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Have you discovered what is below the waterline?

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

When working cross-culturally it is easy to see and notice the overt behaviors we see above the water line. Just like the sailboat in the picture below, we can make all kinds of assumptions about the sailboat but what determines its speed, direction and stability is all below the water line. You have made judgments and determine several things about the culture you are working with based on your assumptions or general knowledge of their culture. However, have you taken the time to discover what is below the waterline? There are certain internal realities we are not aware of. These internal realities take time to learn and require us to invest time in building trust and creating safe environments where both parties can question their assumptions. As you invest time to know and understand someone from a different cultural background, you will have certain reactions and sometimes strong reactions to their cultural differences. These reactions are triggered because your cultural norms and values have been violated in some way. This is a great time for you think through your own cultural norms and values compared to the cultural norms and values of those you are working with and getting to know.

Some questions you need to ask yourself to understand what is below your waterline are:

  • What is the difference from the abstract and real cultural norms?

  • What judgements are you making about their values?

  • How do you differ in your view of universal challenges?

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