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Cultural Curiosity And Individual Uniqueness

Cultural Curiosity and Individual Uniqueness

Cultural curiosity is a desire to learn and understand more about people whose cultural backgrounds, experiences and perspectives are different from our own. It may involve learning facts about someone’s cultural heritage or understanding how that person thinks, feels or behaves in light of their cultural background (https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/cultural-curiosity).

We do, however, need to be careful of generalizations, since cultural differences involve much more than the question “Where are you from?”

While it is true that I often make cultural generalizations in the workshops I lead on “cross-cultural communication in business,” it is nevertheless important to remember that there are also other parameters affecting who we are, such as:

  • Generation gaps: Baby Boomers / Gen X / Gen Y / Gen Z
  • Subcultures: religion / regional differences within countries / “city mouse and country mouse”
  • Types of companies: high-tech or low-tech / public sector vs. private sector / startups vs. enterprises
  • Each person’s individual personality

Each difference can have a technological and mental impact and, of course, influence how we communicate with each other. We need to facilitate open dialogue that incorporates at least some basic knowledge about the person we’re speaking to, yet without any prejudices about their cultural background.

 

Examples of having an open mind in this context would be:

As an Israeli, it surprises me when I meet a Chinese person who speaks straightforwardly. I am familiar with the usual indirect Chinese manner of speaking but can easily accept any exception to the “rule.”

Or when I work with Germans, I am prepared for how they meticulously follow plans down to the last detail. Occasionally, however, I find myself cooperating with a German who lets me go with the flow and change things along the way.

It’s important to remember that while cultural knowledge is important, so is emotional intelligence and having the flexibility to accept differences. We must not be stuck in our expectations stemming from preconceptions.

Perhaps “People only see what they want to see,” or expect to see, but it’s best to see what’s really there. Identifying cultural patterns is very helpful but only if we approach them with empathy. In other words, it’s great if we can understand and recognize the patterns generally associated with an individual’s background, but we must also see their personal differences and uniqueness.

A good way to develop cultural and individual curiosity, so we can truly see what is “out there,” is by asking questions, both of yourself and of others, such as:

  • How is my culture perceived by people from other cultures? 
  • What do I know about the cultures that the people I meet or work with come from?
  • Is there any gap between my cultural expectations of them and how I act specifically with them?
  • How do I take responsibility to narrow this gap?

Examples of how important this responsibility is:

If the other culture is considered more hierarchical (Belgium, for instance) than my own culture, then I will make sure not to express disagreement with my manager during a meeting where the whole team is present, but rather at a different opportunity – when no one else is within earshot.

Or if the decision-making process is highly valued in the other culture (the U.S., for instance), and I want to propose an alternative to a plan being presented, then I will have to provide detailed justification for my alternative – including precise data, so I won’t come across as unprofessional.

All the while, both emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence must be used, to sense how the other side is perceiving and reacting to the approach.

Customers of mine are constantly asking me for lists of Do’s and Don’ts in cross-cultural work. And while I do lay out those kind of tools in various workshops, each list is tailored to each specific culture; we cannot really generalize about cultural generalizations… That’s why it’s so vital to develop cultural curiosity as well as curiosity about individual differences, since they may:

  • Enable coworkers to interconnect and challenge one another with diverse perspectives.
  • Provide helpful context when your team is tasked to address a problem.
  • Promote different answers from various viewpoints, often leading to innovative solutions.
  • Increase appreciation for those who invest time and energy in understanding others.
  • Increase individuals’ sense of inclusion.
  • Improve communication between culturally diverse team members.

Best of luck to all of you in your newly aroused curiosity, your new way of going beyond national cultural differences and taking steps toward better discussions and optimal business solutions across the globe.

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