1. Recognize that every individual has a culture, including you
"I'm just American,
I don't have a culture"
--A Common Myth
Southerners versus northerners. New Yorkers versus Californians. Americans versus Japanese. Never is our own culture more apparent than when we travel elsewhere and observe a different lifestyle.
2. Learn the components of culture
"Culture provides the 'lens' through which we view the world; the 'logic'...by which we order it; the 'grammar'...by which it makes sense."--Kevin Avruch and Peter Black, Anthropologists
Researchers on the subject of culture place all cultural indicators loosely within the following four buckets:
: e.g. "Work Ethic," Work/Family Priority, Role of Age, "Respect"
Orientation to time
: Focused on the Past, Present or Future
Orientation to Others
: e.g Communication Styles, "Etiquette," Approach to conflict, Eye Contact
Orientation to the Environment
: It's here to serve me vs. I'm here to serve it
3. Understand that you have a unique worldview, which is strongly influenced by your cultural lens
"Our communication problems arise because we mistakenly assume that we perceive and observe strangers in an unbiased fashion"--William Gudykunst
What you expect from others. What you aim for/expect out of life. How you see yourself in relation to others. Whether your grandparents were born in Europe, Asia, or somewhere else in America, they most likely passed on more than just their good looks. Oftentimes when we explore our heritage--the beliefs, values and norms associated with them--we discover just how much we've inherited.
4. Explore and understand your cultural lens
"If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool"--Carl Jung
It's often hard for us to identify the cultural beliefs, values and practices we've inherited all by ourselves because, for us, they constitute the norm. However, a spotlight is cast on them whenever we encounter someone who believes, values or does things differently. Rather than consider the other person strange or wrong, we should use those opportunities to clarify the specific cultural artifacts we've inherited.
Culture is a complex thing as it is shaped by numerous elements: race (a social construct which is not always clearly defined), ethnicity (as Americans, we all have ethnic backgrounds), gender, generation, where we grew up, where we live, class, what we do for a living, etc.
5. Actively listen to your clients for clues to cultural difference
"Listening requires the use of our hearts as well as our ears"--Beth Mende Conny
A client/customer/colleague doesn't necessarily have to come from another country, or look different from you to have a different cultural worldview. Listen and help them to clarify their values, which may be different from your own. Push them to clearly define vague, culturally influenced terms such as "success," "respect," "achievement," "life balance," and "work ethic."
6. Tune in to the stereotypes you've been taught, and which may be influencing your interactions with others
"Inaccurate and unfavorable stereotypes of other cultures
and ethnic groups cause us to misinterpret messages
we receive from members of those cultures
and ethnic groups."--William Gudykunst
I once facilitated an exercise where a group was able to easily identify numerous commonly held stereotypes (positive and negative) for several different groups. The lesson learned? We are all exposed to, inherit and often unwittingly perpetuate a fixed set of stereotypes. Honest self-reflection will help you to identify the stereotypes you've inherited and explore how they may be influencing your behavior. Even if you're not aware of the association, others often will be; clues may come in the form of word choice, body language, eye contact and questions asked.
7. Be willing to identify and temporarily set aside your own cultural values, so that you can more effectively support your client/customer/colleague within the framework of his/her world
"Only when we are mindful of the process of our communication can we determine how our interpretations of messages differ from strangers' interpretations"--William Gudykunst
I once presented a challenge I was facing with a particular (unnamed) client to a group of colleagues for guidance. The client was a young adult, confused about career direction, and her career it seemed, was a family affair. The feedback and guidance I received without hesitation from some of my colleagues clearly reflected American values--a "be independent and make your own decisions" philosophy which would have only served to alienate this particular client who came from a very different cultural background--one where career was indeed a family matter.
The real challenge with this particular case was in setting aside our deeply ingrained American values long enough to explore this client's worldview and identify how best to support her in achieving her goals within the framework of her cultural environment.
8. Learn about other cultures so that you can establish common ground more easily
"I don't understand you. You don't understand me. What else do we have in common?"--Ashleigh Brilliant, Author and Poet
Learning about other cultures firsthand is an effective way to disarm outdated stereotypes, gain credibility, and enhance your awareness about other cultures.
9. Never be quick to place a client/customer/colleague in a box
"Rigid categories do not recognize individual variations or allow recategorizing strangers based on new information...Having flexible categories or mindsets is necessary to be mindful and communicate effectively."--William Gudykunst
Remember that there are many determinants of culture (see #4). An African-American male may very well turn out to have been raised in an upper-middle class family and now be CEO of a major company. A Latin woman may very well have been born and raised in the states and have completely assimilated into American culture--adopting American ideals and values.
10. Recognize that this is an ongoing learning process, and a critical requirement for long term effectiveness and professional development
"Diversity has gone from being a moral and/or
legal issue into a business necessity"--Texas Center
for Women's Business Enterprise, Austin
Competence in cross-culture communication/coaching is but one milestone on your professional devleopment course, but it is one that will enable you to expand your reach and effectiveness within an increasingly diverse American businessplace.
When old habits are hard to break, try bending them
--Beth Mende Conny
About the author:
Susan Eckert is a Professional Development Coach and Diversity/Cross-Culture Trainer whose mission is to spread the word that Diversity is not just a race issue, and to educate coaching/helping professionals regarding the importance of being aware of their own cultural backgrounds in developing effectiveness approaches to working with clients across many different backgrounds. Susan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via telephone at 800-824-6611, or visited on the web at http://www.advancecareerdevelopment.com