Around the turn of the year magazines, news outlets, social networks, blogs, podcasts, and all sorts of other media are full with ideas and tips around making New Year’s resolutions. Some of you might be aware of the dirty little secret to this culturally motivated routine of making commitments to significant, meaningful, and lasting change: More often than not this approach does not work. Resolutions have a habit of getting abandoned during the first three months of the new year. For evidence, check the crowds at your local gym in mid January and then again in early March.
Let’s try a better strategy
Making official resolutions because it is a social norm to pledge self-improvement can cause us to fall short of our ill-designed outcomes. There’s another method to update our behaviors without setting ourselves up for frustration or pressure. Let’s call it intention (or goal) setting. It begins with an attitude – a mindset of wanting something which benefits oneself. The Latin root of intention is the verb “intendere” which means “to stretch out, lean toward, strain.” When we set an intention, we literally stretch out from our known zone of behaviors (aka comfort zone) towards a behavior that’s new to us.
The one mindset change to make a difference across cultures
Of course there are several attitudes which have a favorable effect on those of us who work in a global, cross-cultural context. For starters, though, let’s focus on one thing at a time. The one mindset hack which will have the most fundamental impact on how you navigate your international work environment is assuming positive intent.
In simple terms, positive intent means we choose to assume that the people we interact with at work or in social settings are acting and behaving to the best of their abilities, with the resources and information they have at any given moment. Positive intent is believing that we’re all doing the best we can.
No matter how unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or unknown the behaviors are that you experience when interacting with foreign cultures – people act with a favorable outcome scenario in mind. Instead of rejecting a specific conduct which you deem to be “not normal,” ask yourself: What might be the positive intention at the root of this behavior? As Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements, nothing others do is about you – what other people do or say is a projection of their own reality and their desires. Rather than passing judgment on behaviors which are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or unknown to you by giving those actions a negative meaning, pause for a moment.
Ask yourself: What might be the desired outcome for this person? Assume positive intent. Then be a cultural detective and look for the underlying motivation which caused the behavior that at first you found “not normal.” Often it helps to ask clarifying, non-judgmental questions that come from a state of mind of genuine curiosity.
Your next step
A competent culture coach will help you unpack these situations.
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Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2022!
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