In a break from tradition at the 2011 State of the Union when members of both political parties were sitting together, Democratic Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar said that it was like prom night to be seated next to Republican Senator Jeff Session from Alabama.
Do you remember your prom night? The matching of the clothing, the request for a wrist or pin-on corsage and worst of all: the awkward forced photo session at your home. Yes, prom is a study in awkwardness.
But so is most of communication, and especially cross-cultural communication. When the president noted in his speech that “American Muslims are part of our American family” I was reminded that, yes, indeed, they are and so are the many other ethnic groups that make up our great country. In fact, the term “minority” is making less sense as the years go by. In California, New Mexico and dozens of large cities, Caucasion Americans make up less than half of the population.
Learning to communicate well across cutures in not a luxury, it is an imperative. Here are a few tips we should keep in mind:
* Avoid assumptions. Don’t assume that others will act the same way you do.
* Avoid judgements. When people act differently, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are in error.
* Acknowledge distinctions. Don’t ignore differences, instead try to learn about them.
It is also wise to become aware of your own biases, and exercise tolerance, flexibility and respect.
For example, I have a “no hat” policy in speech class (some hats cover a speaker’s face, and thus reduce the ability to communicate well nonverbally), but students who are Sikh wear a head covering, such as a turban to show they loyal to their guru. I would not ask a person who is wearing a headcovering for religious reasons to remove it.
So, maybe the Democratic and Republican senators felt as though they were at prom night. Truth is, to get through the “global dance” successfully, we are all going to the prom.
PS: I like daisies in my corsages.