30 Sep

Cable Three: Triggers and Overt Discrimination

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”                –Abraham Lincoln

The world now is giving us plenty of reasons to feel we are caught in the “stormy present.” Even when we are not the targets of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia or the tempestuous divides in politics, this climate of divisiveness produces a sense of anxiety because we don’t feel safe.  When you are the target of overt discrimination, it is even worse.  So let’s understand just what is going on in a cultural collision and what to do when we get triggered.

At the beginning of any relationship, information is shared about what role the other is playing in relation to us and often we assume what to expect from the other person based on their role.  Looking from the perspective of a newcomer coming on board in an organization, there is usually an orientation. Still, it can take from 9 months to 2 years to learn the invisible rules of an organizational culture, and the way this learning takes place is usually by the new person’s making mistakes, especially in regard to breaking the unwritten rules. Usually, a small rolling of the eyes is enough to stop the newcomer from risking the same behavior twice. A sharp word will teach the newcomer not to offer ideas without following the unstated protocol. Our desire as humans to assimilate and fit in is so strong that we can learn from these social cues extremely quickly.

So, you know you are in a cultural collision when your first response is anger, shock, or laughter. A strong emotional “trigger” in the moment lets you know you have bumped up against an unexpected response or circumstance. Once one of these reactions comes up, pause, take a deep breath, and be aware of what is happening in that moment. Were you insulted by a slur or an ethnic joke? Were you the victim of false assumptions or over-generalizations about yourself—“women are just emotional like that” or “people with British accents are snobs?” To diminish the barriers, recognize the underlying patterns of culture and experience that are at play. The shift is from an amygdala hijack of reactive emotions to the neocortex of centered responsiveness.  Continue breathing consciously. Be very present—and one way you can do this is to become aware of the feeling of your feet on the floor. Then ask a question such as, “I am not sure I heard you correctly. Can you help me understand what you are saying?”

Language was invented to ask questions. Answers may be given by grunts and gestures, but questions must be spoken. Humanness came of age when man asked the first question. Social stagnation results not from a lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions.” –Eric Hoffer

07 Sep

Cable Two: Cultural Collisions: But That’s Just the Way it Is!

There are lots of reasons for us to disagree, but when there is a conflict between our notions of everyday reality, that is a cultural collision. We could think of these moments as a clashing of mindsets. They’re the result of differing perspectives on matters so basic to us that we often have no idea how we reached that conclusion, don’t know that it is a conclusion, and can’t begin to articulate why we see things that way. When we’re caught making such an assumption, if pressed for a reason, we want to say, “But that’s just the way it is!” The real problem is that the person on the other side of our cultural collision feels exactly the same.

Unchecked cultural collisions can wreak untold havoc in an organization, whether they happen at the interpersonal level, the team level, or the organizational level. At whatever the level, this kind of unconscious dissonance is the primary reason up to 60% of attempted business mergers fail and organizational change efforts fall well short of expected results. Because of the deep neural patterning in individuals and the cultural patterning that takes place in organizations over time, everyone in a workplace is looking at the world through the lens of deep-rooted assumptions also known as implicit biases. And it’s not easy—in fact, it’s pretty much impossible—to get rid of them without uncovering them first.

When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind, and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.   — Hugh White

In any cultural collision, these simple leadership moves are the true keys to unlocking resistance and moving toward greater cohesion and integration:

  • Go deeper into the tacit assumptions you may guess are operating.
  • Ask questions about the varying perceptions, especially in complex situations.

The kinds of questions you ask and the quality of your listening will determine if you can turn this moment into an opportunity for learning for everyone involved. Mindsets really are different.

In what ways can you acknowledge and respect the differences? What are possible synergies in values from which a new future can be built?