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Is It Possible to Avoid Generalizations When Researching Various Cultures?

Generalization

Is It Possible to Avoid Generalizations When Researching Various Cultures?

Research on “cultures” deals with groups, and therefore relies on generalizations. However, every society has members who do not fit the overall cultural mold. In each culture, there will always be those who behave somewhat differently. Is there a better method to research cultures without using generalizations? Can we improve our way of understanding individuals for the sake of forging productive cross-cultural communication with them?

I think that generalization is the first step when we want to understand any person coming from a different culture. Generalizations are a must in order to delve deeper and, ironically, comprehend the individual’s uniqueness. . On the other hand, Professor Stefanie Rathje (http://stefanie-rathje.de/), from Berlin University of the Arts, considers such cultural observations rather dangerous. She holds that this kind of traditional research leads to four major problems:

  1. Reducing individuals to group statements.
  2. Seeing differences as “eternal,” without understanding that people change all the time, based on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives.
  3. Insisting on mass cultural gaps which encouraging opposition and out-group dynamics.
  4. Pretending that conflicts can be avoided through some kind of knowledge or training.

Prof. Rathje asserts that if we want to solve these problems, we need new training, according to a different cultural paradigm. The first step is to understand that each of us consists of many layers (we are all Michelin men). I, for example, am a woman, 40 years old, Jewish, a mother, wife and consultant, self-employed, Israeli, a daughter, sister, traveler, yoga practitioner and more. Each layer is me, but in each one I communicate with my surroundings in a different way. I am more politically correct as a consultant; very direct and informal as an Israeli; and much more spoiled as a daughter than as a mother.

We are also members of diverse networks. We navigate confidently within our familiar networks, and behave according to known contexts: I dress differently when I go to a yoga class, when I travel, and when I go pick up my kids from school. It is true that I am an Israeli, but first of all I am an individual, a person, rather than a “sample.”

Networks connect individuals. And when we want to connect to a new network, we find it very challenging to communicate, since we don’t feel a sense of belonging. In other words, language is not the only barrier. When we meet new people from a new network, we can’t afford to behave in our customary manner. Sometimes we even need to form new habits in order to build relationships. Meeting new people, especially from different cultures, also gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves and the culture we come from.

As an organizational consultant who specializes in cross cultural communication, I find Prof. Rathje’s point of view very interesting. However, I think that despite our multiple layers, and our not being mere representative samples or patterns of our groups, nations or cultures, it is still useful, relevant and necessary to discuss the main characteristics of distinct cultures and—yes—to use generalizations, in order to understand both broad trends and small details. General knowledge of someone’s culture is vital for building useful communication with them. Knowing their culture’s clear patterns and main characteristics provides us with the opportunity to understand people in depth, both as a product of their base culture and as unique individuals.

 

Read more about Osnat Lautman, and the services offered by OLM Consulting, at www.olm-consulting.com.

Also, you can find information about the main Israeli culture characteristics, in Osnat Lautman Amazon best seller book “Israeli Business Culture”: https://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Business-Culture-Effective-Relationships-ebook/dp/B014YXXSNE/

 

 

 

OLM Consulting Founder

Osnat Lautman is a well-known intercultural expert and the author of the Amazon bestselling book ‘Israeli Business Culture’. Osnat is passionate about cultures, connecting humans and breaking through culture barriers. She created the ISRAELI™ model of Israeli business characteristics (Informal, Straightforward, Risk-Taking, Ambitious, Entrepreneurial, Loud, Improvisational) to reveal the foundations of the Israeli innovative culture. Osnat supports many organizations and individuals to effectively connect and engage with Israelis, avoid misunderstanding and maximize the value of combining the innovative Israeli spirit into a multi culture environment.

Osnat is the founder of OLM Consulting and her customer include the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel, The Jewish Agency, Verint, NYU Tel Aviv, the British Embassy, the Swedish Embassy, the Belgium Embassy, FIDF, Israel Defense Ministry delegation in New York, JCC Association, National Bank of Australia, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 888 Holdings, Corning, SkyVision, ObserveIT, MX1, Israel Export Institute, StartApp, Tel Aviv Municipality, and many others.

Osnat lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, from 2009 to 2013. During this time, she started her extensive research on the differences between Israeli and non-Israeli business cultures, including video interviews with businesspeople from numerous origins. The recorded discussions are incorporated into her lectures and workshops for demonstration purposes.

Osnat holds:
M.A in Social Science and Communications, Bar Ilan University, Israel
Certificate in Organizational Development, New York University, New York
Coach License from Co-Active Training Institute, Israel

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