The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RGLP Recap: "Solving 21st century problems Demands intercultural competence."

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This ongoing series explores sessions of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP) through participant narratives. RGLP engages Dartmouth students who have demonstrated leadership skills and would like to extend these skills on a globally conscious level. In this program, students focus on and further develop international leadership competencies, which have become increasingly crucial in corporate, public and non-profit sectors today.

Intercultural understanding is one of those nice buzz phrases to which most people nod their heads to and think they have, yet is very hard to put into actionable terms. This past session of RGLP really put intercultural understanding into real terms for me. We divided into sections based on our communication style. People who like to keep rapid conversation flow, not afraid to quickly interject thoughts, were called “overlappers.” People who prefer to allow individuals to fully finish their thoughts, and even allowing moments of silence for contemplation, are called “pausers.” “Turn takers” were somewhere in between. Halfway through a conversation in mixed groups, we were forced to change communication style to one we weren’t used to and proceed through the rest of the conversation accordingly.

Photo by Timothy J. Serkes

This simple activity allowed me to reach some powerful conclusions. First, even communication style can form a cultural divide. Within the context of a single language, English, we may have different cultures interacting and attempting to bridge differences. Second, I had the realization that each ‘culture’ comes from prioritization of different values. There isn’t one communication style that’s necessarily ‘better’ than another. Pausers may value sensitivity and not wanting to interrupt others while overlappers may value conversation flow and keeping people excited. Third, I had the realization that all perspectives and cultures bring some sort of unique value. While it was personally uncomfortable for me to interrupt others  as I naturally tend toward being a turn taker, I saw that when I did take the role of overlapper, the conversation ended up being extremely engaging and interesting. Another member of my group and I connected on points that may not have been mentioned if we weren’t moving at the pace of conversation that happened when I shifted into being an overlapper.

It’s easy to see how misunderstanding can creep into situations such as these. Pausers may see overlappers as ‘rude’ or overlappers see pausers as ‘bored’ or ‘disengaged.’ However, a sharpened sense of intercultural understanding allows us to accept and even adjust to these differences. These are the skills I hope to continue to gain through the rest of my term with RGLP.

-Written by Daniel Fang '15, Fall 2014 RGLP Participant

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences