Cross-cultural conversations

Today I came across a post at Communities of Practice for Development that I found very interesting as it discusses something that has been particularly relevant for me over the past couple of weeks: cross-cultural interactions. The writer discusses the results of a survey she did of short stories describing cross-cultural encounters. The recurring “theme” that stood out for her was that

cross-cultural encounters can induce strong emotional reactions. Behavior of a person can easily be misinterpreted and emotions are displayed in cultures in different ways. […] Hence, acknowledging the importance of emotions is an important intercultural competency. The emotions are not only negative, but also positive, excitement and laughter also played a big role in the stories.

The other recurring themes were:

* It helps to have, find or stress common goals and commitment – common practices and passions like in communities of practice can go a long way;
* Attention for communication protocols is important for facilitators of the process (language, translations, explanation of meanings, non-verbal clues);
* Being open and willing to learn about yourself and the others is important personal characteristic which facilitates working through any differences;
* It helps to have cultural brokers, people who understand different sides of the story;
* Asking for, providing and receiving feedback is important yet perilous. Perilous because also practices of asking and giving feedback may vary;
* Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings is important as they can not be prevented. Hence the ability to work through conflicts is more important than trying to prevent them at all costs;
* Respect and openness for other people and other practices is almost the basis, but goes with developing the ability to suspend (quick) judgment;
* Trust is critical to maintaining intercultural relationships. Trust is difficult to earn but can be easily squandered by incidents that seem insignificant to some, but hugely important to others. Though there is also the concept of ‘imported trust’, trust people bring along from their previous experiences.

I know that, being a foreigner living in Armenia, I am interacting cross-culturally all the time (duhuh!), but there are some reasons in particular why especially at this moment it is an interesting topic for me. At the seminar I attended a couple of weeks ago we had many interesting conversations about cultural differences, how they affect the interaction between people, how to deal with these differences if and when they become an obstacle in that interaction, how to be the leader of a group with people from different cultures and nationalities, etc.

The other reason why I found this post interesting is because I am currently having some problems with the president of an NGO I was/am (?? Unclear situation at the moment) involved in. I will not get into the details here, but in my interpretation two things lie at the basis of the conflict. The first being the widely differing expectations that both parties had of each other and of the cooperation. The second one being differences in the ways of communicating of me and this other woman. I have to admit they are very stereotypical. I was using the Dutch approach: straightforward, no beating around the bush, “business-like”, a getting-things-done approach. The other woman was using the -I would say- more Armenian approach: less direct, trying not to hurt the other person, a more “social” approach. I am not saying that one or the other approach is better, but looking back it was probably almost inevitable that we would clash at some point. This particular cross-cultural interaction is one that I will learn definitely from.

The full post can be found here.

4 thoughts on “Cross-cultural conversations

  1. Thanks Myrthe, I feel very flattered to be quoted!

    Do you happen to know Pascal Bokkers, a friend of mine living in Armenia?

  2. No, I don’t know him. Does he live in Yerevan? There are not that many Dutch people living in Yerevan, less than twenty that I know of. Elsewhere in the country, there are probably a few other Dutch, but not many!

  3. This is a very useful information. Thanks Myrthe.

    And I am sorry to hear what happened to you. You live ‘n you learn. Eh.

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