Even if you're speaking the same language, cultural differences can lead to serious miscommunication problems, as this week's story shows. So, instead of assuming what that behavior, or facial expression, or awkward silence means, ask. You'll both have a much better outcome.
- Early in her career, Dorinda Phillips was managing a young lady who constantly interrupted her. You know, she said, every time I tried to explain something important to her, she interrupted. Now I couldn't imagine why she thought it was okay to be so rude to her boss. You know, did she not respect me or was she not interested in what I had to say? Well, Dorinda finally decided that the next time it happened, she was going to say something about it. Now of course it didn't take long for her to have that opportunity. The next morning, the two were having a conversation, and once again, Dorinda got interrupted.
But instead of confronting this woman like she planned, some wise part of her brain told her to just ask, I've noticed you interrupt me a lot, and I'm curious. Why is that? Well, the woman's response took Dorinda completely by surprise. She said, oh, well, that's because I'm so interested in what you have to say. Dorinda was like, really? I thought it was exactly the opposite. You know, that you weren't interested at all in what I had to say. Oh, no no no no. See, I'm from the south of Italy, and that's how we show that we're interested.
You know, if I just sat here and said nothing, it would mean that I'm bored. Dorinda just found that fascinating. You know, she told her, well, I'm from the north of England, and we interrupt all the time, but only if we're not interested and we want to change the topic. Well then of course the two ladies just had what I'm sure was a lovely discussion about that strange cultural difference that they've been laughing about ever since. Now, it turned out that instead of chastising the woman for interrupting, Dorinda's last-minute decision to simply ask why she was interrupting was exactly the right thing to do.
And that's all it took to solve the problem. Now, growing up in different countries is certainly an indication that cultural differences like this might exist, but you can even find them between two people with the exact same background, right? A good example of that is what happened to Hannah. Now, in one of Hannah's early assignments, she had a boss who apparently didn't think too much of her performance, and when it came time for her annual performance review, Hannah and her boss sat down. The first words out of her boss's mouth were, you did not meet expectations this year.
Well, Hannah was shocked. You know, she said, I've never received that kind of feedback before, and I didn't really know what to say, so I just didn't say anything. I was just silent. Well, that silence clearly offended her boss, because her next words were, you don't care what I say, do you? You don't seem to value my opinion. But Hannah did care. Her silence was her way of processing what she heard. You know, accepting criticism isn't much fun, but it's one of the ways that we learn.
So Hannah sat quietly and listened intently to everything her boss had to say, yet her boss just assumed that meant Hannah didn't respect her, but for Hannah, it didn't mean anything of the sort. And in this case, both women grew up in the same country and culture. Everyone's different. We tend to project on other people the lens we use to see the world. You know, getting offended by the way someone talks or doesn't talk or the look on their face or even the direction they shake their head can be surprisingly easy to misinterpret.
Next time that happens to you, don't assume, just ask.
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