Thursday, December 16, 2010

How do you deal with people different from you?

Sometimes in a new communication situation with a person different from us, we may interpret the other person as abnormal, weird, or simply different.  It is important to learn to control the human tendency to translate “different from me” into “less than me.”  Rather, we need to raise questions.  Are there effective ways of dealing with different kinds of people?  Can I develop a repertoire of five or six approaches that will help me reach others in real and meaningful ways?  I will discuss seven different ways taken from the book, Communicating Effectively by Hybels and Weaver. 

Engage in mindfulness.  Mindfulness means paying attention to what is going on in the present moment without judgment.  To do this, you must trust your direct and immediate experience.  Second, you must show patience — a willingness to observe and describe what is happening without bias.  You simply throw yourself into the present moment and glean wisdom through the trial and error of learning by direct experience.  Third, you must accept “what is, as it,” in other words, accept whatever it is that the universe serves up.  It means accepting life on life’s own terms, regardless of your feelings about it and discovering effective strategies to cope with and eventually appreciate whatever is happening. 

Pay attention to your words and actions.  It is only through your thoughtful communication with others that you become aware of your own thinking patterns, assumptions, perceptions, prejudices, and biases.  When students come to Cruz-Janzen’s classes expecting to learn how to communicate with nonwhites, she tells them they are first going to study themselves, their gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and physical (ability, disability, and appearance) socialization.  Cruz-Janzen has a very clear motive to this: “As long as whites  continue expecting others to explain themselves whites are setting themselves as the norm, the normal ones, against whom all others must be judged and measured.” 

Control your assumptions. For example, don’t assume that there is one right way (yours) to communicate.  Don’t assume that breakdowns in communication occur because others are on the wrong track.  Don’t assume that the preferred rules of interpersonal relationships you have learned in your culture apply universally across all cultures.  Don’t assume that your cultural definitions and successful criteria or conflict management apply universally across all cultures.  Don’t assume that because another’s values and beliefs differ from your own that you are being challenged.  Don’t assume that you can learn about others who may be different from you by staying in your comfort zone.  Don’t assume you know what is best for someone else.   

Engage in transpection.  Instead of assuming — a process most people begin quickly, naturally, and often subconsciously — take a moment to relax and reflect.  Transpection is the process of empathizing across cultures.  In transpection, you try to see the world exactly as the other person sees it.  It involves trying to learn foreign beliefs, foreign assumptions, foreign perspectives, and foreign feelings in a foreign context.  It can only be achieved by practice.  Striving toward transpection can help you avoid assumptions and move you closer to tolerance, sensitivity, respect, empathic listening, and effective communication responses. 

Gain knowledge.  The greater your cultural and linguistic knowledge, and the more your beliefs overlap with those from other cultures, the less likelihood for misunderstands.  You need to read, observe, ask questions, and visit places where there are people from different races and ethnic backgrounds. 

Gain experience.  You cannot learn how to be a good communicator just by reading, observing, asking questions, or doing research on the Internet.  But gaining experience doesn’t require making actual visits to foreign countries or foreign cultures.  Find an individual of another culture, and ask if the two of you could have a conversation bout intercultural communication.  With that as your focus, ask some pointed, specific questions designed to help you better understand him or her, and others of the same culture.  For example, ask him or her how they cope with and adapt to unfamiliar cultural environments, the best ways for members of other cultures to communicate with them, factors that can increase effectiveness in communication, strategies used for successfully managing conflict, some of the worst offenses people outside your culture make in communicating with you or with members of your culture, and some of the worst offenses they have made as they have become acclimated into your/our culture. 

There are other ways to gain experience in intercultural communication — communicating with those who may be different from you — that will help you gain a broader worldview.  Frequent ethnic restaurants, watch world news in addition to local news, read books written by authors from other countries, learn another language, and when countries with which you are unfamiliar are mentioned, find them on a map, look them up on the Internet, and find out as much as you can about them.   

Other ways to gain experience in dealing with those different from you is to listen to world music, rent foreign films, and travel — whether it is in person or though videos.  Your local library has dozens of videos on foreign countries.   

But don’t just observe.  Converse with people of other cultures.  Take part in cultural celebrations that differ from your own.  Volunteer to serve on committees, teams, or groups in which members of other cultures will be serving.  Listen, engage, and keep asking questions.  Take time to understand what people believe about childrearing, educational opportunities, world politics, and life in general. 

How you learn to deal with people who are different from you depends entirely on your willingness to seek, discover, and experience.  Today, the Internet is one of the most important influences on the knowledge and information at our disposal.  We are increasingly linked together across the globe, and we can connect with people on the other side of the world as quickly as we do with friends and family at home.  You will quickly find out that the knowledge and understanding you gain is well worth any effort you put forth.


At the website, Success Mantras   Nahush Khubalkar, in his essay “Art of Dealing with People Effectively,” offers personal insights for dealing with people effectively.  Khubalkar discusses love yourself first, your self-esteem level, each and every person is different, accept the difference, and respect the difference. 

At David Maister’s website Maister writes about “Passion, People and Principles: The Mysteries of Dealing With People - A Few Pointers.”  Although Maister offers no new earthshaking ideas, he does offer some thoughts to make you pause and consider.  He ends his essay in this way: “Want to know how to deal with others? As a good first approximation, think of others as like you, not as ‘them’ If you want to influence someone, ask: Would it work on me? Figure out how you like to be dealt with. Draw up your own list of how you expect to be treated. Treat others that way.
Are these old, unoriginal thoughts? Of course, but still worth asking ourselves how well we actually apply them in our lives.” 


Copyright December, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.


  1. Allow me to transpect - and please wake me up when I'm done!

  2. My, my, my. JimmyLee, you just don't sound very interculturally ept. To suggest that you can transpect while sleeping is a little like suggesting you can travel abroad and fully experience another culture by accessing the Internet.


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