domingo, 10 de fevereiro de 2013

Diferenças interculturais

Whirling Dervishes

Intercultural Listening

All of the listening we do is cross-cultural to some extent. No matter how well we think we know or resonate with someone, we have not grown up in their skin. We have different values, beliefs, behavioral norms, or world-views. Add to that different genders, ages, personality types and astrological signs (grin), and even a conversation with a best friend can seem cross-cultural.
That makes listening to someone who is literally from a different culture—grew up in a different country, lives by different ethnic values, speaks a different language—a significantly more complex task.
But before we can really explore intercultural listening, we must first understand how we process and interpret our own culture.
Mental maps
We all use mental maps to understand the world around us. Those maps, which are embedded with our assumptions, knowledge, and biases, start forming at an incredibly young age. Our maps trigger certain expectations about the content of the information coming in from external sources – including another speaker – as well as how we perceive and process those incoming messages.
Using our individualized maps, we automatically direct our attention to different aspects of what we’re hearing. The more closely the incoming information is associated with the values, attitudes, and beliefs of our map, the more it can affect how we perceive someone of another culture, especially someone who holds different values, attitudes, and beliefs. Invariably, our mental map will influence the way we process verbal and non-verbal messages during intercultural listening.
 Western culture
The influence of culture on communication is especially prominent when considering differences between Western and non-Western cultures. In general, Western cultures emphasize speaking more than listening. Westerners take listening for granted, assuming it comes naturally.
In contrast, many non-Western cultures value listening over speaking. Listening is very important in some African cultures, for example, in which it has been perfected over time by oral traditions of passing culture through tonal stories from one generation to the next. Some non-Western cultures even have rituals and ceremonies that honor listening. Like the Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi tradition who focus on listening to music (and to God) to keep their balance while twirling.
Intercultural awareness
Increasing intercultural awareness is key to listening to people of cultures other than our own. Our culture defines us. In his chapter on intercultural listening in Listening in Everyday Life: a Personal & Professional Approach, 2nd Edition, (edited by Michael Purdy and Deborah Borisoff, 1997), T. Dean Thomlinson says, “The most significant influence on our communication is culture. It is the foundation for all human interaction because we screen every incoming message through the perceptual filter of our culture.” This entwinement of culture with listening emphasizes the importance of sharpening our intercultural awareness if we want to understand what we hear as the other-culture speaker intended it.
U.S. versus other cultures
Dr. Thomlison proposes the use of a 13-point model as the basis for improving communication between Americans and non-Americans.  The model, which was developed by Robert Kohls, contrasts U.S. cultural norms with those of other cultures.
I include here a summary of Kohl’s 13 value categories alongside coinciding listening tips developed by Dr. Thomlison:
  1. Personal control. Non-Westerners often perceive people from the U. S. as outgoing, assertive, and extremely talkative. Other cultures do not share Americans’ love of control, especially Americans’ perceived control over nature. When listening to people of other cultures, we must not judge them as lazy, ignorant or disinterested because they do not share our interest in control.
  2. Change. Though most Americans embrace change and associate it with progress, other cultures rely heavily on tradition, folklore or heritage, and regard change as potentially threatening. But, as listeners, we must remember that even those who do not value change as we do can be open to new ideas and create innovative, relevant solutions.
  3. Time. For most Americans, time is of the essence, even when it comes at the expense of interpersonal relationships. But listeners must remember that people from less time-bound cultures are not necessarily slow, irresponsible, uneducated or uninterested.
  4. Equality. People in the U.S. believe everyone, despite status, should have an equal opportunity to succeed. Though a laudable virtue, some cultures use class, birthright, or rank to determine place in society. It is important to understand and show deference for societal positions when listening and responding to non-Westerners.
  5. Individualism/privacy. Americans find individualism desirable. They live in a country in which the law protects personal freedoms and individual rights. But, in some cultures, the individual is secondary to village, family or community, and privacy is coveted. Cross-cultural listening with members of these cultures is usually more effective if one genuinely inquires about family or group members when appropriate in the conversation.
  6. Self-help. Many other cultures do not share the significance Americans place on personal accomplishment and self-driven achievement. Much of the rest of the world believes that we are born into our place in life and that our status has little to do with our own initiative. To avoid seeming boastful or arrogant in listening or responding to those from selfless cultures, it is important to be aware of the relative position of self in their culture.
  7. Competition. Americans are uniquely competitive in nearly all walks of life—money, education, career, sports, and so on. The challenge for Americans is refraining from competitive listening in intercultural conversations. Instead of contemplating a more challenging question or superior response as a intercultural listener, it’s best instead to listen between the lines where non-competitive speakers often disclose some of the most meaningful responses.
  8. Future Orientation. Americans are generally good planners and goal setters. But future oriented positions can be anathema to traditional cultures, such as the Moslem culture.  Intercultural listeners must listen for differences in these deep-seated conceptual values to avoid applying their own expectations to listener responses.
  9. Action/Work Orientation. People in the U.S. are driven by a strong work ethic and need to get things done. Other cultures savor the journey more than the destination. Patience is a virtue if you engage in intercultural listening. To be effective, we must honor the relationship as much as we do the end goal when listening in conversation.
  10. Informality. Comparatively speaking, people in the U.S. are less formal to those in other countries. This informality can be interpreted as rude or disrespectful  by non-Western cultures. A successful intercultural listener is aware of the communication etiquette and protocol of the speaker’s culture and makes necessary adjustments in greeting, dress, and interaction to ensure open communication channels.
  11. Directness/Openness/Honesty. Frank openness can be threatening or introduce the possibility of losing face for those in other cultures. This is especially true if the message has negative connotations or contains bad news. The most polite and effective intercultural conversation sometimes require listening between the words for what cannot be openly expressed.
  12. Practicality/Efficiency. Americans are nothing if not practical. We value efficiency, rational decision-making, and a bottom-line approach. But, when listening in other cultures, our practical, no-nonsense approach can short-circuit the speaker’s message. We can learn more by listening with interest and curiosity than with a rational problem-solving mindset.
  13. Materialism. Few cultures consume material goods to the extent that Americans do. In some Middle Eastern countries, spirituality and friendship trump possession so strongly that a compliment given will often result in the individual gifting the possession to the admirer. In general, relationships are more important to effective intercultural listening than material aspects such as an expensive meal, luxurious accommodations, or considerable honorarium.
Paul McCartney said: “I used to think that anyone doing something weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people who call others weird who are weird.” It’s true. Our judgments and personal biases (imbedded in our mental maps) are the weirdest thing about us.  They are also the biggest impediment to cross-cultural listening.
Thankfully, with guidelines like those developed by Kohl and Thomlinson, we have a much better chance of understanding the weird mental maps we develop about those from other cultures.

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