blind spot

Cultural Agility: overcoming blind spots

It's essential to have self-awareness when it comes to intercultural communication. However, identifying our blind spots can be challenging. What techniques can we use to recognize personality traits or verbal habits that may hinder our interactions with colleagues or partners from different cultures?

When I discuss Cultural Agility, most of my interlocutors express how fascinating the ability is. However, they often assume they already possess sufficient knowledge to navigate intercultural communication pitfalls. When one is unaware of their lack of knowledge, it is a blind spot.

Imagine a multinational team working on a project with members from different countries, including the Netherlands, Japan, and Brazil. During a team meeting, a Japanese team member, Ichiro, presents an idea and asks for feedback. The Dutch team member, Anna responds immediately with, “I think your idea needs more work. It’s not well thought out.”

From Anna’s perspective, her response is straightforward and constructive. However, Ichiro interprets his Dutch colleague’s feedback as rude and confrontational.

In this scenario, the cultural nuances of direct versus indirect communication play a significant role. Anna may not have been aware of the impact her words had on Ichiro.

Recognizing and addressing these blind spots is crucial for fostering effective interactions within intercultural teams. This article explores how Anna, Ichiro, my interlocutors… and all of us can identify blind spots and develop techniques to overcome them, enhancing Cultural Agility.

1. Acknowledging Cultural Lens

To identify blind spots, first, we must acknowledge the influence of our cultural lens. Our beliefs, values, and assumptions are deeply ingrained and impact our communication styles and behaviors. Recognizing cultural biases that shape our perceptions help us become more attuned to potential blind spots. 

Take note of how your culture is described and what you can learn from it. Consider reflecting on jokes or stereotypes about your culture to understand it better. Analyze what they reveal and what they misinterpret. Additionally, educating yourself through “cultural books” about your culture can be insightful. It’s essential to assess how comfortable you are with these learnings.

2. Embracing a Curious and Open Mindset

Cultivating Cultural Agility requires embracing curiosity and maintaining an open-minded outlook toward cultures. Rather than judging, strive to be sensitive to different perspectives. 

A constructive approach to enhancing communication is to question your assumptions, actively listen to what others say, pose open-ended questions, and remain open to feedback. Ichiro might acknowledge his emotional reaction to Anna’s feedback, that cultures – and individuals – have different ways of handling feedback, and that there is something to learn from Anna’s direct answer.

By adopting this approach, Ichiro can identify his blind spot in cultural understanding and bridge the differences more consciously.

3. Exploring Cultural Norms and Practices

To uncover any blind spots, it is essential to take the time to analyze the cultural practices and norms of the people you interact with. This includes :

. understanding their preferred modes of communication: direct/ indirect, as in our example

. non-verbal cues: consider that the role of silence diverges from one culture to another

. social customs: how hierarchy is respected. 

By familiarizing yourself with common communication patterns and gestures, you can prevent misunderstandings and improve cross-cultural comprehension.

4. Talking about Cultural Differences and Blind Spots

Encourage honest and open conversations about potential miscommunications or misunderstandings. Ichiro might overcome his aversion to direct communication by mentioning his feelings:

 “Anna, I know you intend to contribute to our project positively. Yet, when you say:” It’s not well thought out.”, I feel frustrated. I would appreciate it if you could mention how I can bring clarity, get a more innovative touch, or whatever seems important to you. You know, working with you, I have learned that in my culture, we prefer a less direct communication mode. What is your perspective on effective feedback?” 

By meta-communicating (talking about the communication) and inviting different perspectives, Ichiro gains insight into his blind spot and overcomes them to foster a constructive conversation with his colleague. 

Identifying blind spots in intercultural communication is an ongoing journey that requires self-awareness, curiosity, and a willingness to learn.

To address their blind spots, Anna and Ichiro must recognize and understand the cultural differences at play. Anna can learn to adapt her communication style by providing more context and framing her feedback in a way that maintains harmony and respects Ichiro’s cultural background.

On the other hand, the latter can learn to express his opinions more assertively, considering the cultural norms of direct communication in the team’s work environment.

By recognizing and appreciating these cultural nuances, the team members can bridge the communication gap, build stronger relationships, and foster a more inclusive and effective work environment.

To quickly uncover your blind spots and develop your Cultural Agility, check out our seminars and online training programs. You might also read this post


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