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Not wrong, not bad, just different

Yesterday I had the opportunity of spending time with two very remarkable people, one Canadian and one Dutch, both shared their struggle with engaging with Europeans, the British in particular, and Americans respectively with me ! For one the severe challenging of his idea which was perceived as attack was upsetting, for the other is was the fierce competitiveness of the Americans she had problems with. It occurred to me that neither behaviour is driven by negative intentions but rather by how we are accustomed to approaching things.

The scenario of struggling with the British reminded me on how much emphasis seems to be placed on arguing, challenging and questioning, starting in debating societies in school. It seems to be considered to be a good thing to be challenging ! Of course, if I am someone who has not grown up in such a culture this feels rather aggressive and negative, making me defensive and feeling rejected.

In the scenario of the competitive American I thought that this is seen to be a very positive thing in America! Being competitive means that I want to improve and do things better, it stimulates higher performance - rather than meaning that I am being nasty, wanting to hurt others and am not at all interested in collaboration.

So I realised that as soon as someone’s perspective is different from ours we put this down to negative intentions, a lack of interest, and a lack of openness. I don’t believe this to be the case so what to do about it? Perhaps we can learn to deal differently with such situations. Perhaps if someone reacts in a way that is very differently from what we expect and how we would react, the first response should be: ah, this isdifferent rather than this I wrong. A second point is to think: so, this is different, what benefits does this different approach bring? Each coin has two sides, and it depends which one we shine the light on, which one we focus on.

It reminded me of a little ritual we have at home. We love watching movies and many of them are downloaded via apple TV. Once you have clicked to buy the whirring symbol comes up with the word ‘authorizing’ underneath. My husband, who is British, immediately pipes up: “Authorising is spelled incorrectly” upon which I reply, “No, just differently”.

So, if someone’s reaction upsets, annoys, or surprises you, perhaps thinking, “ah, this is interesting, this is different” might not be a bad idea, and it be even better if this were followed by “What are the benefits of this different approach?” I am sure such a reaction would allow for a much more fruitful and positive conversation to follow.

PS Perhaps I should mention that I am German and that of course my interpretation of all of this will have been coloured by that!

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