May 23, 2022

Better Conversations, Smarter Questions, and More Listening

Part 2 of 2

This article is a continuation of part 1 of “Better Conversations, Smarter Questions, and More Listening”

In part 1 we unpacked the first two of four questions:

1. What is my relationship with (social) media and journalism?

2. Are my conversations life-giving and bridge-building?

Please click here to read the first article.

In the current article we want to unpack the remaining 2 questions:

3. Am I mindful about the stories I believe and tell?

4. Is my behavior ‘cultural learner’ or ‘cultural critic’ oriented?

3) Am I mindful about the stories I believe and tell?

Unfortunately, we live in a world where diminishing the power of single stories and practicing tools like D.I.R. is a real challenge:

  • Journalism and the media at large have become unreliable! They feed us unsubstantiated, incomplete, and intentionally selective information (that messes up the “D” of the “D.I.R.” communication process)
  • The media is filled with ‘single stories’! A single story is a narrative that only highlights one angle/perspective. It typically has an agenda and it typically involves incomplete and selectively chosen facts. A single story is almost always told at the expense of somebody else! I highly recommend Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk called “The Single Story”
  • Our attention span has become super short; so, our brains are wired to impatience. This makes us want to jump from “D” to “I” more quickly… We don’t have the patience anymore to listen, digest, read up on another angle, delay our conclusion for a bit longer; we are desperate to draw that conclusion and make that interpretation, and it has to happen right now!
  • We live in a world where sentiment drives many more things than we are willing to admit (who we vote for, public opinion, major societal issues, oh and do not forget: the stock market). The dictionary tells us that: Sentiment = “an opinion that is rooted in how we feel about things; it doesn’t have to be based on a balance of facts”.

So, what can we do? How do we start making a difference in our own circle of influence?

We have to change the way we consume (social) media and news! Are we intentionally selective about what we allow our minds to be occupied with? Can I ‘smell’ a single story from a distance? As Chimamanda says: “The problem with single stories is not always that they are untrue, the problem is that they are incomplete”. Single stories are based on (intentionally) limited, unverified, or false information. Single stories dehumanize, pull us down, and create an ‘us-them’ mentality. You and I give the narrator of the single story, power if we click on their link, give them our time, and start to engage with their story by commenting or sharing! The more we engage with a single story the more power we give to the storyteller!

“Positioning by Omission” is so prevalent in media today; can I detect the ‘omission’ and what it does to the narrative? When news coverage is single story oriented, do I have the discipline to stop feeding my mind with their narrative so that I diminish the power of the storyteller? Or if the story is important for me: do I know how to diminish the power of the storyteller by turning it into a balance of stories? Do I know where to find the missing information, the other side of the story, the multiple perspectives, to turn it into a balance of stories?

You might ask yourself: “Why is KnowledgeWorkx, a company specialized in Inter-Cultural Intelligence, even interested in this subject?”

Because the media today is a major culprit in pulling us away from being cultural learners into becoming cultural critics! We are fed so many single stories, often based on no research at all, or even worse: they are intentionally crafted to push a toxic narrative. In the media, the gap between what is legal and what is moral and ethical has become wider and wider and it is scary to think how fast this chasm has formed in the last few years. At the same time, I am grateful for those in the world of media who have a strong sense of obligation and calling, to create content that is legally, morally, and ethically sound… We do need a renaissance in the world of media!

But this article is not about what the media needs to do, it is about you and me! We need to take control of our own choices, what we want to consume, how intelligent or flippant we want to be about forming our opinions. We have an obligation to the people we love and to the world at large to be bridge builders, mediators, and reconcilers. We have a moral obligation to the younger generation to model a way of living together where difference does not need to mean separation!

If we do not model that to the next generation, I fear we will collectively be responsible for steering our world toward increasing local and international conflict.

Many of the current single stories floating around the media seem to be underpinned by the idea that we need help from nobody, we can weather the storms better on our own. Quite often phrases like “We don’t want to have to deal with you” or: “We will first fix our own problems” or: “You are to blame for the issues we are facing”, are added to the narrative.

In the light of all of this: “Do I go with the crowd and follow the current pattern of separating myself from people who don’t think like me? Or do I intentionally develop relationships with people who are different from me?” Interdependence requires us to build bridges across differences and it requires us to be counterculture and brave, to reach out and create the third cultural space!

COVID-19 has caused us to retreat, and since the crisis has now been going on for many months, we have established new habits. If we are not careful, we will continue to ‘retreat’ into the future. We need to intentionally connect with people who are different from us. Learning how to do that virtually will be the next frontier in building third cultural spaces in our world!

4) Is my behavior ‘cultural learner’ or ‘cultural critic’ oriented?

The fourth question: “Am I a cultural learner or am I a cultural critic? This is not about nationality, ethnicity, or race! Am I a cultural learner when it comes to any form of difference!?

Over the last 20 years of working with people and organizations in close to 70 countries, we have started to notice core thinking and behaving that we now associate with either Cultural Learner or Cultural Critic behavior. So, let me paint you a picture of a “Cultural Critic”:

  • My perspective is experienced as the only “real” one so
  • I am superior, you are inferior!
  • Since my perspective is superior, everybody should think this way and
  • I do not need to listen to you or understand your perspective
  • It then becomes easy to trivialize differences or label them as non-issues
  • I will likely see differences as threatening and feel driven to eliminate them
  • To sustain this, I become critical of other perspectives and
  • Collect evidence/create scripts that reinforce my perspective
  • As such, I feel justified to correct your behavior or perspective to make you ‘fall in line’…

Do some or all of the above remind you of people around you or stuff you have heard in the news?

“Hello, my name is …, and I am a cultural critic!” Admit it: we are all cultural critics in some way or another! Let us acknowledge when we are cultural critics and try to be cultural learners more often! Team contributors who are cultural learners become a catalyst for change. Here are some of the positive impacts we see from intentionally pursuing cultural learner attitudes and behaviors:

  • Trust is easier to build and maintain
  • Team members are more generous with information
  • Relationships are stronger
  • It is easier to get help from colleagues
  • Problems are solved faster and with more creativity
  • The team gets more done with outside stakeholders

Lastly, I want to make an appeal! The direction the world is going will require the younger generation to be a whole lot better at collaborating across differences than we ever needed to be!

Please act if you are involved in shaping young minds or can influence strategic decision-making in education or shape educational policy!

Urge those in place of influence in education to ensure that students do not just know about the world and its differences, make sure they know how to engage the diversity of the world. We need a young generation that knows how to create relational success and thrive in a global and diverse world!

Do you want to learn how to develop the cultural learner in yourself and those around you? Join our next Inter-Cultural Intelligence Certification

If you want your team or organization to become cultural learners let’s start a conversation. Our modular system allows you to get learning solutions that deal with your specific challenges in the format you choose.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

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