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cultural negotiation skills

Do you have a cultural problem?

Culture gives us orientation on how to eat, build our homes, communicate etc. Culture happens when individuals come together and agree upon a common behavior. It is like a collective thumbprint. At its best it creates some guidelines to get us through this crazy thing called life. It keeps each human being from having to reinvent the wheel, figuratively and literally.


But sometimes culture fails us. Sometimes we find ourselves in a culture that does not sustain us or help us to thrive. The wrong kind of orientation or lack of orientation altogether can be quite unsettling. Unlike life’s challenges that can inspire us towards growth, cultural problems can create and maintain a feeling of being stuck in a rut and keep us from growing towards our potential.


Fortunately, there are a few clear signs to help us recognize chronic cultural problems in our everyday lives.


5 Signs you may have a cultural problem


  1. Isolation. A healthy, well-functioning culture is designed to include everyone. Not being able to connect with others is a critical cultural problem. So, why is it so hard to connect? Each individual situation is different, but common causes of cultural conflict that lead to isolation may include: underdeveloped language skills, special interests not supported by the community, too much media/ screen time etc. Staying connected first means knowing where to find the people or places where you can find connection. Isolation and depression from isolation are part of the fastest growing social dilemmas worldwide. It takes an active pursuit in order to land in good company. If you aren’t sure where or how to start making connections, you may have a cultural problem.


  1. Feeling unheard. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it is easy to feel like no one understands you. Sometimes it can feel like you speak loud and clear, but everyone is too busy being the star of their own movie to actually hear you. Successful communication depends on more than one person. But sometimes cultural communication structures are designed to give one person more speaking power than another. Who is allowed to speak is often determined by cultural values and settings. If you constantly find yourself not being listened to, you may have a cultural problem.


  1. A lack of orientation. Culture is designed to be passed on from one generation to the next. However, this day and age is bringing a lot of ‚firsts‘. The digital age of information, global traveling, changing gender roles (just to name a few) often leave us with opinions, thoughts and feelings without a benevolent consensus to actually help guide us. Opinions aren’t necessarily orientation. Expectations, from others and from yourself, are not the same as orientation. Even though people often have the best of intentions, their input can often cloud your judgment and keep you from recognizing the options you have that would lead you towards your desired goals. Not knowing your options for the task at hand is, you guessed it, is a cultural problem.


  1. The need to be right. There are many jobs where ‚being right‘ is crucial (doctors, engineers etc.) because a mistake could cause devastating effects. But if no one’s life is at stake or buildings will not fall, then we really need to reexamine our need to be right. ‚Being right‘ may feel good because it makes things easy to predict- we feel smart because we knew something was coming. But ‚being right‘ implies that there is only one correct way of doing things; when it comes to cultural matters this idea can have devastating effects. Culture at its best, provides space for individuals to grow, however, that can’t happen when an individual has to try and fit themselves into a situation which is ‚right‘ for someone else. Making space means acknowledging that there is more than one ‚right‘ way. If you have trouble allowing more than one right answer to exist, you may have a cultural problem.


  1. That icky static feeling. There are lots of reasons why this feeling occurs. It feels static because your flow is actually disrupted. This feeling lets you know that there is some kind of power struggle at play. Maybe the power struggle is from an outside source: perhaps a person whose plans conflict with your own. Maybe the power struggle is from within: feelings that stir up guilt, anger, fear, shame or expectations. If you don’t know how to make space for your feelings, it can keep you from negotiating situations effectively. Sometimes our feelings persuade us to do things we don’t really want to do, often taking on responsibilities that aren’t ours to begin with. Not recognizing this dynamic is a cultural problem.



Recognizing cultural issues is the first step toward fixing them. Chronic cultural problems prolong misery and waste energy that could be spent advancing you towards your goals and getting what you want out of life. Despite modern cultural norms emphasizing the value of individual success, science shows that human beings survive better in social groups- in communities that flourish culturally.


In this day and age access to cultural orientation should be available to everybody. Solid cultural strategies help people to attain their goals, increasing their confidence and self worth. Confident, healthy individuals are the human seeds from which vibrant communities grow. Communities that have members who value themselves and each other increase our odds for peaceful coexistence.


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