I often say that awareness is gold. When you’re aware of something, you can do something about it. Sometimes your actions may be limited, but what remains in your control are your thoughts and reactions to the given situation.
I want to introduce you to a very useful tool today which helps make sense of a culturally different situation. It can help you stop and reflect before reacting to an unfamiliar context or situation. That in turn, can help you build better relationships with your colleagues, business partners or neighbours.
This tool has four steps. But in reality, the key is to notice the thoughts that come up in a given situation and moderate it as needed for better results.
DIVE – self-awareness exercise
Let’s do a little experiment. Look at the picture below and write down (but really, write them down so that you are honest with yourself! :)) first things that come to your mind when you see this picture. Give yourself 2 minutes for this exercise.
Let’s DIVE in
Now, let’s talk about the four various types of thoughts that may come up. Unfortunately, they don’t always come in order, which makes it sometimes too easy to jump into conclusions before considering other existing perspectives.
As you read the below, do two things:
- Identify which of the below categories your statements belong to
- If you don’t have any statement belonging to a category, answer the supporting questions below to ensure you have this level ‘covered’
D – Description: What do you see in the picture? What are the objective, observable facts you can describe? These would be things like: Two people playing volleyball; They play on the sand; One of them is dressed in a bikini;
I – Interpretation: What do I think about what I am observing? What could the people in the picture think about what I observed and described?Here, think about all the who, what, when, where, why, how, hypothesize your interpretation of what’s going on. Popular interpretations of the below are: I think it’s an international competition, maybe Olympics, since they have the flags on their outfits; I think the person on the left is uncomfortable and too hot in this outfit;
V – Verification: Who can help me verify my hypotheses? Who can be my cultural informant to help me understand the context? It is worth connecting with more than one person to get multiple perspectives.
E – Evaluation: How do I judge and view what I think? How do I judge what others think? That’s where you decide what you feel about the situation once you have more clarity and information.
Unfortunately, as you can imagine, people can jump to evaluation quite quickly when they are faced with something that is unfamiliar and not aligning with their understanding of ‘normal’ or ‘right’ or ‘professional’, without understanding the full context.
Of course, sometimes even after understanding the context, we may still not agree with a certain approach. But without that understanding, we don’t give ourselves the chance to notice the other perspective. Without that perspective, we miss out on a chance to build a relationship and open up communication.
How can DIVE help you build success in your international career and life?
This tool is useful if you are entering a new unfamiliar culture. You will see that you may have judgments and interpretations coming to your head quite quickly as you face novelty – “That’s odd!”, “Wow, that’s ugly”, “That must be such a great life”, “How can they eat that” etc. That’s completely normal when your brain tries to makes sense of the new environment.
When you go through that initial shock, it’s a good exercise to take a step back and name the actual facts of what you have seen, smelled, touched, heard, tasted.
This may lead you to questioning the facts and learning more about the context of why something is what it is. That in turn is a great way to get to know and appreciate the culture and people who live it!
You may still feel that eating a particular dish is yuck, and still not like it. But thanks to the process, you could leave with a bigger appreciation of the historical background of the place you visited, rather than just a bunch of judgements of what is better or worse than the culture you’re from.