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Gaining Cultural Insight

Gaining Cultural Insight

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand multiple strategies for gaining insight into culture's norms

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Video Transcription

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We're all influenced by the cultures we grow up in. But few of us realize how deeply culture has influenced our behavior, our norms, our way of seeing the world. We take it for granted until we bump up into another culture. Well, I'm Marlene. And in this tutorial today, I'd like to talk with you about some ways of gaining cultural insight and how important that is.

I think if you've ever traveled abroad, either for pleasure or maybe for business, you've realized that it is important to come to terms with how other cultures see the world and communicate, in small ways or in big ways. Because even small things can trip you up-- small nonverbal gestures. For example, I was traveling abroad and got to know someone who informed me, fortunately, that the thumbs up nonverbal signal that we use here in the United States to mean something good is really insulting in some countries. You do not want to use that gesture. I had no idea.

So because it's so common to stumble in this sort of way when traveling abroad, there have been a lot of books written. There are both scholarly books-- people who have studied the subject. You can get scholarly work, and you get non-scholarly work. You can go on the internet and Google topics. You can Google something for a particular country asking about culture or communication styles, both verbal or nonverbal. And those are really good ways to get information about a culture that you're traveling to either for business or for pleasure.

The very best way, of course, to get insight is total immersion in the culture. And not many of us have opportunity to do that. In lieu of total immersion within a culture, cultural dialogue is the next best thing. Cultural dialogue allows you to discuss the differences in culture between your own culture and another culture with someone ideally from the culture-- discuss the differences in worldview and communication so that you can create mutual understanding.

If you know someone from another culture, perhaps through work or through social gatherings, you can initiate, perhaps, a conversation this way. There are workshops. There are trainings designed to help businesspeople initiate that cultural dialogue. Because few of us really do realize that things that we take for granted in our behavior and our way of seeing the world that come from our culture are not universally taken for granted.

So how do you initiate this cultural dialogue? Well, I think the best thing to do is first of all to have self awareness, to realize that you may stumble. Perhaps be self-revealing about that, be honest about maybe some things that have happened to you personally if you have ever traveled abroad or things that you have run into where you realized that you didn't know something. So that self awareness, being honest about it, can do a lot to open the door.

Ask questions. And of course, listen actively. I think that natural curiosity and being willing to be honest with another person does a lot to open the door so that both people from different cultures, both parties of people will be able to speak openly about their cultures and whatever differences that they have run into and share cultural insight.

Once again, we all come from cultures where we take things for granted. That's natural. It's important to gain insight. And the best way to do that is through cultural dialogue.

I'm Marlene. I've enjoyed this tutorial. I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Cultural Dialogue

Discussion of cultural difference (worldview and communication) intended to help create mutual understanding.