Published : Feb 6, 2019

The Need for Cultural Learning Goes Two Ways

There’s almost no debate that the Canadian workforce is becoming increasingly diversified, and so are local communities. There’s also little debate about the growing importance of understanding other cultures, both in the workplace and at home.

However, it’s almost impossible to really understand other cultures without understanding your own.

That’s one reason cultural self-assessment is one of the key components of the Berlitz Cultural Navigator®, a program that helps people and organizations learn and interact more effectively across cultures.

Every culture has its own values, habits and beliefs. Understanding your culture and how it relates to others reduces the chance of projecting your beliefs onto others, and perhaps, unintentionally, offending someone.

For example:

  • Being late to a meeting is the norm in some countries; insulting in others.
  • Some cultures expect people to look them directly in the eye; if not, it can be considered deceitful or weak. In others, looking down is a sign of respect.
  • People from some regions (North Americans and some Western Europeans, for example) prefer to get right to the point at the beginning of a meeting, while those from other cultures like to chat and get to know you first.
  • Body language also varies significantly from culture to culture.

Awareness of your own values, expectations, preferences, biases, etc. are necessary to understand those of others.

There are several ways to understand your culture and how they affect relationships with others.

Probably the most effective way is through a tested, structured program such as the Berlitz Cultural Navigator. ® It’s relatively fast, and very comprehensive.

There are, however, activities you can do on your own to improve awareness of your own culture.

Make a list of what affects your beliefs about others
Your list can include such factors as family background, environment growing up, experiences, and many others. Understanding the factors that helped shape your beliefs is an important first step in understanding others.

Consider how your culture affects your daily life
Think about how you greet people, how you relate to specific types of other people, be aware of your body language, etc. Again, it’s useful to make a list to refer to as you interact with people of other cultures.

Identify the things you value in your own life
Think abut your priorities, wants, entertainment activities, expectations and preferences. Observe people from other cultures and see how they compare.

Observe others with your cultural knowledge in mind
Watch how others from different cultures react in specific situations, keeping in mind what you have learned from your cultural self-assessment. Notice the differences, and the similarities.

These will give you a leg up in working and living with people from different cultures.

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