With Meena Wilson and Ancella Livers from the Center for Creative Leadership, we collected short stories describing cross-cultural encounters, to look at crosscultural issues in communities of practice. The term cross-cultural was not restrictricted to national cultures, but included professional subcultures. From the stories 10 important themes surfaced, but the theme on emotions has stuck with me, more than the other themes. I thought about it again because I received two angry e-mails, or rather, I perceived the sender to be angry. Thinking about our stories made it much easier not to get upset and to realize that you don't know what's behind it.
The stories revealed that cross-cultural encounters can induce strong emotional reactions. Behaviour of a person can easily be misinterpreted and emotions are diplayed in cultures in different ways. (this reminds me that my colleague from Ivory Coast yesterday told me the story of a Dutch person reacting very undercooled to winning a huge sum of money, saying, 'oh, that's nice'!). 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 themes which emerged 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 openess 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.