A Four Step Approach to Prevent Cultural Misunderstanding
“Know that you don’t know”
Assume difference until similarity is proven rather than assuming similarity until difference is proven.
Emphasize DESCRIPTION by observing what is actually said and done. DO NOT interpret or evaluate.
(Describing a situation is the most accurate way to gather information about it. Interpretation and evaluation, unlike description, are based more on the observer’s own culture and background than on the observed situation.) See Ladders of Inference for more insight into this cross-cultural challenge.
Attempt to see the situation through the eyes of the other person. Ask yourself “What would have to be true for this behavior to make sense?”. Knowing the of your culture and the other persons culture (the cultural differences), will enable you to answer this question.
Treat the explanation you have developed in Step Three as a hypothesis and verify it with your colleagues both home and abroad, and if possible with the other person.
The four steps are a paraphrasing of an approach suggested by Nancy Adler.
Making It Work!
An additional step is needed to take advantage of the first four. Once behaviors are properly understood, work with the other person to establish common goals and acceptable approaches and behaviors.