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Culture…sneaks up on us, and we tend to make decisions based on our cultural background rather than trying to understand the cultural background of the other person first.
One of the best things my mother ever taught me was to, as she used to say, “put the best construction on everything”. By that she meant that you should always choose to interpret someone’s comments or actions in the best light possible. But the thing I’ve slowly been realising, and that Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections has reinforced, is just how easy it is to assume you know all possible interpretations of a situation. Even if you put (your) best construction on a situation, chances are you’re going to misinterpret it!
Instead of making the best possible judgement from within our cultural frame of reference, Elmer suggests that what’s necessary is the suspension of judgement “until we have made deliberate attempts to understand”. Expect not to understand. Don’t leap to conclusions, but pause, ask questions, listen to the answers you’re given, be genuinely interested in someone else’s story.
This is true not just in cross-cultural situations… it is so easy to feel like I understand exactly what my family means by every facial twitch, yet simultaneously believe that they don’t understand me at all.