I got an unexpected lesson in Cross-Cultural Communications last week at the “Almost Home” celebration at Kegel Harley Davidson in Rockford, IL. Looking across the field of hundreds of ‘bikers’ wearing faded Levi’s and t-shirts, I felt consciously aware of my striped Capri pants and tailored shirt. “There are no other children here,” I also noted to my 7 year-old after we were well inside the festival.
We ‘stuck to plan,’ getting something to eat before heading back to Chicago. As we sat back to enjoy our food it gave an opportunity to observe our surroundings and compare it to my preconceived ideas about this ‘cultural’ group. I realized I knew nothing deeper than stereotypes from movies. And this didn’t connect with what we saw: groups of men and women pleasantly socializing, typical festival vendors (Miller, Pepsi, etc.) plus some unexpected ones: upscale restaurants, the local German Cultural Organization, and an insurance company.
The experience had me pondering my definition of culture last week and also researching demographics of Harley Riders, realizing how assumptions can get in the way of marketing by clouding our sense of what products a particular group might buy.
My week’s lesson was affirmed yesterday when I led a Communications Workshop for Local Coordinators at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Midwest Region office. Local coordinators are key players in FAA management who oversee operations and air traffic control for smaller regional airports. One of the coordinators, Dan, it turns out, owns 4 Harley’s. I took this discovery a ‘learning moment.’ Being a “Harley Rider” (or insert any cultural distinction here) was an integral part of Dan’s identity, but was not a label that defined (or limited) who he was.
If you want to be sure to ‘walk the talk,’ make opportunities in your everyday life to test and expand your own ‘intercultural appreciation quotient’-your way of embracing and empathizing the many perspectives on life. Here are some ways to get started:
- 1. Value every single interaction as an opportunity to communicate across lines of difference-people vary in not only in culture and ethnicity but in political views, life experience, etc.
- 2. Ask questions and LISTEN…don’t assume you know what someone thinks or likes because of his/her appearance.
- 3. Go to the grocery store or grab coffee in another neighborhood and observe everything around you. While you may not recognize all of the items in the Asian market, see what people are buying, or watch the family interaction-it’s amazing how many things are universal to human nature, that cross cultural boundaries.
How does this relate to intercultural marketing? It opens your eyes and changes the paradigm, giving you more tools to look at culture. And having as many tools as possible at hand is one way to ensure you’ll always have the right tool for the job. Explore and grow!