Lieven's Blog

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A different perspective on shrimps…a little experiment

Clipboard with Pencil_16x16 In my work as a psychologist I became especially interested in the reasons why it’s so easy for people with a different cultural background, to have misunderstandings or even conflicts. A lot has to do with the fundamental skill to see the reality from the perspective of “the other”. Through the years, I developed a set of basic exercises that I use during my lectures and workshops to make business people and MBA students more aware of the existence of multiple perspectives on the same reality. To get an idea of this, watch the movie and take a minute to describe what spontaneously comes up in your mind. Afterwards continue to read.

Shrimp movie © Lieven Verbrugge.

Have you done it? I presented this footage (and others) to groups of Chinese and European/US citizens. The reactions I received from both groups are very different. If you just had a reaction like:" "What kind of animals are these?" or "Where was it filmed?" or "Looks a bit weird" or "Are these shrimps?", then you most probably come from Europe or the US. On the hand if your reaction was something like: "Mmmh, looks really delicious" or "you can prepare them with soya sauce..." or "I'm getting hungry when I see this", then most probably you are a person from China. It’s interesting to see how the same images trigger very different thoughts (and emotions) in different cultural groups.

Food, talking about food and sharing a meal with business people and family members is a central theme in the Chinese culture. They are definitely belonging to what we could call “the food-cultures”. As the Chinese saying goes: "We eat everything with four legs, except a table. We eat everything with two legs except a human being", describes very well how Chinese people relate to food. On the other hand, in the West (especially in the US) we often see food as "a means to get fuel".

The footage shows a very harmless situation of shrimps in an aquarium, however you can find differences in perception in many important daily situations. A more dramatic one is the idea of many Western people to create a win-win situation in business. I found this attitude very seldom when I work with Asian business people. They have often the attitude of an athlete, who just wants to win. These different perspectives on “doing business” are one of the main reasons why there are so many frustrations and misunderstandings during for example business negotiations. In a globalized economy it has become essential for business people who want to be successful, to let go the ethnocentric approach and to understand that there is more than just one perception of “reality”. (475 words)

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