Below are some notes and reflections on the first two days of the course that I am taking with Jack Condon and Nagesh Rao – Facilitating Intercultural Discovery – as well as some other evening sessions that I have attended.
Intercultural skills are becoming more and more necessary in all facets of our lives; however, we are instinctively more drawn to people who are similar to us so finding ways to allow and challenge ourselves to reach out of our comfort zone is going to be imperative to our future success. Any job is most likely intercultural regardless of the title. Global leaders in any field: (1) are “watchers;” (2) care about stakeholders and pulling them together to resolve issues; and (3) know when culture matters and when it does not. As Elmer Dixon said, “Is it a difference that makes a difference?”
Every day we make assumptions and create our own explanations to stimuli based on our experiences and our social conditioning. “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” We need to work together to create a space that enables more than one story, more than one perspective, and more than one explanation.
As any corporation, and diversity is a major initiative; therefore, learning how to understand, manage, develop, and retain diverse talent is a must. In its most basic form, there are four circles of culture: personality, primary considerations (things that you cannot change easily and are recognizable by others), secondary considerations (things that you can control about yourself and others wouldn’t necessarily know), and organizational considerations. These four circles and all of their components affect us in both personal and professionals ways including how we work together and what we value. Furthermore, many of the characteristics that are important to people are not readily identifiable to others (ie. they are not primary considerations). Therefore, we must invite conversations with others in order to understand more fully.
Questions are a useful tool for facilitating intercultural discovery; however, it has been well documented that the person who is asking the questions sets the agenda and has the power. There is also power in silence. So not only must we learn how to ask questions, but also how to listen and listen with our whole self.
Objects can also be a forum to mediate conversation between people of different cultures. The process of naming objects can make us blind by failing to see the possibilities of the particular object and opening our minds to potential uses or explanations.
Play is an important part of intercultural discovery. A state of play allows you to explore what is possible. According to Stuart Brown, “Play is more than fun.” Play facilitates creativity, not only in children, but also in adults. “Creativity is as important as literacy,” said Sir Kenneth Robinson. One cannot be creative and try something new unless that person is prepared to be wrong. Educational systems from across the world have created hierarchy across subject material where STEM subjects such as math or science are valued more highly than arts, music, drama, or dance. Intelligence comes in many forms. It is dynamic, interactive, and highly varied; however, our educational system focuses almost solely on educating our left brain. There is a great video that we watched that discussed these ideas: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html.
We must work to ensure accurate understanding and allow space for educating, developing, and empowering people. As Edward T. Hall said, “Perception is what you intend to do about something.” We need to create our network of others and understand what they can bring to the table: Are they connectors? Are they mavens? Or salespeople? Can they bring us closer to where we want to go? As Malcolm Gladwell as articulated in The Tipping Point, many people have many more connections and ties with others, but those ties are weaker than they have been in the past. Now we may have 500 friends (weak ties) on Facebook, and have only a few (strong ties) friends in “real life.” Even though these ties are not as strong as before, it allows us to know many more people and connect at different levels across the globe creating a strong force that we can harness and use to our advantage.
Intercultural discovery is not a one-day workshop. It is a life-long commitment to learning, growing, and developing ourselves as a human being because after all this is about US. It is not about you or anyone else, this is an introspective process based on our experiences and learning.