In the course of last few months, I wrote part one and part two of this three-part series, The Role of Nuance in Understanding Culture. The first two parts overviewed the eight dimensions of culture and how self-assessment tools can help us understand cultural norms so we can effectively work across cultures.
While understanding cultural norms is very important in developing cultural understanding, culture is extremely nuanced. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to have different values and preferences from the norms of their cultures. But we must be aware of the possibility that ourselves—and others—don’t always perfectly fall into a cultural outline. In other words, we must be self-aware.
So let’s take a look at the importance of self-awareness and how self-awareness can further our abilities to work in a global environment.
What Is Self-Awareness and Why Is it Important?
There’s a great deal of research that validates the importance of self-awareness. For example, self-awareness makes you a more effective colleague, a more effective leader, and a more effective business partner. Research also shows that people who are self-aware are more confident and trustworthy.
The beautiful aspect of learning about other cultures and cultural differences is that it begins with understanding yourself as a cultural being. In other words, it starts with self-awareness. When you’re self-aware, you begin to recognize how you interact and react to other people, you about your work and communication preferences, and you learn about your values. In general, you learn about yourself.
The thing is, developing self-awareness is hard. It’s far easier to learn about how culture influences values and behaviors than it is to do deep introspection into one’s own behaviors. Yet, once you understand that we’re all different, it can be easier to grasp the nuances of diverse behaviors and really appreciate our differences instead of being distracted or put off by them. But self-assessment tools can help.
Self-Awareness Can Help Reveal Your Cultural Nuances
With a self-assessment tool like the CultureWizard Culture Calculator Suite, for example, you may find that you are quite group oriented and like to consult others and gain consensus before you take action. At the same time, you may discover that compared to your home culture is more individualistic and you’re somewhat different from the norm. When you see that difference, it will probably confirm to you what you’ve already experienced—that you may be different from others in your culture. This can explain to you why you may have felt uncomfortable working on teams with colleagues who tend to make unilateral decisions on their own.
Here’s another example: While it may be the national cultural style of Switzerland to be prompt and schedule-oriented, there are many Swiss who struggle to adhere to those standards. Similarly, just many people in Germany find blunt and direct communication to still be polite, there are many Germans who are hurt by direct, blunt communications and prefer more indirect communication instead—even though they grew up in a blunt, direct communication culture.
The fact is that we’re all different and personal styles range across the spectrum. Even in a relationship-oriented culture, many people might still prefer to avoid small-talk and are comfortable with transactional situations. Those individuals may make friends more quickly and accept people without requiring the extended period of time to build trust, even though that extended trust-building phase tends to be the “norm” in their environment.
Take a Peek at Your Own Subtle Cultural Nuances
When developing your sense of self-awareness, it’s helpful to think about where you fit against the norms in your cultural environment. To help you get an idea of how self-assessments can help you understand how your values compare to your culture, take a look at the chart below. The chart shows where several countries sit along the Relationship cultural dimension. Some cultures are more transactional and tend to focus on the objective at hand, while others prefer to build trust and establish close relationships before making any decisions. Look at your country and see how close to that norm you think you are.
Learning about yourself and your culture enables you to be more appreciative of diverse styles. Understanding where you and others fall along the eight dimensions of cultures can give you an appreciation for how gaining intercultural skills help you bridge differences and collaborate with others.
Understanding culture will make you more effective even if you never interact with people from another culture because it equips you with the skills to truly capitalize on diversity and helps you create the inclusive environment in which all people thrive. As I indicated at the beginning of this piece, people who are self-aware are more effective in a variety of personal and professional interactions. It should now be apparent that gaining intercultural understanding gets you to that place of self-awareness and enhances your opportunities in any business environment.