Many people ave unique abilities or talents that separate them from everyone else. It provides a variety of concepts and ideas that overall revolutionize the way we live our everyday life. One thing that we all share in common is how we make the decisions we make to do the things we do. We all make decisions and take actions based on our Culture, Beliefs, and Past Experience.
Culture is a way of being and doing. It is so much a part of who we are that, like fish who cannot understand water until they are pulled out of it, we do not see the effects of our own culture on us. Cultural influences are most visible when looking at other countries and societies.
What strikes us is how strange other cultures are. How can they possibly believe that? Most people would question why someone would be willing to sacrifice their own life for their culture.
What does your culture tell you is worthwhile? What does your culture tell you is worth sacrificing your own life? Everyone, in any culture, will know the answers. It will seem so ‘common sense’ that these, and other questions are simple. No one asks where the ideas come from. Our own cultural influences are mostly hidden from us. And no matter how the answers differ from one culture to another, each person will be convinced that theirs is the correct answer and will feel it deep in their bones. Culture is like that. Don’t underestimate it.
Culture Goes Deeper Than You Think
It may surprise you how far back your cultural training goes. Surely, being right or left handed, or the sounds our mouth and tongues make, or the things we can and cannot eat – those are inborn, right?
Wrong. There is a preference for one hand over the other before birth (as shown by thumb/finger sucking behavior) and if ‘left alone’ by culture, this will remain the dominant hand. However, cultures haven’t always stayed out of the picture. It takes about 8 months to switch from one hand to the other (as demonstrated by people who lose the use of a dominant hand).
In Britain, during the 1970s, a study was conducted that showed while more than 10% of the population started out left-handed, the population over 55 was down around 3%. What happened? The explanation is cultural.
Because of societal prejudice in the 19th and early 20th centuries, left-handedness was seen as a detrimental trait. A trait that could keep you from getting married and reproducing or one that had to be ‘beaten out’. Thankfully, this has changed. As cultures came to accept left handers (and even value them in some sports) the number of people born with a left-handed preference remained left handed. When cultures change, people change.
Culture also determines the sounds you are able to make with your mouth. Humans are born as natural linguists, able to speak any human language at all. This ability, found in young children, is lost as age increases and we are then only able to correctly pronounce our native language. We are born mimics, and our culture tells us, and shapes us, to make the sounds required to fit in.
How Culture Affects Communication
Culturally based communication styles cause problems when parties do not recognize relevant cross-cultural differences. People tend to think that everyone uses the same rules and meanings. An American, for instance, usually uses an informal speaking tone and adopts an open and honest style in negotiations. This is also reflected subconsciously in their body language.
But there is no universal, cross-cultural mode of communication. Americans tend to smile a great deal, even with strangers. It’s seen as just being friendly. In other cultures, a smile may indicate embarrassment or even be insulting. Even such common, subconscious movements, like shrugging, or rubbing one’s forehead, can be misinterpreted and have great significance in other cultures.
A good idea would be to identify these often subconscious speaking and body language habits. If they can be made visible, and if they can be understood, they can be used consciously to great effect.
Beliefs are opinions and ideas about things for which there isn’t enough information available to say, “I know.”
The difference between beliefs and culture is that while they both give us ‘truths’ of a sort, culture moves very slowly compared to beliefs. Culture changes over generations, beliefs can change overnight. Throughout your life there will be periods where beliefs change. They disappear, get stronger, and new beliefs arise as old ones are abandoned. Some changes are obvious – Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are two we usually abandon fairly soon. Religious conversion (either towards or away from) is a powerful belief change.
The important thing is to understand that shared beliefs encourage rapport. When you run into a belief that strongly contradicts your own, you are most likely to reject the person who holds them as being stupid or crazy. But, of course, our own beliefs aren’t stupid or crazy. Are they?
Well, we used to believe the earth was flat, Pluto was a planet, ‘bleeding’ someone could cure disease and women weren’t smart enough to vote. Stupid? Crazy? Not at all. Remember, beliefs fill the gap when there aren’t enough facts to actually know.
Recognize that others hold beliefs contrary to your own. Forget actual truth value, beliefs only seem true because they haven’t been proven false. Beliefs are powerful things and often resist change.
How you react to the events in your present circumstances is based on similar experiences you’ve had in the past. This is a great convenience to us, but is prone to mistakes.
The expedient part is that we don’t have to rethink every small part of our daily experience. A thousand minor events are dealt with nearly subconsciously. Everything from tying our shoes, buying gas, even reading and writing – all these skills are stored as memories. And we don’t have to relearn each task. The mistakes happen when we misuse or misapply our experiences. Americans have some difficulty driving in Europe. The same task that is automatic at home suddenly becomes difficult ‘on the wrong side of the road’. Of course, there isn’t a right or a wrong side. It’s just that our experiences no longer match the world around us.
Less obvious to us are the day to day mistakes – the assumptions we make, based on past experience, about new people. Slurred speech means they are dumb. Wrinkled clothing means they have sloppy work habits. The list of prejudices is endless. But memory is a powerful thing. If you’ve had difficulty with computers, and you need to use a computer, the whole experience is going to be shaped by your past experience. This may even congeal into a belief – computers are hard to work with.
April, 2007, Virginia Tech. 32 students are killed by Seung-Hui Cho. Although his motivations were complex, one thing is clear from the statements he left. His fear and loathing for society at large had been building for a long time. Labeled years before as having a social anxiety disorder, Cho’s experiences were of rejection and bullying by his peers. He found nothing of value in society and said, “You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option…You just loved to crucify me. You loved inducing cancer in my head, terror in my heart and ripping my soul all this time”.
Experiences matter. They accumulate and contribute to our model of the world around us. And a different set of experiences makes a different person. You are not just what you do, but what you have done. The paradox is that every new activity is different in some ways from the remembered one. Finding and exploiting these differences is key: knowing how much, and how little, to rely on past experience.
Become a Powerful Influencer
Now that you have a much better understanding on why people do what they do, you will find it much easier to “relate” with people you talk to. It’s not about you, it’s about the person in front of you.
AJ, this was very good. I agree that culture has a huge impact on people. Identifying the cultural paradigms you have been born into that influence you is a powerful way to figure out how to persuade yourself. It works on you and not just on others. Very important. Well done!
Thanks Stephen! Yes you are right, it can dramatically change the power of your thinking also.
culture can represent different and interesting views on various things and if taken in the right context, it can create a reality check for most people. assuming they want to change
You always want to be careful with culture because it can do both put you in rapport and drastically take you out.
I’ve always considered culture to be the sum or integration of many ways of communicating (with authorities, informally, etc). I even say that people behave ‘at the intersection’ of their different socializing circles (schooling, relationships, family, class, neighborhood etc). The surest way to understand a culture is to look at how people interact . . . and if you pace it, you get into rapport not just with that person but their sense of life/culture.
Well said Byron. This is true, understanding one’s culture can bring you in sync in unimaginable ways. It is your versatility that will allow you to personalize a “high rapport” experience with each individual you speak to.
AJ, that’s one hell-of-an important and deep topic, compiled in such a short post. I really liked it!
It is always important to try studying the culture, beliefs and the past experiences of the other parties involved in a communication – this is a crucial advice.
Thanks bud. It is probably something that would fit in an entire 300 page book, but I had to condense it into something people would read 😉
I think Experience is the biggest factor in affecting our decisions and followed by culture because everytime we make a decision we think and there is no way we can skip the experience stage
Yes, experience important…but where does experience come from…culture, experiences, and beliefs all intertwine with each other…
I can best relate it to “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Excellent site with outstanding information
Thanks Mani! Praises from my readers always means a lot to me.
My friend has mentioned that learning about other cultures is great especially when it comes to business because you have a general idea of their habits and if you can or can’t put up with that.
On top of that you can use it to your advantage when you are negotiating.
Right, it can be a very powerful tool that you can use to develop instant rapport. People like dealing with people who are like themselves.
I was raised Catholic and attended parochial school for 10 years.
I am not practicing today. To this day I think I’m a wonderful person because of Catholism and it’s influence on me. However I also dropped what I didn’t agree with ie, GUILT and that has helped as well.
Thank you Tess! I really enjoy your commentary. One should believe whatever they want to believe, but one should understand in order for rapport to be created, one must believe what other believe. As long as your intentions are not trickery, then you are in the clear. Hopefully that made sense, let me know if you want me to clarify. 🙂
Yep! What other people do is not about you, but it has always been about them. I remember reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz; the second agreement says not to take everything personally because its not really about you, its really about them.
I know some people like me had always been affected by the people around me. I always ask what’s wrong with me? why are they doing this? Do I need to change? Well, these questions will always put us into a life of low confidence and self-esteem which will affect every aspect of our life.
As you said in your post, “Itâ€™s not about you, itâ€™s about the person in front of you.”
I’m glad you get it. Focus on the person in front of you and you’ll most definitely notice a change.
Yes Kumar, you are right. While reading this post, section “How culture affects communication”, I just remembered some people who usually use their “cultural saying” when they are negotiating with others. For instance, I have met a lot of people from different cultures who tend to say…”you know, in our culture there is a common saying or proverb which says bla bla bla”. And what they tell me, is not necessarily what I belive. I just nod my head to show appreciation when I met these situations
Good post anyway, keep up the good work
Thanks! Yeah, when people say stuff about “this is how it’s done in my culture…etc.” it’s an immediate turn off. Good point!
so true how social conditioning affects culture like that.
“The important thing is to understand that shared beliefs encourage rapport. When you run into a belief that strongly contradicts your own, you are most likely to reject the person who holds them as being stupid or crazy. But, of course, our own beliefs arenâ€™t stupid or crazy. Are they?”
spot on. and interesting observation about how we associate others ideas with who they are.
really enjoyed that article. and definitely agree that the more you can build rapport and relate to people, the more persuasive you can be.
all the best
alex – unleash reality
Thanks buddy! It's all about letting go of the focus on you and transferring it to the person in front of you.
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