E arlier this week I tried to help someone on a forum, but I ran into some communication hurdles. Now, there is only so much you can do in writing and there is only so much time I can spend on a forum. So, when after a few attempts I realized that this person had some “baggage” creating barriers to our conversation, I decided to drop it. This was not the time and place to go any further. We really needed a face to face discussion to have a meaningful conversation.
This incident reminded me of the importance of getting acquainted with your own cultural baggage.
The Interference Of Baggage
In the case above, this person lived with a painful disease and she had created ways of dealing with this pain that impacted her communication in general. In addition, her baggage came in the way of others wanting to interact with her.
You know what I’m talking about right? If you pay attention, you will occasionally notice people with “baggage”. You may know of people who have gone through a lot and who have not yet finished the healing process. And there might not be challenging life experiences behind this baggage. Some people carry baggage that impacts their communication because they consider themselves too short, too tall, too skinny, too fat. It can be anything really. But the point is that communication is not easy because this person has baggage that gets in the way.
Now that you have an idea of what I’m referring to with regards to “baggage”, let’s move on and look closer at cultural baggage.
What Is Cultural Baggage?
Of course we all have cultural baggage that comes with our own culture. Although this can lead to some interesting observations, let’s look at cultural baggage as it impacts cross-cultural communication. Along the lines of what I outlined above.
The main problem with our culture baggage is that we tend to make wrong assumptions. We have assumptions about ourselves, our family, friends and the world around us. These assumptions are based on our own experience. And we tend to think this is the only way of doing things. We rarely question our assumptions because they seem so natural to us. These assumptions relate to what we find polite, kind, respectful, friendly… you get the picture. And they also relate to our own life experiences, as I mentioned above.
Because these assumptions are based on our cultural background, heritage and environment, they can quickly become unnecessary baggage and get in the way of cross-cultural communication.
You have two options to deal with these assumptions.
1. First Develop Awareness For Your Own Cultural Baggage
The first step is to realize and acknowledge the cultural baggage you carry around with you and to identify the specific pieces of baggage you hang onto that impact your cross-cultural communication.
The cultural baggage you carry with you impacts:
- How others perceive you
- The quality of your communication
- The success of your international business relationships
So you need to be aware of how you come across to others. And this means developing a keen awareness of the the cultural baggage you carry with you. This will help you to see when others have cultural baggage that interferes with your communication. This knowledge will help you to understand other cultures and also to find the suitable path for effective communication.
2. Learn When To Unload Your Cultural Baggage
It’s natural to assume that you must get rid of all of the excess cultural baggage interfering with your cross-cultural communication. But this is not the solution.
You don’t need to give up who you are in order to be good at cross-cultural communication.
Knowing your personal boundaries. With practice you will learn to identify your personal boundaries for what feels comfortable to you. There are no rules except good cross-cultural communicators know their boundaries well and learn how to avoid getting so close to these boundaries to stir up negative feelings. This might be feelings of aggression, dislike and not accepting to be associated with someone.
Placing your cultural baggage aside. Curiosity is often a good way to forget your own cultural baggage. As you focus on the other person it is often easy to keep your own cultural baggage within. But in some cases you may need to temporarily set a cumbersome piece of baggage down for a moment or two. All you need is a few minutes. Enough time to find the right path of mutual understanding and direct your communication into easier areas.
Sometimes your cultural baggage can be helpful to you. This is usually the case when you have let the communication go beyond the boundaries you are comfortable with. Although you can find comfort in holding onto your cultural baggage in these circumstances, this does not help you to improve your cultural skills.
To improve your cross-cultural skills you need to make the effort of learning more about your boundaries and how to put aside the most cumbersome pieces of baggage for just a moment.
And you can also progressively learn to carry less baggage with you.
Lighten The Load
Cross-cultural communication is not always easy in business. You have little choice in who you have to deal with. For some people the path towards developing the right mindset to build strong international relationships is a long one. And it can be tiring in a profession where you have to constantly adapt to different cultures.
The good news is that the more international experience you have, the more you’ll understand different cultures. And this understanding helps you to learn more about yourself and your own cultural baggage.
If you encounter the same or similar communication problems, spend some quiet time thinking about the baggage you bring to the encounter and how this impacts your cross-cultural communication. As you progressively acquire more self-knowledge you can lighten the baggage you carry with you little by little.
Once you learn to recognize cultural baggage you’ll also notice how the people with strong cultural skills master their own cultural baggage very well so that it does not impact their cross-cultural encounters.
What do you think?
- Have you ever had a conversation turn sour because the other person had too much baggage?
- How familiar are you with your own cultural baggage?
- Do you know if your cultural baggage is raising unnecessary hurdles in your cross-cultural communication?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: Cross-Cultural Communication
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