If you are living cross-culturally lean in a little bit here.  This is important and frankly a bit confusing.

Here we go.

Asking questions is quite possibly the most significant determiner of your success or failure abroad. The evidence is in and the case studies (centuries of them) support the hypothesis.

Learners do this well.

Know-it-alls crash . . . hard.

Ignorance is never the problem. We’re all ignorant. Pretending you are not though is stressful . . . and unsustainable . . . and toxic.

That’s the important part. Here’s the confusing bit.

Answers lie.

Even the good ones. The right ones. The correct and absolutely true ones. In fact the more solid, convincing and complete the answer is, the more problematic the end results are.

Follow my logic.

When we get an answer we are left believing that we no longer need to ask questions.

We’re good. Problem solved. Case closed. Now we understand so there is nothing left to explore . . . and that is NEVER, EVER TRUE.

There is ALWAYS more to it. Especially when it comes to cultural understanding.

I am a question asker by nature. I am curious about people and what makes them tick. I get giddy about the graphs and the charts and the infographics that compare and explain cultures. I geek out on the broad stroke data that paints the picture of how people group A is collectivist and B is individualistic . . . or high context and low context . . . or honor and shame . . . or time sensitive and people oriented.

I have to poke myself in the eye though to keep myself from declaring the four most fatal words of understanding people . . .

“Ahhh, now I get it.”

I DON’T get it. In fact with every layer that I peel back I recognize, just a tiny bit more, how complex IT really is.  The more I learn about any group of people the less I know.

And I’m ok with that.

Answers are a slippery slope.

Personally, I think there is a better way to ask questions and gain understanding.

 

I think we should ask LESS SIGNIFICANT questions to FEWER NUMBERS OF PEOPLE for a MUCH LONGER TIME.

 

That sounds ridiculous and a little bit horrible but follow my logic.

Show me an outsider who sits down in any group of people for two months and asks the same question every day to a different person — something simple like “what do children want to be when they grow up?” and I’ll show you someone who understands collectivism and individualism better than any chart, graph or infographic.

Why? Because you get more than a single answer when you keep asking. You get nuance and personality and contrast and opinion and history and frustration and dreams and tension and hope.

But only if you listen.

Show me two very different friends who meet once a week and ask each other multiple simple questions like, “how do you define family?” or “what does the color red mean?” or “when do you dance?” and I’ll show you two people who get each other . . .

Who get IT.

There is something rich about understanding THEM by asking HIM or HER simple questions versus understanding HIM or HER by asking complex questions about THEM.

If you are blessed enough to have relationships with people who see the same world from a different perspective then don’t miss the opportunity to ask questions because you already know the answer.

 

If you need a place to start click below to get my free ebook, “99 Questions for Global Friends.”

 

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GLOBAL FRIENDS, FREE

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