In yesterday’s blog, I challenged readers to take a look at the narrowness of their worldview. But how do we even know what’s narrow and what’s not? There are the various components of a worldview that we take for granted: religious pluralism and freedom, economic structures, uniformity of language, governmental institutions, a free press, and an unbiased view of history for example. And then there is what you know about these things or your relative ignorance.
But so much of your worldview has nothing to do with what you know about the rest of the world, but your attitude towards cultural differences.
For example how high is your cultural self-awareness or your cultural sensitivity? Do you have any cross-cultural communication skills? What is you tolerance for ambiguity? Brooks Peterson wrote a book that is helpful in posing these kinds of questions called Cultural Intelligence: A guide to working with people fom other cultures.
In it, he notes the ways in which cultures differ. For example, a cultural style “based on equality means people prefer to be self-directed, have flexibility in roles, have freedom to challenge those above, have freedom to make exceptions, and expect to treat men and women in the same way.”
A style based on hierarchy means “people prefer to take direction, have limitations on behavior for certain roles, respect opinions of those in power, enforce regulations, and expect men and women to behave and be treated differently.”
Then there is the task vs. relationship dynamic – how does a given culture prioritize them? Peterson notes, “Another way of understanding task versus relationship is to think of who we are versus what we do. In the U.S. we say ‘business before pleasure’ and in much of the rest of the world it’s ‘pleasure before business’ and ‘trust before business.”
Some themes that can vary according to culture:
• Direct/indirect method of giving feedback, dealing with conflict, etc.
• Physical distance of whether we stand closer together or farther apart
• Eye contact and how it is interpreted as honesty or a challenge
• Verbal intonation, volume, pace, and tone
• Nonverbal communication gestures, posture, silence, etc.
• Conversation flow
• Level of formality
Want to grow in your cultural sensitivity? You might start by discussing some of the following questions that Peterson gives around the dinner table:
1. What was the most interesting period of your life? Why?
2. Answer the question ‘Who are you?’ without referring to your occupation.
3. Name five adjectives that describe most people you like. Why do you like these attributes?
4. How do you define friendship?
5. How do you define ‘living well’? How do you define ‘success’?
6. Do you have a purpose in life? If so, what is it?