Geert Hofstede’s work serves as the basis for much of intercultural communications theory, particularly as relates to communication between individuals of different nationalities. Hofstede originally identified four dimensions of cultural difference: individualism (versus collectivism), masculinity (versus femininity); power distance, and uncertainty avoidance, studying 70 countries by these dimensions of ‘difference.’ Today there are probably 200 dimensions.
When Tracie D. Hall, Founder and President of GoodSeed Consulting, and I presented at the Illinois Arts Alliance this week, on “Diversity as a Catalyst for Organizational Change” we presented a grid of more than 30 things to consider, from age to marital status, to skin color, income level, or parental status.
And this didn’t even touch the idea of culture as in ‘the way we do things here’…or which we may not always like to acknowledge as having its own unique dimension: ‘the way I do things.’
At a recent conference looking at a multidisciplinary approach to create better service systems in intercultural environments (presented by the International Service System Engineering Lab at the University of Puerto Rico), the PhD Engineers, Modelers, Marketers, and other academics at one point literally said “well, you’re stupid!” on the road to coming to consensus around a framework of action. Sure, they were Chinese, Indian, African-American, Ecuadorian, from all across the U.S… but it was the diversity of ideas and approaches that created tension. “I wouldn’t do it that way, so I can’t work with you.”
So, back to me and Tracie. We both have engaging smiles, contagious energy, and we are both deeply passionate about the work that we do in the field of Diversity.
But at the same time it’s the diversity of ideas that challenges us. Tracie’s academic background and leadership experience is in Library Sciences, mine’s in Marketing. We have different styles of communicating. We read the same information and come away with two completely different interpretations.
And that is wonderful. That is what we hope will make us a more powerful duo by working together.
The lesson though, is in realizing how some of what Tracie calls the ‘low hanging fruit’–the typically mentioned markers of diversity such as race, gender, orientation, ethnicity and ability, while an integral part of one’s identity, really are less significant when we are ready to get down to discussing the heart of ideas that connect us.
The loss is when these simple markers of difference prevent the deeper discussion. What do you think?