So what does overcoming embarrassment have to do with interacting with cultural difference?

When we feel threatened in a situation, whether physically or even just socially (like when we feel embarrassed), our minds automatically shift into self-protection mode. Our ability to learn or to interact with others in any positive way is severely limited when our minds are focused on protecting ourselves.

A huge part of developing intercultural competence is learning to manage our emotions in uncomfortable or confusing intercultural experiences so that we can stay engaged and learn in that moment.

There are frequent opportunities for embarrassment when interacting with people who are culturally different than ourselves! If we are not willing to wade into occasional embarrassment, we will not be able to develop our intercultural abilities. We have to be willing to make mistakes and to have the grace to give others room to make mistakes as well.

The current tendency in our culture to publically attack or “call out” people when we feel they are making cultural mistakes will likely cause them to become defensive (self-protection mode) which makes it that much more difficult for them to learn from the experience. There are times when we do need to deal with bad behavior in a public way but generally it is best to at least try to address situations more gently and privately. It is far more likely to lead to open conversation, real learning, and changed behavior.

This is a great article on learning how to manage our embarrassment.


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