How to avoid being misunderstood in a cross cultural setting…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Face it.   You can’t do it.  Being misunderstood cannot be avoided.  Because of our unfamiliarity with people with different cultural backgrounds, we will inadvertently say or do something that could be perceived as being offensive.  The key to letting this become a problem is to use any of the seven deadly habits as a reaction to the unintended gaffe.  Conversely, the key to overcoming what might be considered an affront is to simply choose not to be offended and practice the seven connecting habits instead.

I recently saw a bit of wisdom posted on Facebook.  It was a poster with the caption:  “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned  it.”


Social skills are learned behavior.  If we are fortunate, we have been raised in a loving situation where we are able to learn those skills.  Even if we are well adapted to our own culture, we probably are a bit inept in an unfamiliar cultural situation.  This presents a challenge to all of us on this planet.  We want to be connected.  It is one of our basic needs.  If we continue to bounce off one another because of some comment or behavior that is foreign to us, we will continue on the path that has perpetuated much of our separateness and that often leads to alienation and hostility.

The mental health and happiness of all of us is enhanced the more we find ways to connect and enjoy each other, even if we are unfamiliar to one another.  Let’s just work on choosing not to hide behind cultural barriers and choose instead to reach out with care and a willingness to learn.

My experience in connecting across cultures has been enhanced by Facebook and Skype.  I’ve found wonderful ways to learn from and share with people literally around the world.  I am in Minnesota in the US.  I enjoy friendships with wonderful people in Malaysia, India, Canada , Russia, South Africa, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand,  Serbia, Ireland, UK, Sweden, even California J.  Each exchange enriches me by giving me a glimpse of the world through eyes that see things that I will never see.  My hope is that barriers will come down as we learn that we have more in common with one another than we have barriers to divide us.

Seven Connecting Habits Seven Deadly Habits
1. Supporting 1. Criticizing
2. Encouraging 2. Blaming
3. Listening 3. Complaining
4. Accepting 4. Nagging
5. Trusting 5. Threatening
6. Respecting 6. Punishing
7. Negotiating differences 7. Bribing, rewarding to control


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