Tips to Recover from a Cultural Faux Pas

The best way to minimize cultural blind spots is to increase your data point around the human experience. And that means, wait for it….interacting with humans who are different from you. The truth is, however, the more you lean in to unfamiliar cultures and have dialog across differences, you increase the likelihood of  unintentionally saying something that is culturally improper, insensitive, or even offensive

Making a cultural faux pas may sting, but it is important to know that you can recover and learn from the experience. Use these tips to make bouncing back from a blunder easier.

  • Take a deep breath. How you respond to a mistake often matters more than the fact that you made one. Take a deep breath to calm your nerves so you can respond thoughtfully and from the other person’s perspective versus react emotionally or defensively.
  • Be open to feedback. Arguing or refusing to appreciate the mistake and its impact on the other person is unproductive. A more positive approach is to listen to feedback, seek to understand (even if you don’t agree in the moment) and acknowledge your knowledge gaps.
  •  Engage in self-reflection. Transform your mistake into a learning opportunity by reflecting on the situation with a more objective lens after time has passed. Really try to understand what the mistake was, why it mattered and what you can do differently. If you are still in doubt, circle back with the person you offended to ask questions or talk to someone you trust who can provide relevant perspective.
  • Move on. At the end of the day, most people are kind and forgiving if they sense your actions were unintentional and you express genuine interest in learning. Therefore, you need to be equally kind to yourself, dust yourself off and move on without dwelling.

Last but not least, be willing to lead by example. Cultural mistakes are inevitable. Being willing to share your example with others as evidence that you can survive, learn and move forward will encourage others to not hold back from engaging across diversity out of fear of making mistakes. 

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Beth Ridley is a former corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker and author. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to partner with leaders to transform workplace cultures to better achieve their vision and goals. Beth’s work is featured in national publications and she frequently delivers keynotes and workshops at events around the world. Beth lives with her husband and three children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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