Cross-Cultural Communication: Getting The Elephant Out: Credibility And Approachability – Michael Grinder & Associates

Cross-Cultural Communication: Getting the Elephant Out: Credibility and Approachability

A colleague shared that she presented my work on “Credible and Approachable.” After her presentation, a Black student said that she was tired of trying to adapt to a white man’s world.

Her question? “Why do you get to determine who is credible and approachable?”

There are two sides to interpretations.

To understand another culture:

A culture, whether “lawyers,” “fast-food handlers,” or a social culture, can best be understood by learning the “baseline” of the culture.

For instance, a characteristic of the baseline Southern culture is that people talk more slowly. People in the Northeast are known to talk faster.  Or, many in the brown culture can be seen as soft-spoken, while, Black culture voices often “carry” (are louder.)

To be understood:

Communication become challenging when a member of one culture talks to another culture (cross-cultural communication.)

If the listener is a member of a “majority” culture, they are not used to adjusting. Instead, they expect the minority culture speaker to change to the majority cultural norms.

What does this mean?

If I am the speaker from the minority culture (e.g., brown) and I want to be myself, it is advisable to open with a preface that “gets the elephant out.”

For example, a brown speaker could open by saying, “Don’t mistake my soft-voice for the vehemence I feel.” Or a Black speaker may say, “I have been told that I speak loudly. Please understand, it is my volume – nothing else.”

The above applies to a boss talking to a subordinate, as well a subordinate talking to a boss.

Remember, there are two sides to interpretations. Getting the elephant out allows you to replace others’ hallucination of you with your suggestion of how to more accurately interpret you.


What would you add to this post? Leave a comment and let us know!

2 thoughts on “Cross-Cultural Communication: Getting the Elephant Out: Credibility and Approachability”

  1. Michael, this is interesting and it brings up more questions. Does it suggest that the member of a majority culture get the elephant out rather than work toward adjusting?


      Mary- great question! The purpose of this article is to expose what happens without indicating which party has the burden of adjusting. This begs the larger question- when we communicate are we just doing self-expression, and if so, do it with a style that is yours. If however, our outcome is to actually convey the meaning behind our words we would be very interested in modifying how we deliver the message.

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