The world is full of people from different cultures, sub-cultures, value structures and education styles. Every day you are forced to interact with these people, and each has a specific method of interacting. They each approach problems in their own way. This is actually quite fantastic, because it enables us to make discoveries others thought impossible. It allows us to offer new ideas to help each other and to make progress. The more ways we can think about something, the easier it becomes to find the links between ideas. If we all approached everything the exact same way it would be very easy for a problem to stump the whole community.
When it comes to interpersonal interaction it is easy to forget this idea. We take things personally, or we become focused on being right instead of solving the problem. Say you make a suggestion in a meeting, and the new guy ruthlessly shoots it down. He is flat out mean and offensive. Naturally, you start to dislike him and you begin to reject what he says, even if he includes valid reasons in his rant. Now take the same situation, but this time you know that he comes from a culture where all brainstorming is a loud argumentative free for all. Now you can realize he isn’t being mean, it’s just the way he is. It’s nothing personal. You may not like it, but you can still look beyond the method he is using and see the validity of his argument. In the real world, this happens much more subtly. It is why someone “just rubs you the wrong way” or you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with someone. Differing cultures and value structures can exacerbate these issues. It is a large reason why we draw lines between races – it is a visual way to predict the cultural or value differences that make us feel safe or unsafe. By using your awareness (Week 4) to notice this and go the extra mile (Week 1) to pay attention to why the person is acting they way they are, you can still make it a productive interaction.
This is also a large factor in being a good communicator. Ever wanted to be able to motivate people better, or get people to understand you? You need to talk to them in a way that they understand. Think about it this way: You and Alice are at opposite ends of a long hallway. There are many doors. She asks you how to get to the living room. You tell her it’s 3 doors down from you on the left. Does that help her at all? For that to make any sense, she would have to be standing where you are. But she isn’t. You have to think as if you are where she is. Now you can tell her that it’s 52 doors down on the right, and now she can get there.
When you communicate with someone it is very important to take the time to understand them and what they care about. How do they see the issue? What matters to them? What are their goals? What is making them act this way? Do not expect them to behave like you would behave. It doesn’t matter what you believe they should think, what matters right now is what they do think.
- When trying to convince someone, think about their needs and concerns, and address them.
- When someone does something you don’t like, take a moment and pay attention to what is going on in their life. How would you behave in that situation?
- Be creative – when solving a problem, pretend a fisherman or a polar bear was doing the same thing.
- Practice improv comedy
- Maintain your own awareness when conversing with people – are you focusing on being right, or finding a solution? Are you taking things personally?
- Offer different options to solve the same problem. Some might gel better than others.
- When someone behaves a certain way, think of what situations make you act that way. Could that be happening?