A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. – Lao Tzu
Back in May ’21, when we (i.e., Team BCFAI) decided to host a new blog series on Intercultural Communication (a topic close to all our hearts), we weren’t certain what would come our way. We hoped for anecdotes and insights (most certainly). These anecdotes were to provide all trainers with more stories and examples.
But what we have gained, now, as we conclude the series is, a feeling of solidarity (we’ve been on one of those boats of cultural miscommunication) and of course, a whole lot of learning.
Milestones in Ishita’s journey…
When we started the ‘Elephant in the Room’ series, I didn’t know what to expect. 3 months and 10 blogs later, I can confidently say that I was drawn in by how varied each writer’s experiences were and what richness in perspectives they brought out with their anecdotes.
In summary of my take-aways from the series, I quote the lines that I found most perceptive and thought-provoking:
“Openness? Does this exist in every culture? Is it possible for all learners in the international classroom to be open? In front of people, they barely know?” – Vanessa Paisley
“The masks were off and the elephant had just blown its trumpet loud and clear. What a wonderful, tangible illustration of how topics that are considered public in some cultures are reserved for the inner circle in others.” – Sunita Nichani
“Could positive stereotypes effectively replace negative ones, or did they only add a layer on top of what continued to lie underneath?” – Sujata Banerjee
“Each culture has certain unsaid norms and practices which are best learnt through experience. […] The more we push ourselves outside our comfort zone and interact with others, the better we would be at knowing what to expect in such conversations.” – Achint Kaur
Here’s hoping the EIR blog series was one added ‘experience’ in your intercultural journey!
Personally, I related quite hard to what Ms Kaur said in her blog “Our understanding of different cultures is often limited to the portrayal on media and our social conditioning” – how true that is! When I went to NYC on a client project during my stint at an MNC (a long time ago), I had an image of an America – an image that was constructed from those Archie digests and HBO movies I mentioned in the opening blog. Turns out, that was not the most accurate image of the country. Lesson learnt!
The moral of the series, dear readers, is – communication is the key to success. Cultural literacy and awareness, meanwhile, are the ingredients for perfecting said communication. Be open, be respectful, and above all, be accepting of cultures not your own. That is one of the best ways to avoid being the Elephant in the Room.
Intercultural communication is a fascinating subject for every trainer. The more you are exposed to anecdotes and stories of miscommunication, the more you learn.
Words that hit home…..
“Globalization may have made us closer to each other, but only meaningful communication can actually break barriers.”
“While there will always be a cultural difference, I believe it is important not to lose perspective. It helps us avoid a ton of misunderstandings in day-to-day communications.”
“What a wonderful, tangible illustration of how topics that are considered public in some cultures are reserved for the inner circle in others.”
“Living and working in the Netherlands has made me look at my own self objectively. I find that I’m a reserved communicator - someone who is not very direct. One can attribute it to my Eastern Asian roots.”
The EIR series ran the whole gamut – humor, embarrassment, confusion, conflict, ignorance, assumptions, stereotypes, fantasy-worlds – all were stories based on personal experience.
I found three recurring themes across blogs, the first being an open, transparent approach. With full honesty, intercultural communicators turned the lens on themselves, even when it meant showing themselves as frail human beings grappling with the unknown. Yet no value judgment was attached. We all start somewhere and that somewhere may be a minefield of errors – but…so be it.
The next theme was about consistent effort – if one way failed, another one needed to be tried. In some cases, leaving assumptions behind worked, for others it was refusing to get blinded by what was familiar. Some felt perspective was the main attribute while some turned the spotlight on specific parts of language. Some others felt a paradigm shift was needed – not just doing things differently but doing different things.
The final recurring theme was co-accountability. Whatever the process, all felt co-accountable for the outcome of their interactions. And therein lay the crux of the matter. There is a dynamic space within communication where both or all locuteurs become equally responsible for a successful outcome. Feeling accountable for successful communication shows a sense of responsibility but understanding that one is co-accountable shows the maturity that is needed to spot those elephants in the room.
We are delighted with the response to our blog series – Elephant in the room. Given the encouraging response to the series, we hope to have a Season 2, season 3 and so on in future years!!!