How to Get Along with People of Any Culture
(C) By Azzedine Mezbache Ph.D.
Many of the problems between people of different cultures are the result of a lack of knowledge about cross‑cultural communication. We assume that just because someone from another culture is dressed appropriately and speaks the language more or less correctly, he or she has as well the same nonverbal codes, thoughts and feelings. In reality, even smile doesn't mean the same thing everywhere in the world. Consider this example. A Japanese student in the U.S. reported:
"On my way to and from school I have received a smile by non‑acquaintance American girls several times. I have learnt they have no interest for me; it means only a kind of greeting to a foreigner. If someone smiles at a stranger in Japan, especially a girl, she can assume he is either a sexual maniac or an impolite person."
Bear in mind that although you don't have to go out of your way to try to understand how someone from another culture feels or thinks, knowledge of cross‑cultural communication makes for smooth intercultural relationships. To minimize intercultural misunderstandings and enhance success in intercultural relationships, remember these 10 useful guidelines.
1. Hold the assumption that no matter what culture a person comes from, people are basically good.
2. See people first, representative of cultures second. This implies resisting the temptation to stereotype people of other cultures. A common stereotype is "the Japanese are inscrutable" because they tend to wear a constant and inappropriate smile or "the Arabs are inflammable" because they tend to talk a little bit louder that we do. By stereotyping we reduce the threat of the unknown by making the world predictable. But these stereotypes interfere with seeing these people as they really are. When you feel the urge to stereotype, step back and let your curiosity push you past the stereotype or judgment to the land of "How interesting."
3. Recognize that your own knowledge, perceptions and beliefs are valid only for yourself and not for everyone else. Recognize that every one's point of view is relative rather than absolute, and that no one has monopoly of the truth. Show empathy for other points of view and put yourself in the other person's shoes.
4. Be aware of discrepancies between what people say and what they actually mean. For example people from many cultures may say "yes" just to be polite. That doesn't mean they agree. Also in a conversation, a person from another culture may not understand what you say and still nod and agree as if he or she understands you. In reality the person is being polite and doesn't want you to repeat what you just said.
5. Avoid making moralistic and evaluative judgments in encounters with others. If for example someone from another culture exhibits what you think is "inappropriate" behavior, just assume you don't know enough about the other person's cultural heritage to make the "usual" judgments. To dissipate your own anxiety you may laugh off or try to ignore the "strange" behavior unless it's explicitly dangerous or physically threatening to you or others.
6. Be honest and start discussions with subjects which are non‑threatening to the other party. In many cultures, (e.g., the Arabs and the Chinese) sexual references are to be avoided. With the French, avoid political topics.
7. Communicate respect, positive regard, encouragement and sincere interest in the other culture. When people talk about their own cultures, listen well. People quickly develop respect and friendship for those who show interest in their cultures.
8. Avoid binary thinking (things are either black or white). This is a mistake in intercultural contacts. You may become very frustrated trying to convince someone that things are either black or white. So it's better to admit there are grey areas to any issue. This requires a great deal of tolerance for ambiguity.
9. Learn to be comfortable being different from other people and laugh at your mistakes. This shows others you have inner security and you are able to bounce back.
10. Think of cultures not as right or wrong but just different. Say to yourself "We have our culture. They have theirs. Ours works for us. Theirs works for them. There is no right or wrong. There are only differences." Our problem today is how to work together, not how to become alike. Abstain from using your cultural yardstick to judge other cultures. This implies the capacity to be open-minded, flexible and tolerant.
These guidelines can help you get along and make friends with people of other cultures. In these uncertain times, we need enough people who can act as links between diverse cultural systems, people who consider themselves "mediating planetary citizens," who believe in the common unity of mankind, membership in international networks and the relativism of values.
Pour plus d’informations
DR. AZZEDINE MEZBACHE
Membre, SARPSY, Algerie.
Président, Diversity Plus;
Psychologue du travail/des Organisations.
+213 (0)6 62 91 38 40 (mobile)
+213 (0)6 59 45 49 20 (mobile)