Adept individuals and leaders are aware of and able to navigate between cultural realities. Culture is the fabric that binds people together around common factors, like values, norms and communication patterns. My favorite definition comes from Mirror for Man, by Clyde Kluckhohn, in which he describes culture as:
The sum total of shared values, beliefs, meanings, symbols, attitudes, languages, patterns of thought and expression, products, artifacts, aesthetic standards and styles of communication—all of which have been created by a group of people, which have been transmitted, learned and internalized.
At a recent presentation for the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, I described culture and then went on to make a case for “Developing Cultural Competency.” This video provides an example of how culture, and cross-cultural realities, surface in our daily lives; and the kind of impact these differences may have on our relationships. The video goes on to describe how relatively minor shifts our perspective, thinking, language and behaviors can help us become more effective understanding and working across cultural differences. In sum:
- Start with you. Reflect on your own cultural identities and how they were informed.
- Recognize the truth (with a lower case “t”). Your reality is just that–yours. Others’ realities and truths are just as powerfully felt and believed. Both/all may be perfectly valid.
- Lean into your discomfort. You don’t really learn about culture from a distance or without taking risks. Take risks and know that your intentions will speak volumes.
- Walk the walk. When new, confusing or frustrating situations arise, reflect on the possible source. Rather than jumping to judgement, inquire. Practice putting yourself in the shoes of the other person/group, then approaching a solution from that vantage point.