Living in cross cultural spaces will bring us face to face with many challenging and confusing situations and events. Whether it’s business or pleasure, life in a different culture is always interesting and full of surprises. Learning to learn from these experiences and events may help us navigate those spaces more gracefully in the future. Following the steps below also helps me learn about myself and my cultural assumptions and values. It can help me more objectively identify what cross cultural situations remain difficult for me as well as help me engage cross culturally with more effectiveness. If you have a trusted cultural insider, you might invite them to give you feedback as you work through the steps. It really gets exciting when you attempt to follow these steps in a second or third language, or if you are forced to use an interpreter. Of course, depending upon how the communication goes, that might create yet another event to debrief!!
Critical Incident Debriefing is sometimes used for traumatic events, but it is also helpful for the normal traumas and stresses of life in cross cultural spaces!
1. First, specify the event/incident/situation (pin-point it as closely as possible) and then describe that incident as vividly as possible. It’s usually better to learn these steps with a fairly short, simple event.
2. Provide a narrative in chronological order of the events and processes of the practical situation (what happened, and what you felt, thought and did about it). If you were angry or afraid, confused or frustrated acknowledge that. Productive debriefing depends on your being vulnerable and honest. Recapturing or reconstructing a complex situation chronologically in this way is not always easy, or straightforward. The mind/memory does not work like this. However, a disciplined attempt to relive/reconstruct an incident, preferably soon after the event, will usually enable it to be ordered into a narrative. Such a process often enables the learner-practitioner to recognize for the first time what actually has happened. It also establishes a basis from which further reflection can grow.
3. Then analyze and interpret it. Try to discover what was going on and why and what can be learned and applied for the future.
Here the following questions might help.
• Ask what else might have happened – or what else should have happened? What else might I have felt? How might I have responded differently?
• Try to see it from another (or several) cultural viewpoint.
• Ask what didn’t happen. Brainstorm possible reasons why it didn’t happen.
• Consider what was the (actual/root/preventable?) cause of the problem. Sometimes there may not be a preventable cause!
• Consider a reversal (what might have happened) of the situation.
• Consider what has been left out of the story you have told.
• Ask what personal stories (espoused theories and theories-in-use), and what beliefs, cultural values and assumptions might lie under the incident.
4. Finally, consider carefully:
• What are the problematic notions involved here,
• What are the dilemmas being posed by the incident,
• What is it that is essentially contestable and irresolvable?
• What needs further consideration? What is to be learned from this? (to be continued)
(to be continued)