12/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Tear Down the Walls: How to See Everyday Conflicts as Cross-Cultural

"I don't like that man very much ... I'm going to have to get to know him better." -- Abraham Lincoln

Before jumping to conclusions about the other person, seek cultural clues in the conflict.

All interactions are cross-cultural in one simple sense. Each person brings different cultural experiences to the table. These experiences impact your identity and the way you work things out with others. Even if you are from the same family, cultural gaps widen by growing up in different generations, going to different schools, being of opposite genders or simply looking different.

When you travel to a foreign country, you are more likely to question your assumption about dealing with others. You assume you do not know everything. So why not bring that perspective to everyday situations at home and work where cross-cultural differences are not as obvious? If you are already scratching your head about the other person before you've even engaged with them, then you are missing something. Treat that gender, age or work difference between you as a chance to find cultural insight. What appears to you as irrational, the other person views as perfectly sensible.

When you view a situation as cross-cultural you are more likely to share your perceptions as perceptions. You are more likely to think that you do not have all the information or that you don't know all the history of a situation. Why not apply a similar logic when approaching conflicts in a more familiar territory?

Understand the cultures -- corporate, family and so on -- of the people with whom you are interacting. Just as such insight helps in relating to a person from a foreign country, it prevents miscommunication and misunderstanding in everyday situations.

Look at your own cultural background. This is not as easy as it sounds. Your own culture is often invisible to you, like water to fish or air to humans, yet highly visible or recognizable to the other species. Individuals often remark that they never felt more American than when they lived abroad. Consider the most common types of interactions as cross-cultural to bridge the omnipresent differences.

The take-home message in cross-cultural conflict is that openness and a willingness to learn will help you. The more you truly engage the other person, the more you will see and understand both your differences and commonalities.

Next week, I will focus on how to ease into the tough topics so you can find comfortable ways to raise challenging issues.

To learn more effective communication strategies to help you improve your relationships and outcomes, check out the resources, solutions, and methodologies Grande Lum has created at Accordence, Inc.

For further discussion, contact Grande at