What first drew you to intercultural communication and cross-cultural work?
Like many people of a certain age, it was my time in the Peace Corps. I did not join the PC for an intercultural experience—I joined to escape going to Vietnam—but having had one, I was eventually able to use that experience to start a consulting/training business, helped immensely by the cachet that publishing my first couple of books bought me.
What has surprised you most in all your years of training and engaging in intercultural communication work?
I don’t know if it’s what surprised me, but what I have found the most satisfying is how positively people respond to the content of our field (in workshops/talks). People understand right away how this can help them, and it’s very satisfying as a trainer to give people something they can use and that will benefit them in their work and perhaps even in their lives.
What has been most challenging in your intercultural work and how have you dealt with that?
I guess one of the biggest challenges is dealing skillfully with the issue of generalizing. It’s not possible not to generalize in our field, but it understandably rubs some people the wrong way. Usually I deal with the subject by acknowledging the issue (I am going to generalize today) and then I explain why (because there’s no useful alternative). And then I say: But you are never going to meet a general person and you’re never going to be in a general situation, so take everything you hear today with a grain of salt. That usually defuses the situation.
What role do you see intercultural competence playing within current crises? (In other words, what advice do you have about bridging divides across differences?)
I think that intercultural competence, in that its goal is to help people to identify differences between themselves and others and ultimately to acknowledge the validity and essential legitimacy of other, even opposing points of view—to the extent it does that, then it makes differences less threatening. Only when differences become less threatening do bridges really become possible.
What advice would you give to young professionals in the intercultural field?
Hmmm. Don’t be too judgemental. Interculturalists do their field a grave disservice when they become purists. You have to deal with people the way you find them. Nothing wrong with trying to get people to open up, be more tolerant, more accepting, less rigid. But if they get the impression you think you’re somehow superior to them—because you’re so open, so tolerant, so accepting—they won’t listen. Would you?
Craig Storti is the director of Communicating Across Cultures and author of several works, including “The Art of Crossing Cultures,” “The Art of Doing Business Across Cultures,” and “Why Travel Matters: A Guide to the Life-Changing Effects of Travel.” With over 30 years of cross-cultural training experience, Craig has advised Fortune 500 companies, led cross-cultural trainings on four continents, and advised numerous government agencies on how to better manage global and culturally diverse work teams. A popular speaker, Craig is represented by The Washington’s Speaker Bureau and The European Speakers’ Bureau, and his writing has been featured in a number of national media including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. Craig is fluent in French, Arabic, and Nepali, having lived nearly a quarter of his life abroad in predominantly Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures.