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Suspend judgment and ask questions to build bridges across cultures

It takes focus and discipline to stop applying our personal yardstick of measurement “good” or “bad” to every situation we encounter. Growth, full communication, and positive professional relationships occur when we can suspend judgment.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.

What they are likely doing is making snap judgments based on their own ethnocentrism.

That means deep down they believe and feel that their cultural beliefs and protocols are superior to another culture’s.

You can see traces of ethnocentrism when people compare employees from competing companies, from different universities, from different home towns, and especially from different ethnicities, races, religions and countries.

We judge through the eyes of our own cultural background without taking the time to determine the way the other person understands and functions in this world we share.

So if we see a person who dresses by shielding their face or their head, we assume their culture is “backward” or “oppressive” if we have been raised to go out in public without headdresses or veils. If they eat with their hands instead of their cutlery, we assume they are less civilized than we are because we have been taught that cutlery is the “polite” way to eat.  These are both examples of ethnocentric judgments that are based on our cultural values. In fact, because we are judging these actions from our own cultural lens, we do not actually understand the internal cultural meaning or values behind different choices of dress or how one eats food.

Through The Bridging PrinciplesTM, an intercultural communication program, we learn that if we are really going to overcome cultural diversity issues, the first thing we must do is learn to suspend our judgment.

Instead of practicing ethnocentrism, we need to embrace cultural relativism, meaning we acknowledge that every culture has its own traditions and values. Because of that, we do ourselves and others a disservice to judge.

It requires training and patience to understand that we cannot know if something is wrong or right until we suspend our judgment and study another culture openly and without prejudice. It is only when we recognize the importance of communication and acquire cultural competence that we can learn to understand people of other cultures on their own terms.

Every one of us, at some point, has been judged by someone else for being “different” or not as “good” as another way of being. We would do well to remember how this feels when we are working with others, suspend judgment, and learn to ask good questions that can help us understand another point of view.

Because we tend to see the world through the lens of our own culture, this is not easy.

We need to put our judgment on hold and try on lenses from the other cultures. We need to hone our listening skills.

To know for sure whether we are witnessing something that goes against the grain of all humanity or whether something is just different from what we are used to, we must ask ourselves these questions:

  • Is my reaction tied to my cultural beliefs of what is right and wrong?
  • Have I taken sufficient time to ask about and learn about the cultural values of this person and the beliefs that inform this practice from the people who accept it as normal?
  • Is my judgment about this practice fair?
  • Are these practices genuinely harming me or others, or are they just different from my culture?
  • Are people within this culture saying it is harmful, or are they okay with this practice of belief?

The Bridging Principles is a blog about doing business and life differently to create better results for all. Click here to subscribe for free. To pre-order a copy of the book “The Bridging Principles: Building Bridges for Business,” coming out soon, click here. To arrange for training in The Bridging Principles for your company, email info@thebridgingprinciples.com.

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