What is cross cultural awareness?
Cross cultural awareness is figuring out why people from backgrounds that differ from our own act the way they do and using that information to have better relationships with those them. It will help you predict how people who come from different backgrounds will act, speak, think, make decisions and perceive the world.
It is important to note that this does not mean endorsing stereotypes or pigeonholing people into categories. It is about being open-minded and willing to understand others for who they are.
Who needs cross cultural awareness?
Anyone who deals with people from different cultures needs cross cultural awareness. Canada is one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world. We need it on a daily basis - in business, when shopping, when socializing - in just about any situation when we interact with others.
Why is cross-cultural awareness important for your business?
If people from other cultures want to do business with us and interact with us, why don't they learn our customs? Often they do. But that is only half of the battle. If you make the effort to learn about your counterpart, you will both be making the effort to understand each other, doubling your effort and chances for success.
While your counterpart may act like you and sound like you, he or she isn't. That person may think in a different language, process information in a different way and make decisions differently than you do. If you understand how culture may affect this person's character, you may give yourself an edge in business and in cross cultural communication.
How do we become more cross culturally aware and master cross cultural communication skills?
1. The media
Although sometimes we can learn interesting material from the media, it is good to be aware of sensationalism and media bias. It is important to remain open-minded and non-judgmental.
By interacting with people and learning about their culture directly from them. People are usually delighted to about the customs and culture of their homeland. Many of us are embarrassed to ask questions because we fear that we will be judged as ignorant. More often than not, non-judgmental questions that are motivated by a sincere interest to learn and understand are answered with enthusiasm.
3. By educating ourselves
If you know that you are going to be dealing with someone from another culture it pays to do your homework. The Internet and general interest reading material may be helpful.
Some things that may be helpful to know before dealing with someone from another culture include, for example:
- Basic geography: What countries or regions border the other person's homeland? What is the capital city there?
- Basic politics: Is their state governed by a President, Prime Minister, the military or royalty?
- Forms of address and greeting: Knowing what to call a person and how to greet people properly can win you friends, contracts and lifelong associations. Not doing so, or making a blundered attempt, can insult and may be remembered for a long time. When in doubt, ask how your counterpart would like to be addressed. If nothing else, this shows respect on your part.
- Customs and table manners: This is a topic in and of itself, but suffice to say that if you will be dining with people from another culture, it is worthwhile to find out what their customs are. Take the time to learn about this before you sit down at the table.
By making the attempt to improve your cross cultural communication skills and become cross culturally aware you will expand your mind as you learn more about the world around you, give yourself an edge in business and negotiations, and enjoy friendships with people from diverse backgrounds. When you become cross culturally aware, you gain the riches of the whole world. Isn't it worth it?
About the Author
Sarah Eaton holds a Ph.D. in Leadership from the University of Calgary. She is a consultant, author and speaker on culture, languages and literacy. For more information check out her website at: www.eatonintl.com