Friday, February 05, 2010

Understanding intercultural misunderstandings

This is a funny video with a strong message. I found it through the blog of Raf Stevens. Watch it first if you have the time (2,5 minutes). It shows what a mental framework or 'schema' is and how it can lead to misunderstandings.

If you can't relate a conversation to your own experiences, it often makes no sense at all. When people talk from different mental frameworks, it is easy to misinterpret what is being said. Did you think it was about washing cloth or did you already have another interpretation?

This type of misinterpretation happens a lot in intercultural communications (intercultural communications can be between people from different nationalities, but also from different neighbourhoods or disciplines..). So any conversation where the mental framework is very different you have to be aware of this possible misunderstanding which is always around the corner. An example (but after 10 years in different countries I have many ofcourse..): I have a close Ethiopian friend who lives in the united states. When we visited her she locked herself out of the house. The way you deal with it, the decisions you make are very much tight to your framework. We prefered to pay a locksmith to allow us to enter the house. She prefered to call a friend and stay there. Only if you are aware of the fact that your reference frames differ so much, you can work through your differences (though you may still get conflicts...) It happened to us too when we did an assignment for a research program. We didn't know the schema from the research program and what we wrote down was misinterpreted, leading to frustrations on both sides. In this case neither party invested in resolving the misunderstandings.

What to do? When you are talking or presenting, assess how different the framework of the others might be.. A management view can also be very different from an employee's view. Try to make your own framework clear, by using stories that illustrate your own experiences. Try to talk about practical examples and try to avoid jargon...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Briljant! (zit je blog ff na te pluizen voor m'n onderzoekje.) Dit filmpje ga ik voor m'n colleges gebruiken om aan te geven hoe moeilijk het is om kennis te delen in dispersed, internationale organizaties (of communities). Ofwel, het 'situated' karakter van kennis.

Vond die van de muppets overigens ook geweldig, die gebruiken we vanavond ook voor een college. ;) Tx!