As organizational effectiveness consultants, diversity and inclusion practitioners, or as intercultural trainers, educators and coaches, so much of what we do is to help people learn to manage differences. “Either-or” thinking is appropriate when there are answers that are independently correct. Do we need to get to the top of the mountain? A helicopter, hiking, tram, or driving are all possible “correct” solutions to our problem. What shall we eat for our lunch together? We both may enjoy sushi, tacos, or lasagna; a choice is probably much better than eating them all in the same meal.
Solutions to many of the issues that face us in daily life, however, involve the interdependence of two or more “right” answers. Children should learn to share and to take care of themselves. A new business may need to build market share (which requires ongoing investment) and get a return on its initial investment. An NGO needs to follow global protocol and provide services in a locally appropriate manner. A teacher needs to correct students and encourage them. These are not either-or choices; the “correct” answer involves “both-and” thinking—the type of thinking that Ash Beckham discusses in the video below.
But such thinking—holding contradictory ideas simultaneously and accepting them both as “correct” and even “necessary”—is often distrusted. It is sometimes seen as evasive or indecisive. George Orwell coined a name for it with a very negative connotation: “doublethink,” which was the result of brainwashing by the state in his novel, 1984. “Both-and” thinking requires more effort, and involves mental and sometimes also emotional stress. Thus, we get the term “cognitive dissonance.”
“Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” —wikipedia
That’s why the work of interculturalists and diversity and inclusion professionals is so very important. Working or living together effectively involves give-and-take; it is a process. There is not one “right” way and one “wrong” way. Sometimes we may do it your way, sometimes my way, and hopefully, many times, we are creating better, more innovative, effective, and enjoyable ways to do whatever it is we need to do, by using the unique talents that all of us have to offer. And that, of course, is what Cultural Detective is all about—learning how to collaborate and work together, while recognizing that there are often many “right” ways to get things done!
Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up