Life, Leadership and Business

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Cultural Awareness

Personal & Leadership Skill: Cultural Awareness
Sadly, polarisation seems to be the current trend in the world at the moment. This is a dangerous attitude to own in the “global village” of our modern world.

Our workplaces, neighbourhoods and public areas are filled with people from various culture groups and backgrounds. We are exposed to all sorts of age groups, religious persuasions and life attitudes each and every minute. This cosmopolitan environment requires each of us to be able to demonstrate some awareness and sensitivity to other culture groups.  
The skill of Cultural Awareness is not about throwing open your arms in unconditional welcome to one and all, nor is it about melting your own culture and beliefs with those of your neighbours. Rather it is about having enough sense as not to “lose your rag” because someone is different, but enquiring about the others point of view and sharing of your own in an open and empathetic manner in order to be productive and efficient in the situation.

Prejudice can destroy harmony in a shared public space. Prejudice is simply a learned belief or way of thinking. Racial, gender or religious bias are often taught from one generation to the next. These biases can ignite strong emotions in the holder of the bias.

The central theme to bias or prejudice thinking is the loss of individuality or uniqueness. Prejudice targets a general group of people and labels them as “all the same.” “All women are bad drivers” is a mindset that could result in a man not trusting the ladies in vehicles around him. Yet, his own daughter is free to borrow his car on the weekends.

Why does the man with this bias not trust “all women” but willingly shares his car with his daughter? Is he not aware his daughter is a woman too? Or has his prejudice been tamed because he has personal knowledge of this woman?

He knows her. He taught her to drive. As a consequence of this “insider” information, the fact his daughter is a woman no longer triggers his bias and associated emotions.

Prejudice is fuelled by ignorance and fear. The fear prevents the biased individual from reaching out and collecting information (Read article on skill of: Collect, Orgaise,Analyse and critically Evaluate here) about the group or culture that he hates so much, keeping him in ignorance. This cycle ensures the barriers remain intact.

Respect, curiosity and openness are important elements to being culturally aware.

Working with the basic respect and regard for another person as a human, just like me, deflates the
fear. I am then free to approach someone without antagonism. My mother always taught me to initially treat all people with the same level of respect. How they respond to that respect determines my attitude towards them going forward.

Curiosity allows a person to respectfully enquire and discover the in’s an out’s of someone else’s life. Curiosity will allow you to observe  free of judgement – “Are you wrong or are you right? Are you good or are you bad?” This evaluating attitude causes others to be defensive and can result in retaliation. Being judgement-free will allow your objectivity to observe and form questions that will help you understand. Being understood is a basic element in human nature, common to us all regardless of age, gender, race, culture or disability.

Openness allows a person to freely share the experiences and traditions of being on the inside of a culture group. Just as much as we learn of another person’s experience, so we should share our own. In sharing our own experience, we need to put the emphasis, not of the differences, but on the similarities.

Cultural awareness is about focusing on similarities in order to unify our team. We use the differences as unique elements that will strengthen the skills and abilities of our team.

As a skill, everyone within the team can benefit from being welcomed as part of the team for their
similarities to the others in the group, yet celebrated for and encouraged to contribute their uniqueness. This ability to both unify people and celebrate their differences forms the basis for powerful leadership of any team.

This skill doesn’t require you to be an Anthropologist, but enables you to welcome, develop, motivate and reward people from all walks of life in an effective and efficient way.

Read the Article on: Skills that will keep you relevant in this rapid changing world

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