Has this happened to you? What are your thoughts around this scenario? What emotions start to overwhelm you as you read it?
If you’ve lived in only one culture your whole life, you know that the people around you “get you” by the way they react to your thoughts, words, emotions, and actions.
“Typically most people are in the habit of thinking that behavior has inherent meaning, something attached to the behavior that enables people to understand it; that somehow makes it mean this and not that. In fact, for all practical purposes, an instance of behavior has no particular meaning other than what the people who witness that behavior assign to it. In short, behavior means what we decide it to mean – and very often it means nothing that all.” (Storti, 1999)
Using the scenario above, consider this: how would this behavior be interpreted by someone from a culture where people always arrive half an hour after the stated starting time? How would this behavior be interpreted by someone from a culture where people always show up for the meeting five minutes before the stated starting time?
Since the scenario above happens with two people from different cultures, the meaning they place on the behavior will have multiple interpretations until a common definition is understood by all parties involved with the behavior. How is a common definition agreed upon by all parties in a way that doesn’t unintentionally offend others?
Here are seven steps to complete in order to reach a common definition of an observed behavior:
Learning to adapt to how other cultures, and people within cultures, view behaviors is an effective skill set to have when working with multiple countries.
Even though something may be “true” in your culture or perspective doesn’t mean that it’s a universal “truth” which is applicable to everyone. I encourage you to give yourself space to pause for the other person, learn something new before jumping to a conclusion or unmet expectation. It will only benefit your intercultural communication in the long run.