The discrepancy between understanding and identification in inter-cultural communication


What do we need to know about other people's background? The best way of understanding other cultures is not to learn all their habits or aspects by heart nor to become part of them yourself, because judgements and deems seem to appear quite easily.

More relevant, however, is questioning the necessity to try understanding cultures regardless. If you ask me, every culture has its positive values and its downsides compared to Western standards. How do we look on an individual who comes from a (slightly) different background? Do we beset their motivation (to come over to our country) with questions about their meals, national football team and politics? Unfortunately, I am afraid these are not always appreciated. They come over to our region in order to participate in an international project, to experience the professional relationships on a level that exceeds the specific cultural differences, or it merely exists 'next to' the cultural contrasts that do not necessarily need to be set aside. The question is merely 'is it relevant to take cultures and backgrounds in account anyway'?

There is a quite longwinded description of the 'Nasirema', with a considerably primitive overtone. I will spare you the explanation, because there is no such people like the 'Nasirema' ('Americans' inverted). The inventor(s) of the story behind the 'Nasirema' wanted to mock with the idea of forming a complete profile depending on a sole point of view. When I listened to it as a class experiment, I actually did not care a lot about the details, because I noticed their stupidity after a while. It just makes clear that the lack of a fact-checking attitude is a daunting reality with many amongst us. Moreover, what do we think ourselves about someone? Then, which judgements can we make in a less biased way? Does another individual side or appreciate these collective values at all? Perhaps we tend to digg too deeply into specific information for a profound understanding of another's culture.

The real understanding of the people we deal with should be based on their presence, their actions, their individual point of views. I am thus far from an individualist, but my message is predominantly to be aware of the person who stands right in front of you. Identifying this person with his point of view and his qualities, means in my opinion a more successful inter-cultural communication. You are not labelling him as 'who he is supposed to be', but rather considering him as 'who he is'.

In conclusion, if we want to build a professional relationship with other-cultural people, we should avoid making them feel 'comfortable' by means of talking in their language, making their typical food, talking about their culture... We need to have our eye on one other's fields of interest. Like this we can prevent utterly awkward situations, in which our 'other-cultural' conversation partner could regard us as an annoying host.

1 opmerking:

  1. I agree that you should focus on the person standing in front of you and what their point of view is. However, and this is where we disagree, I do believe that cultural background and your personal history determine these things. And that sense it is very important to have this cultural knowledge to better understand the basis of somebody's ideas and opinions.