On May 21st, the United Nations recognizes the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Cultural Diversity Day helps remind us that culture plays such an important role in international development, economic growth, and even “leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life.”
At RW3, we strive to promote these ideas by offering tools to help you hone your cross-cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication skills. One of our biggest updates is the release of the new Culture Calculator Suite, the latest version of our cultural self-assessment tool.
The CultureWizard Intercultural Model and the Eight Dimensions of Culture
Before I tell you about the tool itself, it’s important to understand the CultureWizard Intercultural Model. If you’re not already familiar with it, the model breaks down cultural patterns into eight different dimensions. These dimensions help demystify cross-cultural differences by showing how behaviors and tendencies are connected to the broader values and beliefs of a given culture.
For example, the Hierarchy Dimension describes where a culture lies along a spectrum between very hierarchical and very egalitarian structures. The US, for instance, tends to be very egalitarian—people often call colleagues and bosses by their first names, and everyone is typically expected to participate and voice their opinion during a meeting. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a very hierarchical culture, where a person’s age, position, and rank often determine how people address each other and what role they expect to play in a group or team.
First, Learn About Your Own Cultural Preferences
To start using the Culture Calculator Suite, you’ll take a simple self-assessment that asks questions about your preferences and tendencies in the workplace. Based on your responses, the Culture Calculator will calibrate how you rank along the spectrum of each cultural dimension.
More specifically, your results will teach you about how you tend to build and maintain relationships or navigate conflict, the relative importance you place on formality and titles, as well as the extent to which you expect to participate in processes and decisions. This personalized feedback comprises your cultural profile—the very important first step toward honing your cross-cultural skills and increasing team productivity.
Your cultural profile is key to this journey because it allows you to gain greater self-awareness. As you learn about yourself, your values and beliefs, and the role that culture plays in shaping them, you’ll also become better at observing others’ behaviors and preferences. The more you practice recognizing these cues, the more effectively and efficiently you will be able to adapt your workstyle and avoid cumbersome misunderstandings.
Then, Recognize How Our Cultural Profiles Affect Our Behaviors
To show you how this might play out in a work environment, let’s return to the Hierarchy Dimension I described earlier. In the US, most organizations have a pretty egalitarian structure, which means that everyone, even more junior team members, are typically expected to participate in meetings and brainstorms. However, if an individual on your team is more hierarchical, they may not think that it’s appropriate to voice their thoughts without being expressly invited. While this might come across as a lack of passion or initiative to the more egalitarian team members, it’s really a difference in culture and workstyle.
As you continue to use the Culture Calculator Suite to gain important insights into your personal style and expectations, you’ll also be able to identify the differences and similarities between yourself and others so that you can effectively engage and include everyone on the team.
Once you understand the motivation behind these patterns and behaviors, it’s easy to simply invite the more quiet team members to join the conversation during a meeting. Better yet, set some time aside to chat with them individually so they can share their thoughts without the added pressure of speaking to the whole group.
Finally, Use the Culture Calculator to Compare Team Preferences and Adapt to Cultural Differences
Another important aspect of the Culture Calculator Suite is the ability to compare cultural profiles. In addition to providing you with personalized feedback, the Suite also allows you to compare yourself to other countries and people, either individually or as a whole team. This feature of the tool is essential for promoting healthy and stable team dynamics, especially as so many of us are now working virtually.
During the COVID-19 crisis, we are all doing our best to stay engaged and productive despite being painted into a more stressful, virtual, and unconventional corner. Even when you know your colleagues well and have grown comfortable working with them—possibly over the course of many years—you may find yourself confused or disoriented when you try to learn how to work with them in a virtual environment. Returning to my previous example, if the team doesn’t deliberately invite participation from everyone, it’s possible not only that more hierarchical colleagues might not get to share valuable insights, but they may also begin to feel isolated and undervalued because virtual work can exacerbate or intensify cultural differences and misunderstandings.
Consider another scenario: If you have a colleague with a more indirect style of communication, they likely rely more on body language and other non-verbal cues to convey information, especially in a difficult or sensitive situation. That might not be an issue if you’re accustomed to working with them face-to-face, but more subtle styles of communication can be easily misconstrued in a virtual workplace. By using the Culture Calculator Suite to compare yourself to other cultures, individuals, and/or team members, you’ll be able to anticipate possible challenges, and adopt best practices for yourself and others.
There’s a reason the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development champions cultural diversity and the need to hone our intercultural communication skills. The ability to recognize and adapt to other cultures and mutually understand one another is essential to our abilities to thrive in the workplace, our communities, and society as a whole. Cultural assessment tools like the Culture Calculator Suite can help us recognize the diverse behaviors and communication styles that are influenced by our cultural backgrounds, and offer us concrete action points so we can better adapt to each other across cultures and distances.