In the movie “Back to the Future” Marty McFly jumps to the past and has dinner with his girlfriend/prom-date/mother (it takes two more movies to sort that out). The family watched TV while they ate. I remember thinking at the time there was no way my family would watch TV while we were eating; family time was together time. But my best friend watched TV during dinner almost every night. Every family has its own cultures and traditions.
Outside the home there are national and regional cultures, as well. When you interact with a large and diverse set of traditions and expectations, differences in cultural context can have great potential for miscommunication.
I once had to speak to a staff member who was getting complaints for being rude and aggressive towards visitors and colleagues. During our conversation I pointed out her current behavior as an example. She stopped with a look of surprise and said, “Oh, I was just explaining what I thought. We talk like that all the time in my house.” What most of us took as an affront was standard communication to her.
Once, I had a Native American colleague who was late for an event because he was “watching the otters play.” He was literally watching the otters play in the stream near his house. But it wasn’t willful disregard for his work. The Wampanoag perception of time is based on the present – something to appreciate, not a race against the future as in most western cultures.
From an HR perspective, it doesn’t mean that infractions coming from an opposing culture shouldn’t be addressed. It means corrective measures should acknowledge an ingrained generational behavior, rather than assume laziness or apathy towards the job.
Improving communication through cultural context can be tricky because no one wants to cause offense or make assumptions. In addition, it can often take a while to realize conflicting behaviors even come from cultural traditions and not some other superficial source. It’s important to realize some people might very well see our culture as the one incompatible to theirs. A heavy dose of empathy and open conversation is the cure for that.
The Myers-Briggs personality test is a process by which one performs a self evaluation and the result tells you which of 16 different personality types you fall into. There are many similar evaluative tests such as the Predictive Index or Traitify which attempt to mirror the same quantitative outcome, but Myers-Briggs is by far the most popular.
Although the test can be applied to many social and personal circumstances, it is most often used in the workplace in an attempt by the management to reform poor employee communications. In theory, the implementation of this process can create more agreeable collegial relationships.
Introspection and awareness of your personal communication strengths and foibles can be very helpful. Likewise, it can be satisfying to gain insight into how a colleague generally processes information. Defensively, anxiously, or excitedly, for example. You can alter your approach based on their expected reaction.
I have taken many such tests over my career and found them fascinating in theory, but cumbersome in practice. There is no denying that improving communication with friends and co-workers can have an empowering and positive effect on relationships. But personality tests, by definition, can create categories that isolate people from one another. They define perceived personal limitations and encourage you to consider how your personality type should interact with the opposing personality type. This approach is often mechanical and belies the natural human desire to find agreement regardless of “type.” As I tell my students when they are looking for a shortcut to success, “I would rather work the skill than find a work-around.”
DLM uses group mind and organic communication practices derived from traditional and improvisational theater. This allows one to stay in the moment, to listen, remain positive and find common ground by discovering constructive agreement. It’s experiential, not analytical.
Also known as the “Yes, And Technique,” this universal tool applies regardless of your communication environment and where people fall on the personality matrix. As you sharpen the effectiveness of your personal interactions it becomes second nature, and the differences revealed by testing become less important.
This comprehensive and natural philosophy encourages behavior we should all employ as a general principle. As mentioned in a previous post, this approach actually gives you the tools to be the change you want to see in the world, not simply define the things you want to change.