Visuals and Multi-Cultural Environments

Culture is everywhere!A few months ago, in our July 2010 Tuesday Topics call, Christine talked about “Why Visuals Work.” As a part of that call, one of the listeners asked a question about multi-cultural environments. Here’s a snippet of that interview:

Interviewer: What role can visuals play? How do they work differently, or better or less effectively with people in multicultural environments, as we all seem to find ourselves in today?

Christine: Well, we’ve done a lot of work with the images in a cross-cultural context. We developed them specifically to help with some of these issues. So one of the ways it does it is [by] really help[ing] level language difference. You know, because when everyone has a different native language that they speak, and they’re oftentimes required to speak in English—which could be their fourth or fifth language—the images really help. They help kind of keep the ideas and save them.

What I mean is that you put the ideas down on the table and they’re there. And you have those artifacts to help you talk about them. So you’re not necessarily sitting there translating in your head or thinking about what you’re going to say because it’s there, it kinda sits there. So it gives you the ability to listen more fully to the other people in your group. We hear a lot of stories about that.

We see a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily share because they’re uncomfortable with their language abilities or whatever, share much more freely and they’re more fluent when they’re speaking from the images. It’s really pretty amazing to see.

Int: Is that in part because they’re describing something that they can then use as a reference as they’re describing it?

Christine: Yeah, I think that’s part of it, absolutely. And also it’s just more concrete. You know you’re making ideas more concrete by taking a visual image and putting it on the table. And it frequently is easier to describe things that have some kind of concreteness than something that is very abstract.

Int: I’m sure we could do an entire call about this, but are there specific kinds of cultures that respond in different kinds to ways to the images? Things that you’ve noticed through the process?

Christine: Absolutely. You’re right that’s a whole huge other call. Absolutely they respond very differently. You see the real cultural difference come forward, which is one of the things that’s really amazing and awesome. You see the ways in which they construct meaning very, very differently.

And those are all the things that kind of come out when you are doing VisualsSpeak sessions. As you go around the table, all those kind of ideas and different ways of looking at the world are put on the table and are being talked about. So even if the person isn’t currently living in another culture, or they’re a second-generation or whatever, you start to see some of those differences.

And you know it’s changing a lot because we’re working in multicultural environments. So it’s not as distinct as it would have been twenty years ago, when people were pretty much staying in their native cultures and it was rare to have people being global citizens. Whereas now, you’re seeing this melding of culture of origin and the cultures that they’re working in. Oftentimes, the organizational culture becomes very important, and it supercedes some of those personal culture kinds of aspects.


For the whole interview, head to our audiocasts page. You’ll find this excerpt around 38 minutes into the call.

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