An Intercultural Micro-Practice from Brené Brown

Apr 09, 2024

I’m a big fan of Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. While her work does not explicitly address intercultural competence, I think much of what she researches, writes, and talks about is highly relevant to intercultural learning. You can see a previous article I wrote referencing her work here

In this brief post, I want to share one of Brené’s mantras that I think makes a great intercultural micro-practice. What’s an “intercultural micro-practice,” you ask? It’s any simple practice you can incorporate into your life that helps you engage with greater intercultural competence. And practicing helps further your intercultural development. Because being interculturally competent isn’t just about knowledge acquisition. It’s something we do—not once or twice, but over and over again. It’s an ongoing practice.

So here’s the simple (but not necessarily easy) micro-practice from Brené Brown’s work:  Whenever you find yourself making some type of judgment (toward yourself or others), or feeling confused, frustrated, or similar, ask yourself:  What’s the story I’m telling myself?

For example, imagine you’ve been working hard on a report for work and send it off to your supervisor nervously anticipating their feedback, only to receive a curt email back detailing a list of changes they’d like you to make. You’re deflated. Ask yourself:  What’s the story I’m telling myself? When you do, you may realize you’re interpreting the to-the-point response as a negative judgment of you and your work. As a result, you may be telling yourself all kinds of stories about yourself, your supervisor, your work, etc.

By simply asking “What’s the story I’m telling myself?” you immediately reframe your perspective on the situation as just that—one of many possible perspectives. It can help you see the lenses you may be bringing to the situation, and consider other possible interpretations or perspectives. You might ask yourself follow-up questions such as:

  • Where does that story come from? Why is that the particular story I’m telling myself?
  • What lenses, past experiences, or situational factors may be influencing or contributing to the story I’m telling?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What are other possible interpretations?

Micro-practices such as this one are relatively simple. The power lies in what you can learn through utilizing them. I encourage you to try out this practice regularly for a while—a week or even just a day—and see what comes of it. What new perspectives does this practice offer you?

Photo credit: Brett Jordan, Unsplash

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