Twelve steps to becoming a great intercultural communicator: Ethnocentrics Anonymous

What if I would base my classes on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous? The principles of AA are world-famous and are proven to work. Just like learning intercultural skills, it is about a perspective shift of the student. It involves deconstructing and reconstructing personal beliefs.

Triggered by these thoughts, I decided to use AA’s principles as a thought experiment to reconsider the order of my course content for next semester. I train students in Intercultural Communication and Personal Leadership (in intercultural communication) and I see every semester as a fresh start, which I approach with new energy and curiosity to try out new instruction methods.

So, what if my class was like AA? What would I do first? Here is a link to AA’s original famous 12-step program.

And here are my 12 steps to becoming a great intercultural communicator

  • Step 1: Recognize that you are still learning. Understand and acknowledge that there are aspects of other cultures you do not know about.
  • Step 2: Believe that different people live by different rules, that are equally valid to our own.
  • Step 3: Make a decision to be open, mindful, and observant of all the differences and similarities between people in the world we live in.  Set a goal, to notice a number of undiscovered differences and similarities every day.
  • Step 4: Get to know yourself. Know what you value, and how you came to value what you value.
  • Step 5: Recognize that your truth is one of many truths out there. “The Golden Rule” does not exist.
  • Step 6: Accept that you have to practice, work, craft your skills and reflect on your actions and experiences to get better at Intercultural Communication.
  • Step 7: Let go of beliefs that are in the way of your intercultural development.
  • Step 8: Make a list of situations in which you want to behave differently. Describe how you would like to behave.
  • Step 9: Behave differently. Try to adapt to the situation, be vulnerable, get out of your comfort zone and research uncomfortable interactions. Reflect on your behavior, and try again.
  • Step 10: Continue to practice leadership of your own actions, judgments, and experiences. When you are wrong, promptly admit it to yourself and others.
  • Step 11: Meditate, reflect on your actions and thoughts, be mindful in daily life, practice what you preach.
  • Step 12: Teach others.

There are so many parallels to AA and Intercultural Communication. First of all, if you skip a step, the method will not be as effective for you. If you do not believe that people with different values have equally valid beliefs (step 2), it is almost impossible to practice intercultural skills with an open mind. In my experience, you will have to go back to step 2, until you have resolved this step, and then continue to practice.

Secondly, may a closed mindset be a sort of addiction? Is not considering other peoples beliefs, values, and cultural sense, an easy way out? In a way, judgment is an easy escape from a nuanced view of the world and its complexity. Ignorance is bliss, as the famous saying goes. Being uncomfortable, mindful, open, out there, enhances your intercultural communication skills. Being comfortable, judgemental, sure of your own values and beliefs, is not helpful at all for your development as an interculturalist.

Finally, I believe that there is still something to learn for me. I may not practice all the recommendations in all of these steps. Though I have worked in intercultural communication for more than six years now, I feel like there are still plenty of things to learn and practice for me.

Did you find interesting parallels to your work and these 12 steps? Do you think I am missing something, or should word something differently? Let me know! I am eager to learn.

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