What will YOU see in the New Year?
Author: Jamie B. Gelbtuch

The beginning of the year is often a time of resolutions to do things differently. But, it can also be a time when we resolve to see things differently. Just as an exercise, take a look at the image here and note down what you see.


Did your list include words such as “sad, stressed, upset, failure, disbelief”? Or “woman on steps, hand in head, sitting down, wearing black jacket and white shirt”?  List #1 is filled with interpretations.  List #2 is filled with descriptions.  Our thinking reflects our cultural assumptions. Yet, what we see is not necessarily what we think about. Our culture is a set of lenses, a filter through which we interpret things.

For example, on our project teams, some cultures may interpret the actions of a team member who speaks up and offers a contradictory opinion to the project manager as disrespectful, disruptive, and even offensive.  Other cultures may interpret the same behavior as direct, efficient, and task-focused.

So how will you decide what you see this year? Start by ‘thinking about your thinking’. This skill is called metacognition. Where multicultural teams are involved, start developing your cultural metacognition skills, or your awareness about your own cultural assumptions, expectations, and norms as you interact with others.

Interculturalists Janet and Milton Bennett proposed a process in 1975 that can still very much help us do this today as we begin the new year: 


It gives us a way to structure our thoughts as we encounter differences in our project teams:

  1. Describe what we are encountering or what we see. Keep the description to observable facts.
  2. Interpret what we have described. Articulate our thoughts on it.
  3. Evaluate each interpretation. Include both positive and negative possibilities.

From there, we are better equipped to make a decision about how to deal with an occurrence. We have strengthened our cultural metacognition skills by stretching and neutralizing our thought process.

Resolving to examine project team interactions in greater context this year will be a valuable tool in any project manager’s toolbox. After all, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”