Emotional Intelligence and Bridging Cultural Barriers

Do you avoid eye contact with women who look different from you? Is it difficult to initiate a conversation when you are unsure whether or not you will be offensive? Misunderstood? Rejected?My time in India revealed some of my own barriers, which included fear, misconceptions and laziness. I have since come to realize how social intelligence can gradually produce behavioral and relational changes to bridge the cultural gaps.

Whether you are a CEO dealing with executives, or a mother in line at the grocery store dealing with irritable toddlers, opportunities arise to attract or repel. Why not become an instrument of healing and reconciliation?

WHAT ARE YOUR SOCIAL STRENGTHS? (IDENTIFY WHERE YOU NEED SOME WORK AND WHERE YOU HAVE COMPETENCE, TOO!)

  • EMPATHY: Are you sensitive to the needs of others? Do you tend to understand basic human predicaments no matter how different a person may look or behave on the outside?
  • GROUP AWARENESS: Can you readily “read” group dynamics? Perhaps you identify common ground and are sensitive to unspoken cultural values.
  • INFLUENCE: Do you initiate conversation and skillfully persuade others to engage, learn and offer feedback?
  • INTERPERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: Are you compassionate, and do you sacrifice yourself for the good of others? Do people want to talk to you? Are you patient?

Scientists say that neurobiology explains why some people are called “people magnets.” Such individuals create a chemical connection with those around them, regardless of age, sex or culture. Exciting, huh?

Here are some suggestions on how to foster these neurobiological changes in yourself- then you can pass it on!

  1. In order to be sensitive to the needs of others, we must become less absorbed with ourselves. (When I was worrying about how I would be received in India, I failed to take the time to observe those around me.)
  2. Instead of focusing on the differences, begin to consider the similarities. (Our language barrier was quickly overcome as we squatted side by side in the trench which served as the women’s bus-stop “toilet” area. We all just HAD to GO! And it WAS funny!)
  3. Become a student of groups of women. What amuses them or disgusts them? Curiosity is an invitation to casually move in. (They were baffled by me, but it sparked conversation.)
  4. Look for open doors. All mothers love the praise of their babies. A disarming smile never hurts. Everyone wants to matter and wants not be ignored. Take an interest in others and be a good listener- even if it is sign language. Be ready to learn from others. (I had to fight the fear of looking stupid in order to try to speak their language. I DO sound stupid, but they delighted in my efforts.)
  5. Self-sacrifice crosses cultures. Americans are quick to throw money at people which is no true sacrifice at all. The gift of time and attention speaks volumes. “You really care about me” translates through those neurons and its marvelous experience.

If I might add my own attribute to the Social Intelligence list, it would be SINCERITY. When I am focused on “doing good” to feel better about me, it tends to fall flat and people feel used. I now see a tired woman in a hijab pushing a grocery cart with two children, and the hijab fades away. I KNOW tired mothers at the grocery store. I AM one. That gets my neurons firing off every time. Barriers come down slowly but surely. Let’s keep at it!

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