We tend to look at culture in simple ways. We say things like “I want to learn the culture” or “the culture fascinates me”. As though culture is a single thing that can be easily understood by simply taking a class or going somewhere. But culture is more than a destination, it’s an experience. Culture encompasses a whole world of things to make sense of and navigate. It is in how we interact with people and how people think. There is not one single culture, it is dependent on regions and different communities. It is a beautiful, never ending challenge.
Living in a world that is increasingly global, it is important to excavate the complexities of culture. Let’s begin with defining culture. Culture refers to things shared by a community that have been learned and passed on. It is collectively shaped by our environment and is not something in our genes or something that we are born with. These shared patterns function as a complex system that emerges from the interaction of simple parts. To put it plainly, culture is a complex interaction of countless individuals. This Interaction creates shared experiences, shared meaning, and shared ways to communicate. It's such a natural part of us that we don’t even notice it, most of the time.
What makes culture complex is that it has no clear boundaries. Cultural communities are not contained within national borders and they evolve and change but do so with some continuity. It is unpredictable and not stable, dynamic and not based on a simple set of rules. As cultural patterns are complex they can only be explained in context.
Cultural training that surrounds general cultural etiquette or the ‘dos and don’ts’ of a specific culture takes a shallow approach to an intricate topic. Understanding behaviour requires you to look at behaviour from a particular cultural point of view. It requires taking into account the multiple layers of culture that are at play: the national culture, the regional specificities, the corporate culture, the culture of each specific function.
Effective cultural training will provide adequate vocabulary and a framework to start exploring culture more deeply. It will point the participant in the direction of the important topics to explore further. Lastly it will provide clues to engage into meaningful conversations in order to connect with people from specific cultures.
Culture is complex. But with empathy and curiosity perhaps within the complexities of culture, gifts are revealed.
At Cultural Impact we support our clients to make the most of the diversity within their teams and organisations. We help people working in multinational organisations acquire the tools to engage effectively with colleagues from cultural backgrounds. We help reveal these gifts!
Would you like to know more about how cultures can drive success in your organisation? Get in touch!
Written by Farah Rani