Maybe some of you have experienced a similar situation:
you’re looking at a scene, a painting, a person, and it seems clear to you what is happening, maybe there is even some urgency involved.
an old lady was bumped over by what looks like a boy, who you think might be trying to steal her bag. You feel the urgency and, just to be sure you look for confirmation before you rush over, turn to someone next to you and say: ‘We should help that lady!’
And all you get in response, is a blank look of disbelief or concern, and a short response: ‘Why? The young man is already helping her up.’
Who is right, who is wrong? In this situation probably only the lady and the young man or boy know. We grow up with the ‘given’ certainty that there is a right and a wrong, a black and a white, a line that should not be crossed. And then we meet other people: people from other backgrounds, other families, and other cultures, and every once in a while, or sometimes a little more often, our view of what is right and wrong gets challenged.
And shades of grey (in case you’re thinking of a certain book here, this is not that kind of blog 😊) appear, even in situations where we would have thought that right and wrong is perfectly clear.
Should decisions in a team be made by the boss or jointly by the team? Are an individual’s goals in the team more or less important than the team? Should company values be developed top-down or bottom-up? Is status and money more important than a sense of purpose and fun at work? Most people will have a view on these questions in life, and they certainly won’t all be the same. They may seem odd or even wrong to you, but to someone else they may not.
The reason for that is partially found in their map of reality. There are good reasons we have these different maps. They are made up of many, many little and big experiences, values we have learned, adopted and rejected, traditions we follow or put aside, do’s and don’ts of our profession… and many things more. All these influences have served us well. That is why they remain part of our maps, they have proven themselves and made us successful in getting what we wanted in a way was needed in a particular situation at the time, be it as an infant, toddler, teenager or grown-up.
Smiling at your parents probably got you a smile and attention from them, showing off what you could do as a child may have got your praise, refusing to do what your parents wanted may have given you a sense of freedom as a teenager, and staying those extra hours at work may have resulted in someone at work noticing you when you wanted them to. Again, these means to an end may or may not seem appropriate to you, but they probably served the person in question well in what they wanted to achieve, or they would have stopped that behaviour in time.
So who’s map is right, then? Yours, your bosses, your partner’s?
In my view of the world, they all are right, for the person they belong to (and as long as they do not harm any one else in how they influence your actions).
How do you know your map may be influencing you? Whenever you have one of those ‘What the dickens is Mr X or Mrs Y doing?’ moments, or any other strong gut reactions that something someone else has done is right or wrong, these are indications that your inner map of what is appropriate and what is not is guiding you along.
So how can you avoid falling into the ‘what the dickens is Mr X doing now?’ trap and storming over to your colleague to berate their wrong behaviour (which may be totally appropriate from their point of view)? By taking time to mentally take a step back from the situation, realising that this is your reality, and maybe even being a bit curious about what Mr X’s reality is like (also something intercultural coaching and intercultural training can help you learn).You never know, next time he does that thing that drives you up the wall, it might even make sense, in his world and yours.
Happy exploring and map connecting!
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