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We See (and Understand) What We Know (Part 2)

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blue 2Dianne Hofner Saphiere (Cultural Detectives) pointed me to a recently published article about how linguistic dexterity is connected with cognitive development and vice versa: No one could see the color blue until modern times by Kevin Loria. The premise of the article directly ties into my own observation that people tend to focus on the familiar and often stop short of taking a closer look and exploring other possible meanings or interpretations. Selective seeing and (subconscious) selective processing of information can thereby easily lead to incomplete or even incorrect conclusions.

What other things, connections, concepts may we be unaware of because we lack the words to describe them or because we have not learned how to decode them? When clients first enter a coaching relationship their bodies are often exhibiting symptoms that are rooted in interpersonal experiences. Tight muscles, clenched jaws, headaches, sweating. The person may even have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong but is lacking the words to describe it. An experienced coach will ask questions, invite explorations and may offer a range of vocabulary to become more and more specific in the descriptions of symptoms, experiences, and stories. With an expanded range of words to explore emotions comes progress and the ability to “see” dynamic relationships and dependencies.

Here are some questions to think about as we encounter unfamiliar people in new settings. How do we recognize invitations to enter  into relationships? How do we discern what type of relationship is desired? How can you predict behavior across cultures if the behavior is grounded in concepts that you may be utterly unfamiliar with? How does that relate to global leadership? All these questions ultimately point to the importance of learning the proper tools and expressions to engage in effective intercultural communication.


  1. Tanya Richard says:

    Very interesting ideas! The part about the coach offering a range of vocabulary to become more specific in his descriptions really caught my eye. Languages and cultures all have different words for so many different feelings/actions/items.. I feel like the German language is very good at that. It has words like Vorfreude, Fernweh, Erklärungsnot… that the English language doesn’t. The addition and knowledge of new words can create a higher and more precise level of understanding (eskimos have 50 words for snow!).


  2. butlertalks says:

    In today’s complex world, we are indeed challenged to expand and further define our vocabulary and by giving more context and depth to unfamiliar or uncomfortable concepts, we may give them a place to be discussed with less friction. Creating words for “otherness” that imply differences that can be feared, respected, appreciated, cherished, questioned, explored? Maybe rather than wishing to eliminate negative words from our vocabulary, we should try to give further nuance to how we perceive people and situations?

    I would think that as humans added further depths to the perception of color over time, people can add richness to our human feelings, interaction and relationships through an expanded vocabulary and learn to not fear and fight differences but accept them see them as complementary to the kaleidoscope of human expressions.


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