybe it’s something not even on the map.
Just click on the link above for a larger image, and to download the accompanying 11-page article entitled, “Detecting the Culprits of Miscommunication: Values, Actions and Beliefs.” Please feel free to copy and distribute, as long as you retain the copyright and source url.
I’m really interested to hear from you about how you use the dimensions of culture to promote effective interaction. What are your tools and techniques? Your dos and don’ts? And what do you think about this “map of the culprits of miscommunication” idea?