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To be culturally aware or not to be culturally aware?

Posted by Ilona Dawson

Being culturally aware could mean the difference between making good business decisions or bad business decisions. Addressing employees appropriately is crucial.

Before meeting with a colleague from another country or communicating within a multicultural workforce, considering the cultural differences, basic customs and mannerisms of your colleagues’ culture will always be a positive and necessary consideration. Adapting words, body language and actions to suit the environment will lead to improved mutual understanding,  consequently forging better working relationships. Changing your style in order to achieve this can be challenging.

 

To be culturally aware or not to be culturally aware?

 

Generally speaking, if your natural style is an upfront and dominant approach then you may offend someone of a Japanese cultural background. Adopting a more neutral tone and considering others’ input, even if it is outside your normal manner may be a requirement and can help to foster effective business communication across cultures.

  • Thailand for example, has deeply engrained Buddhist beliefs. If these are not respected, serious offence could be caused unwittingly. It is therefore vital to be aware of cultural sensitivities. For example, pointing your foot at someone is to be avoided because the foot is the lowliest part of the body, considered to be dirty and profane.
  • There are subtle gestures in countries like Tanzania, where greetings are very important. Taking the time to say good morning, asking after family, health, work etc is courteous and expected. Being armed with the knowledge that this is a requirement shows that you care about fitting in.
  • China, learning the language is key to integration as most people do not speak English. Cultural sensitivity in China is based on understanding a collective, socialist society. Building a reputation and saving ‘face’ is crucial. Embarrassing someone and having them lose ‘face’ is not well received.

A teacher, who spent most of her working life abroad, had this to say when asked if cultural awareness was important to integrating within the Chinese educational structure…

‘All the three schools we’ve worked in have run culture awareness programmes for us as part of our induction. Having awareness of why things are run or organised in a certain way has definitely helped us assimilate in to our new schools and community more quickly. It’s helped us to understand the people we are going to work with, why things might be done a specific way, how our own choices or actions might be perceived by our colleagues or the wider community. You can easily offend another by a simple interaction so it’s been key for us to understand our host country’

A seamless transition into another country must be supported by a courteous understanding of how people think, how they behave and how they respond in certain situations. Being culturally aware is absolutely fundamental. It involves many considerations; gender, religion and political ideologies influence culture and consequently how business is conducted. Ensure you are equipped and prepared to not only take on your new position, but to embrace the new host country culture too.



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