Gary Thomas and the trouble with being open-minded.
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At the airport bookshop
Next time you are at the airport and you have some time, rather than just heading for the business lounge for the free coffee and the cookies, why not call by the bookshop. There you are likely to find at least three books on intercultural business communication. Take any one of them and open it at chapter one. There will be a top tip, normally in a grey box with a light bulb in the corner somewhere that says ‘when dealing with different cultures’ be open minded’
What’s the problem? Sounds great. In addition, it is a great idea. However, it is great advice for other people. After all. We are all global these days, we work in international teams and we have frequent flyer status. Very few people have ever read that statement and had an epiphany ‘until now I have been so narrow or closed minded’.
Don’t worry, as they say. It is not you. It is your brain. In the process of growing up you established a helpful orientation system that is hard wired into your brain, which enables you and causes you to decide, plan or judge. What’s important to you, what you are convinced off and which tells you how to get and give security and appreciation.
Our cultural context has a significant impact on that orientation system, which leads to prejudgement, assumptions and bias as well as miscommunication and friction when we fail to give and receive appreciation and security in the way we have learned is right. Just look at the frustration and the fluctuation in global teams for more examples.
The good news is your brain has enough plasticity to learn and to develop so that you can lead or work in a global team successfully. The same of course applies to your global team members. Provided of course, you challenge your own assumption about your own open mindedness. Everybody has his or her own personal approach to handling different normalities. Real open mindedness includes a constant process of delaying your judgement and discovering and accepting new meanings for the behaviours you experience when dealing with other cultures.